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How do you look up Mandarin Chinese words in a dictionary?
Home > Languages > Mandarin > FAQ > Writing > Dictionary

You have different types of dictionary in Chinese. Each has different function :

Pinyin-English / English-Pinyin : This is as easy to use as any bilingual dictionary. This is the dictionary you use when you heard a word and want to know its meaning, or when you want to use a word that you donít know.

Characters-Pinyin-English : This is the dictionary you would use if you are reading Chinese. It is much harder than you might expect. You first have to find the key of the character you are investigating. There are 214 keys and they are not always easily recognizable in the character. Then, inside a key section, characters are classified according to the number of stroke that constitute them. Finally you have to go through all the characters with the same key and same number of strokes until you find yours. Next to the character, you will have the Pinyin version, and the English translation. This is a real hassle and thanks to modern technology, you have computer programs that can help you. With Clavis Sinica, you can cut and paste any Chinese text and on clicking on the character you donít know, you get the Pinyin, the English translation, his key, his traditional / simplified version,Ö You also have programs that can recognize characters that you have previously scanned, for instance with a Datapen.

Pinyin-Characters or English-Characters : These are useful if you want to write Chinese. You also have computer programs that can assist you in writing. You write in Pinyin and the character is appearing. If there are different characters for the same Pinyin, you can choose the one you want. You have other dictionaries such as Simplified-Traditional characters, and different combination for Mandarin-Cantonese. These are not very useful for students.

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