Tips for Self Study, Part 1: Learning Resources

On the Nanjing University campus

Students ask me all the time questions like:

“I’m going home for the summer, how can I keep up my Chinese?”

“How can I improve my listening comprehension?”

“I’m taking a year off from my studies to work, what can I do to maintain my Chinese?”

And so on. There are quite a few resources out there but there is also a lot of junk as well. The internet has a wealth of resources but sometimes its hard wading through all the crap to find the good stuff. Below I outline some resources I have found to be useful.

Chinese Reading and Reference Software

These kinds of programs allow one to read Chinese online by having an instant pop-up dictionary wherever you place your cursor. In other words, when you place your cursor over a character, the definition pops up in a window. This can make reading much faster. They are sometimes called text annotators.

The three main software programs for this are:

Wenlin (www.wenlin.com)

Keytip (www.cjk.com/keytip.htm)

Clavis Sinica (www.clavissinica.com)

All three of these are quite powerful and have very good dictionaries. They are also fairly expensive, but sometimes you get what you pay for. Free programs that do much the same thing are around, but have some limitations. They include, Dimsum (which can be found at http://www.mandarintools.com), and the fairly new Google Chrome Zhongwen Pop up Chinese Dictionary. I have just recently started using the Chrome dictionary and it is pretty good. It allows you to have instant access to a Chinese dictionary when you are browsing a Chinese website. You can find it by going to the Chrome app store and searching for “zhongwen Chinese dictionary.” Firefox also has a free pop up dictionary as well. These free options do not have all the functions of the paid programs, but they are still pretty good. I personally use Wenlin in my own learning and teaching and the Chrome dictionary when I am browsing Chinese sites on the web.

Two Chinese sites that function more as translation tools are:

http://fanyi.youdao.com/

http://iciba.com

Chinese Dictionary Apps for your smartphone

The best that I have found and use all the time is called Pleco (www.pleco.com). I would pay for the upgrade to be able to write characters with your finger for automatic look up. I’m amazed at how good this feature is, even if you have crummy penmanship.

Online Resources

http://www.learningchineseonline.net is a clearinghouse of information with links to sites that offer all levels of resources for speaking, listening, reading, writing, proununciation, and just about anything else related to learning Chinese.

http://www.chinesepod.com is a subscription based service that provides all levels of listening comprehension practice. I have known people that have used it and really like it.

http://chinalinks.osu.edu has more Chinese related resources than any site I know. You can find information on everything from Chinese dialects, schools that teach Chinese, Chinese linguistics, learning Chinese, and everything else. Highly recommended.

Popular online dictionaries can be found at:

http://zhongwen.com

http://www.nciku.com

These are just a few, but the better resources out there, that can assist you in your Chinese language studies. If you know of other good resources, send them along in the comments section.

Remember that learning a language like Chinese really is a life-long process. It is important that you know how to learn on your own and that you know how to use the resources effectively to continue your studies beyond the classroom.

In a later post I will discuss specific self study strategies, like how to effectively use a tutor.