Best Chinese - English and E-C Dictionaries, and WCIF them?

Which dictionary would you recommend for others starting the process of learning Chinese?

I personally like the Oxford Concise C>E E>C, because it is available on Palm, which I love. (I’m too lazy to actually look anything up using radicals…and technology is helping me out!)

Far East brought out a new Pinyin Chinese>English dictionary last year which is very nice. The two-color scheme (head characters are in red) is easy on the eyes for finding things, and every entry has Pinyin. I’m told that they will be launching a Palm version in March…we’ll see! This is about the same size as the Oxford in its printed edition.

So, how about it? Any other favorites?

I like the big two-volume Chinese English dictionary from (I think) Shanghai Jiaotong. There is also a Taiwan edition. I also think the De Francis ABC Chinese-English Dictionary looks like it would be useful though I don’t own a copy myself.A somewhat more eclectic recommendation is Pulleyblank’s Lexicon of Reconstructed Pronunciation in Early Middle Chinese, Late Middle Chinese, and Early Mandarin. It’s very, very useful for getting handle on classical usages. These pop up more than some might think in modern written Chinese.

Best of all, all three are ordered in Hanyu pinyin!

Here’s a tip: if you are studying in Taiwan, you should never have to look up a word by radical. Just swallow your pride and ask someone how to read it. Then you can look it up in your Pinyin-sorted dictionary. This is also where Zhuyin fuhao comes in handy. Even though your Taiwanese friends may not hit every retroflexed zhi, chi, and shi, they will almost certainly know how to spell it out correctly in Zhuyin Fuhao. Looking up characters by radical is a huge waste of time (You should make an effort to learn the radicals, but that’s another story).

This is an under-appreciated part of learning Mandarin in Taiwan. Everyone in Taiwan under the age of 45 seems to know Zhuyin fuhao well. I find that people’s grasp of pinyin in China varies widely.

I think that one should start using a Chinese-Chinese dictionary as soon as possible. I started off with the Guoyu Ribao dictionaries and later moved on to Guoyu Huoyong Cidian from Wunan publishing. This one still sits on my desk. Chinese-English dictionaries are dated and (often) misleading, especially in Taiwan, where usage has diverged considerably from that in China. As Ironlady has mentioned before, Google is probably your best bet for many new terms.

Of course, any serious Sinologist will want a copy of the “Daluban” Ciyuan published by Taiwan Shangwu and, eventually, the Hanyu Dacidian in 12 volumes (make sure you get the last volume with the pinyin index!)

I guess I was thinking more of dictionaries for beginning or intermediate students, stuff that doesn’t cost a bundle or weigh a ton (which puts the “Shanghai Jiaotong” and its ripoffs out of contention!) or cause brain freeze becuase of Chinese phrasing (the Guoyu Ribao dictionary never did much for me because of its writing style, which I found too difficult when I was in the first 3 or 4 years of Chinese study). I doubt a student would need something as complete as the Shanghai Jiaotong for quite a few years…unless he had a very big backpack and a very strange Chinese textbook!

I like “the Times” dictionary, which is a softcover, Chinese-Chinese dictionary (don’t remember the details but it’s black with a multi-colored design on the front cover). I found those definitions to be much more readable to the average student who is ready to make the plunge into using a Chinese-only dictionary.

Another neat dictionary is the “niyin Hanying cidian” which indexes the words by the 2nd character of the combination. This is helpful if you’re not sure of the first character (i.e., when reading somebody’s handwriting, but you’re pretty sure it’s really a 2-character compound).


This is really weird but I’ve never used a proper big dictionary or seen why I’d want to. I do have a cool English-Chinese Oxford dictionary that I like because it has English and Chinese,but I find with dictionaries ifyou look up owrds you still don’t really know how touse them. That’s just the way I study.

What I really do recommend though is this dictionary

Chinese Characters: A Genealogy and Dictionary
by Rick Harbaugh. It’s a sort of family tree of characters that can also be used as a dictionary. You can look up radical, part of a chracter that’s not the radical it’s listed under, stroke count, pinyin, bopomo, or English. I find all methods useful in different circumstances. I think it’s great for learning to write once you’ve started looking up words not covered in ‘Reading and Writing Chinese’ (which I think is the essential for learningtowrite).

It’s an indexed paper version of the dictionary behind and you can buy it at Caves on Zhongshan N Rd in Taipei.


There is a dictionary built into NJstar word processor that I use - unfortunately it has many errors, and many usages not common in Taiwan. I believe it is from a public domain C>E dictionary but the instructions to update in NJstar it are incomprehesible, both in English and Chinese. I also have Dr Eye - my greatest disapointment is that Dr Eye cannot read the words in an NJStar document, however it provides an alternative resource.

Having “three somethings hand thing (the English name escapes me)” to input chinese characters with my mouse or touchpad (it is really smart not just picture driven) - I really don’t want or need to a book dictionary (yet?? - I actually have a couple but the computer is so much faster). Just a better computer based dictionary.

Incidentally, NJstar allows you to write chinese traditional in pinyin.

I’ve always used the Far Eastern one. What is Google and how do I get it?

Where can I find this “times” dictionary? Is it commonly available in Taiwan?

I was thinking of starting with a children’s dictionary. Has anyone tried this?

You might try a children’s dictionary, but remember that the average native-speaking kid has a LOT more vocab than the average hard-working foreign student of Chinese. The way things are written would not necessarily benefit you as a foreign learner.

Hey…I’m going to put a proposal in to my publisher to see if he would go for a dual-language (Chinese-Chinese and Chinese-English) dictionary specifically for foreigners…worth a try, as long as he doesn’t saddle ME with doing it!

Anyway, I’ve finally put my hand on the Times dictionary. I don’t know if it’s avaialable in TW or not – I think I bought mine in HK some years ago. But here’s the info:

© 1982 Federal Publications Pte. Ltd.
ISBN 9971-4-6095-5
Published by Federal Publications/Commercial Press
Title: Shidai Hanyu Cidian

I think I goofed – there doesn’t seem to be any English title at all. Guess I saw “shidai” and it registered on my subconscious, or something.

I don’t think it’s specifically for foreigners, but I always found it clearer to read than Guoyu Ribao or any of the other “basic” C-C dictionaries I’d tried in TW. (In fact, I finally gave my Guoyu Ribao away to the son of one of my Taiwanese friends, who apparently had a better grasp on it than I ever did!)

You could always try or Ebay…


About the Google question:

Google is an Internet search engine, not really a dictionary, but many translators use it as one.

You set your Gooogle settings to “Traditional and Simplified Chinese” and English pages only, and then make sure your interface is in Chinese. You then enter the Chinese characters you want to find, plus your best guess for their English meaning OR some English words you figure might appear on the same page with the Chinese to give you a clue about what they mean. Repeated trials with this method usually get you something you can base a guess on. If you’re doing plant names, using something general like “spp.” or “genus” after the Chinese characters will sometimes pull up an entry with teh Chinese + the Latin name, which you can plug back in w/o the Chinese to get the common name.

(Oh, now I’ve done it…after hearing that, you’re all gonna want to run out and become translators, if you aren’t already! We do have just too much fun!)


Can anyone recommend any electronic dictionaries with handwriting input? That way you can look up words without knowing how they’re pronounced and without having to go through the radical route.

Buy a Palm Pilot or compatible device (I use a Handspring Pro now).

Then get the Oxford English<>Chinese dictionary. It has great handwriting support as well as Pinyin and radical lookups. Much better than the electronic dictionaries in TW (IMHO) as most of those are designed for Taiwanese learners of English. I haven’t touched either of my electronic dictionaries since buying my Palm.

I previously liked the Besta 65 (don’t know if that model is still available) as it had handwriting capabilities AND allowed you to find the pronunciation of an unknown Chinese character with one button push. The later models didn’t seem to have this capability (i.e., the 67 and others).

Just my NT$0.05 as usual

Iron Lady, do those Palm Pilots allow you to type in the pinyin with no tones, then browse for the word. eg mao4chong1 (to pose as) and mao2chong2 (a caterpillar), a function much needed by the tone deaf such as I. Thanks, Amos.

Yep. That’s one of the improvements they made in the latest release which came out about 1 month ago. Plus, so far they are giving free updates.

I believe their site is


Ironlady, do you know of any Chinese-Chinese dictionaries available for the Palm?

I’ll look around, but I haven’t heard of one. (Hmmmm…good opportunity for somebody!!)


I saw this category listed in the previous site but don’t see it here. I want to add something in regards to dictionaries. I’m aware that there are hundreds of different English-Chinese dictionaries out there but I’ve found a couple that have suited me well, and I’ve had very few probelms with, if any.

At home I use the “Concise English-Chinese Chinese-English Dictionary.” All of the listings are in Simplified form with the Traditional characters listed alongside, and uses PinYin. This may not be of use to many of you who have studied only in Taiwan and are unfamiliar with PinYin. However, for those familiar and proficient in PinYin it’s a great resource. By the way, I got mine on for less than US$20.

I’d like to mention a new gadget I bought, one in which I’m super excited and certain I’ll be using daily in Taiwan. I just purchased a PDA (Palm Pilot), Palm m130, and found online a bunch of Chinese software, including translators and dictionaries. I researched them for several hours and found the one I’d chosen already to be a good buy to be the highest recommended by others as well. I just got it running yesterday and it’s amazing. It’s comparable to the electronic dictionaries that students use in Taiwan and China, with charcter writing recognition included. The ONLY downfall is that the word-count is a bit small (I believe 20,000 words), but the price US$40 is unbeatable!!! It being installed on my PDA makes it very useful in that I can take it anywhere and always have it ready to use when needed. Just a suggestion for anyone with a PDA or looking to buy one. Buying this made buying the PDA itself worthwhile. :slight_smile:

Couldn’t agree more. If you want to read still more, you can also click" to see some earlier discussion about this stuff, or check out the archives ( for this forum under “gadgets”. :smiley:

If I have six Walkmen to listen to tapes, a mini-disc player to catch Chinese off the Internet for listening, a Palm for vocabulary drills – why aren’t I more fluent?? Mystery of the universe. And I thought whoever had the most toys would win.

ok I left taiwan when I was 14, I went to high school in the states and college as well. now I forgot most of my chinese so I guess I need a english to chinese dictionary just like you guys. so which one is the best? those palm pilot or those electronic dictionary? thanks for the help

I opt Dr.eye2002. It helps me a lot.


I like the free Dreye online dictionary ( I find the floaty word Dreye that you pay for quite annoying, but the online dictionary is pretty straightforward and they do update the entries. I’m having problems with dreye lately, though. It works fine on a Mac at work, but at home on my W2K system an updated website doesn’t seem to want to allow me to see definitions. Worked fine at home until about a month ago when the dreye website got a new look. A popup window that is supposed to come up with the definition doesn’t appear with Explorer 6.x and with Netscape 7.x the popup appears but the message, “you have to register first” appears in English.

Anybody have an idea what might be going wrong for me?

Someone asked about handwriting input online. All you have to do is get yourself a pen that can handle Chinese handwriting input and then you can use it whenever you need to. I’m not sure if this is much of an issue for those using English versions of Windows. I use English W2K and I purchased the full version of Twinbridge Chinese Partner a few years ago specifically to deal with the problem of inputting characters I didn’t know how to pronounce. It works fine…It isn’t very elegant though, as you have open Twinbridge Chinese-enabling program working in order to do the input even though W2K has a fine unicode character set built in.

Thanks, Ironlady, for your tip on Googling. I skimmed it because I thought I knew everything about Google, but then I slowed down when I read, “Make sure the interface is Chinese.” I’ve been keeping the interface in English and occasionally this has caused me problems. Explorer keeps guessing that I want the results displayed in “Unicode” language instead of “Traditional Chinese” encoding.

By the way, I resolved a similar situation when usiing Pristine’s lexicon ( quite a while back. You need to be in the Chinese mode (ie, the interface is Chinese) to properly input Chinese, otherwise the system often doesn’t recognize your characters. Pristine is a pretty good place to look, BTW, if you’re doing technical translations.