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Great Ways to Learn Chinese – nciku Posted by on Aug 10, 2014 in grammar, internet, Pronunciation, Vocabulary

Last month, we kicked off a new series here about “Great Ways to Learn Chinese,” focusing mostly on what’s available online. In the first post, we introduced the BBC’s excellent program “Real Chinese” – a video series that teaches plenty of useful Mandarin Chinese while at the same time providing insight into Chinese culture. Today, we’re taking a look at another great online resource for all things Chinese:

nciku

An example of the homepage when you get on nciku.

An example of the homepage when you get on nciku.

This website is a one stop shop for students of Chinese – dictionary, vocabulary lists, practice conversations, HSK prep, writing practice, and more. Best of all, it’s totally free! In the many years that I’ve been living in China and attempting to learn Chinese, this site has come in handy more times than I can count. It’s a great resource to have at your fingertips and so much more than just an online dictionary. Let’s take a closer look at this site and just how to use the various aspects of it effectively.

Dictionary

This is the primary feature of nciku, as it is the first thing you see on the homepage. There’s even an iPhone/iPad app for it (for purchase). The best part about this dictionary is that you can search in English, pinyin, or Chinese characters. You can punch in an English word and find the Chinese equivalent, type in the pinyin based on a word you heard but didn’t quite understand, or copy Chinese characters and paste them in the search bar. That’s not all, though – you can even search by radical, stroke count, or use your mouse to draw a Chinese character and then check out the results.

Search by radical or stroke count in the dictionary.

Search by radical or stroke count in the dictionary.

Perhaps the best feature of this dictionary, though, is the fact that you not only see a definition and translation of the word you’re looking up, but you also get tons of examples of how to use that word in a sentence. Take for example this simple search for the word “TV:”

Lots of practice sentences.

Lots of practice sentences.

You can even listen to the sample sentences for more practice with your pronunciation. Obviously it sounds a little robotic, but considering it’s totally free it’s hard to complain. When learning a language, it’s much better to see examples of how to use a word than just learning the meaning. Taking advantage of this aspect of nciku will help you build your vocabulary while learning grammar and sentence structure at the same time. As many of us know, the trickiest part about learning Chinese is how to write the characters. Well, in the nciku dictionary you can watch little flash videos that show you how to hand write characters in the correct stroke order.

I'm strokin'!

I’m strokin’!

Learning Center

This is the part of nciku that separates it from other online dictionaries. Browsing this section of the site, you can read conversations, view lists of theme words, watch short animated video notes, take quizzes, study HSK characters, and even read bilingual books.

The learning center of nciku.

The learning center of nciku.

For the conversations, you can browse either by place or by topic. For example, under the topic “Buying Tickets,” you can view conversations at the movie theater, subway station, park, and more. When you view a conversation, you have the option to toggle on/off the English. This is a great way to practice, as you can read it once with the English and then try again without. You can listen to both the Chinese and English as well. Conversations can be saved or printed for further study.

A sample conversation about subway tickets.

A sample conversation about subway tickets.

The theme words is another useful aspect of nciku. Browse by category, and then view lists of words that are related. You’ll see a picture alongside both the Chinese and English versions of the word, and you can listen to both of them. Say for example you want to learn a bunch of Chinese words about fruit so you can do your grocery shopping – just search under “food” and you’ll find a list of over 50 words.

Study your fruit vocab with pictures and audio.

Study your fruit vocab with pictures and audio.

Another fun section of the Learning Center is the “Chinese Quizzes” page. In these quizzes your Chinese reading skills are put to the test, as the questions and answers are displayed in characters only. Never fear, though – if you hover your mouse over them, you can also see the pinyin and English in case you need some help. One such quiz about traveling during National Holiday tests your knowledge of scenic areas around the country. One question asks, “Which province is Shangri-la in?” (“香格里拉”在哪个省?- “xiāng gé lǐ lā” zài nǎ ge shěng) with four possible answers – Yunnan, Henan, Guangdong, or Shandong.

Where is Shangri-la?

Where is Shangri-la?

Vocab Lists

nciku is more than just a dictionary – it’s an online language learning community. You can create your own account, save conversations and lists, track your progress, and even create your own vocabulary lists to share with other users. A lot of these lists are made specifically for studying HSK vocab, but there are thousands of others to choose from. A quick search of popular lists reveals one about Chinese idioms (成语 – chéng yǔ), a great thing to study.

Learn your Chinese idioms!

Learn your Chinese idioms!

With so much to do on just one site, nciku is an amazing resource for Chinese learners. The best way to make full use of the site is to create your own account, save lists/conversations, and come back often as there’s always something new to browse. Of course, we’d love it if you decided to learn Chinese with us as well! Subscribe to the blog to make sure you don’t miss future posts about more great ways to learn Chinese online.

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About the Author: sasha

Sasha is an English teacher, writer, photographer, and videographer from the great state of Michigan. Upon graduating from Michigan State University, he moved to China and spent 5+ years living, working, studying, and traveling there. He also studied Indonesian Language & Culture in Bali for a year. He and his wife run the travel blog Grateful Gypsies, and they're currently trying the digital nomad lifestyle across Latin America.


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