helpful websites for Mandarin learning

Need to look up a word by pinyin, English, or in Chinese? Need to hear how it’s pronounced? Check out this website with the funny name, Nciku.

In my few months of learning Mandarin it’s the best site I’ve come across so far. Why?

  • search by pinyin, English, or Chinese
  • don’t know the pinyin or the English translation of a character, but know how to write it? Use your mouse to write the character, and the dictionary will suggest matches and look it up for you
  • instantly hear how a word/phrase is pronounced
  • example sentences so you can see how the word is used, with pinyin and English translation directly underneath. ‘Cause a word might be suitable in one situation but not another. Useful for those “use this vocabulary word to make up a sentence” homework exercises!
  • looping flash animations show you how to write the word, stroke by stroke
  • active forum so you can ask questions that a dictionary can’t answer
  • sign up for an account to create your own vocab lists for later review
  • can look up English words, with both American and UK pronunciation

The site’s still in beta but has certainly come a long way since its inception. Wonder what features are coming next?

MDGB Online Dictionary

To be honest, I haven’t used this one as much as nciku. But this site still has some impressive features.

  • specialized vocabulary and advanced words included
  • Chinese <-> English translation (no pinyin support, sorry! but copy&paste is supported)
  • radical/stroke lookup
  • flash cards and character quizzes (under 练习 Practice)
  • option to denote tones with numbers, marks, or different colors. Pretty.

They also have an offline reader available. Ever find it annoying to read a Chinese document on the computer, find a word you don’t know, open up a web browser, then copy&paste the word into a search engine to find out the meaning? With the reader, just hover over the word and a definition will pop up. However, it’s only free for 15 days.

This website was great for finding the Chinese names of common houseplants that filter the air. (Be sure to check the poison information on the plants if you click on the link)

Are you curious about the Chinese names of air-cleaning houseplants and where you can get them in Beijing? What are your favorite websites for learning Chinese? Do you use software that shows popup definitions for text that you can hover over with your mouse? Show you care and share in the comments.


20 points for anyone who can tell me what nciku and MDGB mean.

  • KeHoeff

    hey this is a very interesting article!

  • Charlie

    I use MDGB and nciku regularly, I also use to pinyinise my text when I need to.

    I have jsut started learning Mandarin, and my site is here : Discovering mandarin

  • Holly Helstad

    This is your greatest write up so far. Keep up the good work!