Chinese Toolbox: free software for learning to read Chinese

I just released the successor to Chinese Toolbox FREE that enables reading of words. Check out the Chinese Toolbox READER announcement in this thread or go directly to the Chinese Toolbox website at

I just released the successor to Chinese Toolbox FREE that enables reading of words. Check out the Chinese Toolbox READER announcement at[/quote]

Sorry, I haven’t been on forumosa that much recently.

I’ve just tried your new Chinese Toolbox READER and think that it is trully excellent! I’ve only tried it out with a few different texts, and it’s dealt with them - no problem at all. I’m going to try it with some news texts and more!

If this is as good as it seems - then you’ve just probably doubled my reading time with online texts!

Excellent work, Aaron. I (finally) installed CT Reader today (Win 7 RC x64) and it works really well. The Word Dictionary functionality transforms the learning experience. I learned Japanese using Heisig and Jordan, and I’m glad I won’t have to repeat that 20th century approach.

How do you get it to install on Win7 x64? When I try to run the .exe file, I get a message that says “This is not a valid Win32 application”.

EDIT: Never mind, got it working now. :laughing:

I just want to let everyone know that Chinese Toolbox 2011 is finally out the door. It is a huge release, at least for me, in that it’s been almost two years in the making. In May 2011 I released, and in July, Having been released almost two months ago and undergone three minor updates since, Chinese Toolbox 2011 is very stable and reliable. For a full list of improvements, check out You can freely download the new program at

Chinese Toolbox 2011 combines Chinese Toolbox FREE and Chinese Toolbox READER into a single program. It includes two dictionaries, and now with CT 2011, word functionality is complete and extensive. The program includes numerous advanced features for studying Chinese: at the document, word/phrase, and character level. Supporting this project financially is now possible; however, the program continues the tradition of Chinese Toolbox FREE, first released in 2007. FREE Mode features have also been significantly improved.

I uninstalled it. This is a mashup program. It’s DimSum with an MDBG hack. There are mouseover add-ons to Firefox that are better for cataloging characters than this thing is, and you can run Pinyin Annotator or a handful of other sources that annotate your text and allow you to save unknown words in an exportable file. All of the aforementioned things are also totally free, with no “TRIAL” period, and no need to download texts, and then re-upload them into separate language-learning software.

Todd, what do you think is so special about this program? If there are no really special aspects, why do you think that you can charge people for something that they already get for free?

If you don’t know what’s special about Chinese Toolbox 2011, then you haven’t done any reading about this program, and if you haven’t read, then you don’t understand the program. The two most conspicuous links (top, upper left) at provide the information you’re asking for: “New Features” and “Why Chinese Toolbox?”

New Features:
Why Chinese Toolbox?

Don’t you think you should be a little more informed before jumping to a conclusion. To form an opinion privately is one thing, but when you disrepectfully trash someone’s work publicly, that is a very different thing.

Concerning charging: Of the three operating modes: TRIAL, READER, and FREE, two are free. In TRIAL mode you can now use the program for 30 days without charge. If you choose not to pay a READER license fee, you can continue to use the program in FREE mode – no charge, and no time limit. You can use it for free forever. FREE mode is roughly equivalent to the 2009 release of Chinese Toolbox FREE, a standalone program with a few improvements. READER mode is intended to help support my family.

I am wide open to constructive criticism; in fact, I eagerly welcome it. I am in the process of preparing a minor update ( due out this month that incorporates suggestions from recent users of the program. I am not open to uninformed, disrepectful comments like yours.

I have spent a number of years developing this program. I do it because I enjoy the work. It is satisfying to me knowing that some people enjoy using the program and find it helpful in learning Chinese. I’m sorry you don’t feel the same.

[quote=“atsherrill”]If you don’t know what’s special about Chinese Toolbox 2011, then you haven’t done any reading about this program, and if you haven’t read, then you don’t understand the program. The two most conspicuous links (top, upper left) at provide the information you’re asking for: “New Features” and “Why Chinese Toolbox?”

New Features:
Why Chinese Toolbox?[/quote]

Yeah, I read that. Everything that you market is free on programs, many of which do not require an online connection.

But let’s go through them one by one:

Pinyin Annotator and analog sites do this. Also, it’s irrelevant to learning languages.

There are already link collections.

Pinyin Annotator does this, as does DimSum.

Pinyin Annotator does this.

Lots of online sites do this.

Fair enough…

This already exists in two major dictionary formats, as well as a handful of dictionary Wiki projects.

Most language learning applications are self-contained.

My experience with your software was that it was indistinguishable from the others in this respect.

All major text documents and applets have this feature.

This may be original. Some sites are able to track distance between reviews of characters, but may not set absolute time stamps on first selection of a character for a lookup.

DimSum does this.

All text documents can be exported, modified, and reimported.

Lots of mouseover readers, analogous programs, and annotators can do this.

Try not to presume that I’m uninformed. I recognized your program’s features from other sources, all of which are free. Why, then, are you feeling that you can charge for this one?

I’ve spent years on programs that weren’t very valuable, either. It’s hard to tear emotional investment from actual quality of the product.

To Ehophi:

I disagree with about everything you’ve said, but frankly, I really don’t care. I haven’t seen you produce anything of value, so why do you bash someone who tries? While you’re criticizing, my software will continue to improve, and more and more will find value in Chinese Toolbox regardless of your rants. Honestly, I doubt you would have the boldness to say these things to my face, but somehow, online communications emboldens you. You’ve made your choice; others will too.

I just want to let everyone know about a major upgrade of Chinese Toolbox. I’ve been developing Chinese Toolbox 2012 on a full-time basis for over eight months since the last update of CT 2011, and I’m very pleased now to make this version available.

Significant improvements have been made for all operating modes: Trial, Free, and Reader. Improvements and new features include: (1) Document analysis, (2) License transfer, (3) Integration of two published character frequency lists, (4) Numerous configuration options via local menus, (5) Vastly improved user interface, (6) a Help Tips system that is linked to actual program usage, providing concise help (and access to detailed help) for features that one has never used, (7) Relaxed installer rules, enabling Chinese Toolbox to be installed on server versions of Windows, (8) Offline operation in trial mode, (9) Better integration and searching across multiple documents with more document search options coming in version 12.1, (10) Improved import/export options. The complete list of improvements in Chinese Toolbox 2012 can be found here:

Chinese Toolbox 2012 has a trial period of 30 days. If your CT 2011 trial has expired, you get a new trial of 30 days with Chinese Toolbox 2012. Even when operating in FREE mode, Chinese Toolbox 2012 is a vast improvement over my original program, Chinese Toolbox FREE.

I am commited to developing better software tools for learning Chinese. This version doesn’t yet solve all the problems, but it does take a good step forward. I hope you enjoy using this program, and please feel free to provide constructive feedback.

Introducing Chinese Toolbox 2012 (

If you want to learn Chinese well, JUST READ! No kidding. If you read a lot, your Chinese will be great.

Learning to write characters by hand is probably the best way to remember characters, but it is also time-consuming. If you just want to be able to communicate orally, read, and type with a computer, reading gives you more exposure to the Chinese language. A balanced approach would involve both reading and writing, but for many, this balance may not be feasible. Chinese Toolbox was created specifically to increase reading efficiency. If you’re reading efficiently and faster, then you’re probably also reading more. More reading means more exposure to the language resulting in a better understanding of Chinese.

Chinese Toolbox 2012 (12.1) has just been released and has everything you need to be a speed reader in Chinese. Its system of Marking for Unassisted Reading enables you to focus your effort on the characters and words that you don’t know. And when you come across a word that is not in the dictionary, you can now add your own entry. Both character and word dictionaries are fully editable.

There is so much in Chinese Toolbox 12.1, and there are so many features to help you learn. The program is rock solid and works as designed. Also, Chinese Toolbox FREE is better than ever, and is totally free to use – forever.

See What’s New ( in Chinese Toolbox 2012 (12.1)

Reading is great, and I’m sure this is a great tool. The only thing for beginners/intermediates to watch out for is choosing their reading materials carefully. There is a huge gap in style and usage between written standard Chinese and oral Chinese, and if you only read standard written materials and rely on that to build your language, you will end up sounding very bookish indeed. That being said, what’s not to like about a free reading tool?


In the early stages of designing Chinese Toolbox, I specifically chose not to go the mouse-over way. I considered it tedious to have to hold my hand in a certain position just to read a document. And when I released the mouse or accidentally moved it, I’d lose my place in the document. With the keyboard, I could start reading a document and free up my hands to do other things without worrying about losing my place.

The interface and way of going about reading in Chinese Toolbox is based on this kind of experience in using other mouse-over programs. Some of you might prefer mouse-overs, and this is definitely something that can be added to Chinese Toolbox in a future release. It just wasn’t a part of my original design.

I say all this because it has come to my attention that many people don’t understand how to go about reading in Chinese Toolbox. Many who have tried Chinese Toolbox give up on it after only one launch. The Chinese Toolbox approach to this problem of reading Chinese with a computer is entirely different from just about all other Chinese reading programs; actually, I know of no other program that is even similar.

I’ve written quite a lot about the features of Chinese Toolbox, but then, who has the time to read all that. So, the solution is videos! Or at least I hope it is. I’ve released two videos on so far that begin to explain the basics of using the program. If you will take a look at these, in just a few minutes you’ll get this new approach to reading Chinese, and hopefully Chinese Toolbox will be a big help to you in your study of Chinese. The Getting Started video is available at

I haven’t yet announced this at, but I will be providing full-featured READER licenses to all real schools and universities with the next update, likely in December. Distribution (or access to these free READER licenses) will be through school teachers, professors, or administrators of Chinese (or Asian Studies, or the like) departments. So if you are a student of Chinese and you would like to use Chinese Toolbox READER for free, please ask someone at your school to contact me. For others, note that Chinese Toolbox FREE is still free, regardless of your professional status.

One last comment: If your school or place of business is interested in Chinese Toolbox and you are in Taiwan, let me know. I would be pleased to meet with you. If you’re not in Taiwan, we can meet online.

Get a Chinese Toolbox 2012 READER mode license for only $9.95. Offer good only until January 1, 2013

A lot is happening in the Chinese Toolbox world: updates, mobile development, great offers and more. If you’ve tried Chinese Toolbox and like it, but need more than what CT FREE offers, now is the best time to lock in a long term license. Only until the end of this year, you can get a 3-year license for $29.95 or a 5-year license for $49.95. I have never offered Chinese Toolbox READER at such low prices, and this offer will be good only until January 1. On that day regular prices will be restored. See the Chinese Toolbox Buy page ( for more information.

Chinese Toolbox 2013 released!

As always, I’m pleased to announce a new release. Chinese Toolbox 2013 is undoubtedly the most stable, reliable, and useful version of Chinese Toolbox ever. Every problem has been worked out, and the program performs as designed.

If you’re studying Chinese and you’re not yet using Chinese Toolbox, you really are missing out. This is a program designed by a learner of Chinese. As a learner of Chinese, I understand the problems one faces when trying to learn Chinese. I created this program firstly for my own study, and it really is very useful, especially if you need to read online (or digitized) Chinese documents.

Years ago I used flashcards to review Chinese characters, but eventually I realized that if I did more reading, my reading would function as my review of characters. Reading refreshes the memory of what you’ve already learned, and continued reading keeps your memory of Chinese characters and words fresh.

Chinese Toolbox 2013 is an incremental upgrade. Mostly, what 's been added simply fills out what was already there in Chinese Toolbox 2012. Possibly the most important aspect of this release is its stablity and reliability. MUCH effort went into testing. Every little problem that crept up was corrected. At this point, I know of no problems with this release. But if something does come up, it will be fixed right away.

Chinese Toolbox is a living project. I have so many ideas of how to streamline the learning of Chinese. Technology is great, but so far most of what’s available in software for learning Chinese just rehashes old ideas and old ways of learning, like computerizing of flashcards. I believe it is possible to develop a more effective way of learning Chinese, and you will see more of these ideas take shape in future versions of Chinese Toolbox. So stick around. If you’re looking for software tools to make Chinese easier to learn, follow this project. More is on the way!

It’s about time for a status update: Chinese Toolbox 13.1 is finalized and free!

It’s probably irresponsible of me not to announce what’s been accomplished in the last few months. I am pleased to announce that the totally free version of Chinese Toolbox is out and stable. Since the initial release of Chinese Toolbox 13.1, three updates have been released to fix minor issues. It appears that CT 13.1 has stabilized now at version

This is a great time for the Chinese Toolbox project. The stable release of 13.1 marks the end of one and the beginning of a new phase. For those who have followed this project, you probably know that I haven’t done a very good job of promoting this project. Well, that is about to change. I can’t mention the strategy here, but suffice it to say that many more will be learning about this project in the coming months.

What I’m excited about the most, however, are the new CT subprojects that are now beginning. Major new development now is in process including (1) a smart testing and review system that is integrated with the CT reading system, and (2) Chinese Toolbox for mobile and tablet devices.

Many of you have given me great ideas and have discovered problems that I missed in testing, and I know that some would like to test Chinese Toolbox features as they’re being developed so as to help shape future versions of Chinese Toolbox. For you I’m considering to do ER releases in shorter cycles, the first being Chinese Toolbox 13.2 ER-1.

If you download and try out Chinese Toolbox, please do let me know what you think. I take the good with the bad; all your comments eventually make Chinese Toolbox a better program for learning Chinese.