chinese dictionary app

8 Best Chinese Dictionaries

Being able to look up new words is a must when learning Mandarin. These eight Chinese dictionaries have convenient features like handwriting and image recognition, stroke order, native speaker pronunciation and text translations that make them the best available.

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1. Pleco

Best Overall | AndroidiOS

pleco app logo

Pleco is one of the most popular Chinese dictionaries thanks to its user-friendly and straightforward format.

Pleco’s functionality is simple: It helps you translate, fast.

When you come across a character you don’t know, you can just draw it with your finger and Pleco will translate it for you in seconds. Of course, you can also search for characters using English or pinyin.

Each character entry also comes with audio so you can hear how native speakers pronounce it.

Pleco also lets you open a document and there’s a built-in flashcard system.

screenshot of Pleco Chinese dictionary entry for 跳舞

2. FluentU

Best Multimedia-based | Android, iOS, Web

The dictionary feature on FluentU is video-based. When you look up a word, you get a curated list of Chinese videos from authentic sources (like YouTube) where it’s used in context.

You can choose videos to watch based on your language level and interests and pick up new vocabulary through the interactive subtitles. Or, you can search for a specific word you want to learn and find videos where it’s used in natural contexts.

Each dictionary entry includes the word’s translation, part of speech, example sentences and a corresponding image.  Both the word and example sentences come with audio pronunciation by a native speaker, which you can play at normal or slow speed.

fluentu video dictionary screenshot

3. Naver Naver Dictionary Logo

Best for Example Sentences | Android, iOS, Web

Naver is a popular choice for Asian languages.

Searching for a word brings you a page with all of its possible meanings. There’s also a Words-Idioms tab, which shows longer words that are made with the word you entered.

For example, searching for 喜欢 (xǐ huān) also shows the word 讨人喜欢 (tǎo rén xǐ huān), which means to endear oneself to someone.

The “examples” tabs is one of the most valuable ones. It shows tons of example sentences for the word you looked up.

There’s also an option to look up words by taking pictures of them with your phone’s camera.

screenshot of Chinese dictionary entry for 喜欢 on Naver

4. Written Chinese Dictionary written chinese dictionary logo

Best for Beginners | Web

If you’re looking for a beginner-friendly dictionary that’s right on your browser, then check out the Written Chinese dictionary.

Searching for words brings you the primary translation at the top of the page. Then it also gives you a separate list of related characters and expressions for expanding your vocabulary.

Aside from Simplified and Traditional Chinese, there’s also Cantonese support (since they use the same characters but with different pronunciations).

written chinese dictionary entry for the word 学习

5. Hanping Chinese Dictionary (汉英词典)hanping chinese dictionary logo

Best for HSK Learners | Android

Hanping is extremely useful for studying for the HSK as it comes with complete HSK word lists.

It has a camera scan function, which allows you to scan Chinese text into the app to translate it, even with vertical text.

Another feature that helps with real-life conversations is a voice recorder. You can speak either English or Chinese into the app, and it’ll recognize each word and provide translations.

There’s a little bit of a drawback there, though—Hanping only translates words, so if you need a whole sentence translator, this one won’t be the one.

One thing that makes Hanping special is its idioms dictionary. Finally, in addition to HSK and YCT exam dictionaries, a conversational one is also included.

hanping chinese dictionary entry for the word 朋友

6. MDBGmdbg dictionary logo

Best for Quick Searching | Web

Although the design of the website and the dictionary is quite simple, MDBG does its job—and offers extra features, as well.

MDBG is great if you just need a translation from time to time, but don’t want anything to take up space on your phone. It has all the essentials: translations for both English and pinyin lookups, as well as a Chinese character search.

And like others on this list, MDBG also has a handwriting function.

The dictionary also lets you test yourself with a quiz. Based on HSK vocabulary, you can either take a Chinese Character Quiz, learn new Chinese characters with flashcards or you can subscribe to their web feed and learn 10 new words a day.

MDBG chinese dictionary entry for the word 中国

7. ArchChinese archchinese dictionary logo

Best for Character Lookups | Web

The ArchChinese dictionary probably has the most extensive ways of inputting words for a Chinese dictionary. You can look up entries in any mixture of pinyin, English and Chinese characters along with handwriting (on the browser!). They even have rarer input systems, like cangjie input and four-corner input.

Since its website is full of study resources, the dictionary is set up so you can also learn from it. You can add words to your own vocabulary list and even check vocabulary lists from the most popular Chinese textbooks.  

Its entries for characters are especially in-depth, with unusual information like etymology, other characters with the same pronunciation and even usage ratings.

ArchChinese has been around for a while, and it’s used by popular universities and institutions like the US Department of Defense, Microsoft and different Confucius Institutes, so it’s definitely a reliable dictionary.

arch chinese dictionary entry for the word 老师

8. Wenlin (文林)

wenlin dictionary logo

Best for Extensive Texts | Web / Desktop

Wenlin is a go-to for every (aspiring) sinologist. You’ll want to use it during class or while translating extensive texts, rather than when walking around Beijing or ordering in a Chinese restaurant.

There are five main products offered by the developers, and the free version has almost all you need! Just be aware: Wenlin is an online software suitable for computer download with no smartphone option.

One of its best features is text document translation. You can load an article or document into the program, and translations will automatically appear at the bottom as you go through it with your cursor.

Like a physical dictionary, you can also look at English and pinyin words alphabetically and Chinese characters according to their frequency of usage.

How to Look Up Chinese Characters in a Dictionary

Looking up Chinese characters using online dictionaries is usually pretty easy. There are a few ways to do this.

The first option is pinyin—use your English keyboard to type the romanization of the character into the search bar. But of course, this only works if you know the character’s pinyin.

If you don’t know the pinyin yet, most apps have a handwriting feature. For example, Pleco lets you draw the character on the screen to look it up.

Another option is to use an app that supports document reading—one that lets you upload a document and tap on unknown characters to look them up.

If you were to use a traditional, physical Chinese dictionary, you’d have to identify the radical and then count the strokes apart from the radical. This takes you to a reference page where you look for the character until you find it.

 

Whether you’re a student, teacher or visitor, it’s a good idea to have a Chinese dictionary on hand.

No matter what you’re looking for, these five dictionaries have you covered. 

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