Before we get started: Useful tools and links

So before I dive into the finer details of Chinese characters, I need to introduce a few resources that will ultimately make your Mandarin learning, as well as your time spent on this page, easier. I will probably only be typing in traditional characters, so use either MDBG or New Tong Wen Tang to see the simplified if that is what you wish. (I will be updating this whenever I find a tool/website that could be useful to you guys)

MDBG Chinese Reader: MDBG Chinese Reader: First and foremost you need to download this Chinese Reader. It is one of the best programs out there for Mandarin. It will allow you to see the pinyin/zhuyin and definitions of any Chinese characters simply by hovering your mouse over them. It uses the CC-CEDICT, (which is updated daily), and you can use it offline as well. It is free to use, however after 15 days it tells the user they are required to purchase the full version. The only differences between the two are a custom dictionary builder and another unnecessary element. You may continue using the program for free after the 15 days without any problems, and no features are removed. The only difference is a pop-up reminder. To rid yourself of this annoyance, just follow these instructions: – After completion of the initial 15-day trial, you need to click “skip” to load the dictionary. – Every now and then the reminder will reappear. The second time that it does this, drag it to the bottom of the screen and you won’t see it nor will it bother you anymore.

Taiwan’s Ministry of Education’s Stroke Order website: This baby is one of my absolute favorites! It shows you the stroke orders for 4,808 Characters as well as many other advanced features. (Read the instructions for more information)

新同文堂 (New Tong Wen Tang) for Firefox: This is an extremely convenient plugin that permits you to convert websites from simplified to traditional, and vice versa, in a split second. No waiting! It also provides an automatic conversion for all or specifically chosen websites. Another useful feature that I really like is a clipboard converter. You can copy text from anywhere, click T or S, and the clipboard will be converted to paste wherever you like.

Speak Mandarin in 500 words(30 lessons)
Speak Mandarin in 1000 words(100 lessons): These two websites seem to be very similar in the idea, but the 1000 character one is quite new and seems to be a lot easier to navigate. I don’t believe the second one has stroke orders, but you can easily find them on the stroke order website noted above. Both of these are very informative and can be used for those who study alone or as a complement to your studies in school. I recommend you give them both a thorough look and take the best parts of each of them. They both provide video instruction and the 1000 version has interesting dialogs and they are very well pronounced I might add. The only bad thing I have to say about it is that they have some very corny songs for remembering the dialog…feel free to skip that part. In all parts you may choose to use Hanyu Pinyin or Zhuyin(bopomofo). All in all a very good site for learning.

  • Learn to properly pronounce Pinyin/Zhuyin: Go to the 1000 character website posted above and click on “Pronunciation”. There, using Hanyu Pinyin or Zhuyin, you can create all of the possible sound combinations in Mandarin and hear them spoken by a native speaker. They also provide a character example for each combination.

  • Learn Zhuyin/Bopomofo: Go to the 1000 character website posted above and click on “Study Resources” then “Corresponding Pinyin” and then you will find a nice chart for learning Bopomofo. The symbols are grouped into consonants, vowels, and diphthongs. Clicking on a one of the symbols brings up a stoke order animation, as well as the corresponding pinyin letter(s). Once the animation is done a woman pronounced the symbol(s). It is very well done and great for learning this very useful and more accurate system.

Note: There are actually a few mistakes on the site.12

Yellow Bridge Etymology: I made a keyword on Firefox for this one, I use it so often. I have http://www.yellowbridge.com/chinese/character-etymology.php?searchChinese=1&zi;=%s under “Location”. Just copy that and make a keyword such as “ety” or something as I did. All I need to do is to type “ety 我” in the address bar to see the etymology of the character 我. It is not entirely perfect, as some components are incorrect, although it is extremely close and definitely to satisfaction.

Online Reference Materials: This is for more advanced learners. Almost all of it is written in Chinese, but it has some GREAT resources. Dictionaries, stroke orders, radicals books, font downloads, everything you will ever need for perfecting your Chinese.


  1. Some of the pinyin is incorrect, e.g. ㄨㄥ in Hanyu Pinyin is actually “weng, -ong”. I have sent an email to the site to see if they can correct this. You can find the correct pinyin under the “Pronunciation” tab in the main window. [return]
  2. The Tongyong Pinyin is for some reason not included and is a copy of the Hanyu Pinyin. This too I have asked them to fix. [return]