Learning Tools Part II – Dictionaries

Continuing with the expose of our blog’s learning tools, I move on to Part II: Dictionaries.

I’ll admit, albeit a bit embarrassedly, that I love dictionaries. Although I am not one to sit down and read one cover-to-cover, I do enjoy a well put-together dictionary. In order to learn Chinese, it never hurts to thumb through a physical dictionary and reinforce stroke-orders, pinyin, and radicals, but in this day and age, digital dictionaries are king. Here are a few of our favorites, and feel free to get back to me on yours.


Physical dictionaries are my favorite, but digital are much easier to use.


Dictionaries are key for continued study of a language. Beyond print copies, there are many electronic options, both online and in the mobile space. An iPod Touch, iPhone, Android, Windows Phone, or Palm all serve as ideal platforms for mobile dictionaries. Here are some of the favorites of the Lotus staff.

Despite being self described as a “cool word space always ahead of the competition,” nciku (pronounced n-cíkù) is a great place for both beginner and advanced learners of Chinese. The site’s video notes section provides video explanations for Chinese words with similar meanings. Dictionary notes provides a way for the community to give explanations about tricky subjects and give back to the project.


Pleco, the best option for a digital dictionary

PlecoDict: Arguably the best mobile dictionary available. With apps for iPhone, Windows Mobile, and Palm, it is very usable and comes with a free set of basic dictionaries. It is further expandable with paid dictionaries for advanced users.

A Chinese based dictionary with extensive English to Chinese capabilities. Also has many community tools, but mainly in Chinese.

The dictionary and tools are powerful, but also primarily in Chinese.

Wenlin is a desktop dictionary for advanced users, available for PC and Mac. Although somewhat dated, Wenlin provides extensive background for individual characters, including their origins and seal script forms.

Studying in a Coffee Shop

I’m currently volunteering part-time for Lotus while I study Mandarin here in Beijing. Part of the arrangement I have includes living in the office apartment. I think it’s always good to get out a bit instead of staying in the same place all the time. Besides going out to eat at night, when it’s time to study I like to go to one of the nearby coffee shops to crack open the books.

img_4698If you’re volunteering at Lotus or studying in the Small Class program, then you’re going to be in the Lotus neighbourhood quite a lot. If you like going to a coffee shop to study or surf the Internet, then this post is for you. There are actually quite a few coffee shops in the neighbourhood, and I’ve visited almost all of them. This will give you the low-down on which ones I think are best.

All the coffee shops around have free wireless internet access. They all sell coffee at roughly the same prices. That is, “fancy coffee” prices, about 5 USD/cup. There is no drip coffee, the most basic coffee around is an Americano and it costs just as much as it does back home.

img_4699My two picks for coffee shops are Lava Coffee and Monet Cafe. They both have a good atmosphere, free wireless internet, and are less than five minutes’ walk from the Lotus office. Most of the time there aren’t many customers so you’ll have no trouble finding a seat along with some quiet time for practicing your Chinese characters. Also, neither of them will charge you extra for cream. Yes, that’s right, some coffee shops charge extra for cream. Regardless, you’ll have to ask for extra cream, because every coffee shop serves coffee with a single creamer and single packet of sugar on the side, by default.

As an alternative to the “fancy coffee” places, you can also go to any KFC or McDonald’s and get a cup of drip coffee at ¼ the price of a coffee shop. Unfortunately fast-food joints lack the atmosphere, wireless internet and quiet you might need for studying. But they won’t charge you extra for extra cream. If what you’re looking for is cheap drip coffee, a fast-food joint might just be the thing.

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Click on the map to zoom in and see the location of these two coffee shops. If you come to Beijing before my time here comes to its end, then I can show you the way.