Over the last 20 years, using Chinese dictionaries has gotten easier. Some of the first dictionaries I bought didn't have pinyin, which didn't matter, because I never knew the word's pinyin. So I spent a lot of time trying to guess the character's radical or counting and re-counting strokes. Then came the online Chinese dictionaries and hand-held dictionaries which added pinyin searches and handwriting searches. Using dictionaries became more convenient.

But while there have been multiple revolutions on dictionary usage, the content found in Chinese dictionaries has remained the same. And there are lots of ways Chinese dictionaries could be improved. For example, most Chinese dictionaries weren't made with non-native Chinese learners in mind. Which means, their content wasn't made to answer many of the questions that you might have.

In order to try and help answer some of these questions, 3000 Hanzi recently added Chinese character data to our Chinese definition results. Now, when you search for a character in our Chinese dictionary, you'll get word results and extra character information. 3000 Hanzi's goal is to make learning to read Chinese easier, and an important step is to provide an awesome hanzi dictionary.

Introducing 3000 Hanzi's Chinese Character Dictionary

Unlike most of the dictionaries out there, I didn't just throw the Unihan character definitions into a database and call it a day.

Instead, I spent a lot of time thinking about Chinese learners, and a lot of time talking to Chinese learners. I thought about how I have used character dictionaries, and about how other learners used them. Then I spent a lot of time thinking about what a someone studying Chinese is looking for when they use a hanzi dictionary (字典).

Do you just want radical information and a definition? Do you need to know what page a character appeared in on some dictionary that you don't have? Do you need to know obscure IME shortcut codes? What features and content are you really looking for? Or did you really want definitions from a 词典?

One of the things I realized is that Chinese learners don't always know when they need a 字典 or a 词典. That's why I decided to include character entries within our regular dictionary results. That way character information is there when you want it. Besides combining results, I also added some new and unique features.

Making a better character dictionary

What kind of features did we add?

For starters, we added character diagrams. I'll admit the colored-characters aren't the most beautiful characters I've ever seen (something I'll be addressing soon), but they are very useful, providing a clear picture of character and its individual strokes.

I also added the standard radical, stroke count, and definition information found in Unihan. In general, I'm very suspicious of content I didn't create, so I spent some time checking Unihan's entries (and even found a few errors which I submitted corrections for) before including them.

I also added a list of common words which include the character. And if you don't know what one of the words means, you can just place your cursor over it and 3000 Hanzi's Dictionary popover or Dictionary toolbar will look it up for you.

Finally, we added one feature that answers a questions that I've been thinking about for a while now. Quite often, Chinese learners don't know how to properly use a character they just learned. Learning a character and memorizing its definition doesn't mean you can go straight out and use it. For example, one of the first characters you might learn is 中 (which means middle, among other things), but if you wanted to say the bookstore is between the McDonald's and the bank, you'd use 中间, not 中. Or, you might also learn the character 石--stone--, but when you go out and try to say it, people don't get what you're saying. Eventually, you finally figure out that people say 石头 for stone.

So how do you know when a character is a word, and how do you know when a character needs to be combined with another character to form a word?

Ideally, a Character dictionary will tell you when a character is commonly used by itself and when it commonly appears as a component in other words. Unfortunately, no dictionary really answered that question, until now. 3000 Hanzi's Character Dictionary does just that with a feature I'm calling Character Friendliness.

I'll write about Character Friendliness more in a later post. But essentially, its a quick way to determine if a character usually appears as part of a multi-character word (like 尴 and 尬) or if it rarely occurs with other characters (like 我). This feature is exclusive to 3000 Hanzi and was built with 3000 Hanzi's Chinese corpus (another thing you'll be hearing more about soon).

A more humane Chinese Dictionary

I hope you'll find 3000 Hanzi's character Dictionary not just useful, but really useful. Chinese dictionaries have a lot of room for improvement, and this update is a step in that direction. I'll continue to try to think of useful content to create and new and better ways to present it. For me, it's all about making a more humane Chinese dictionary.

I'd love to hear what you think about these features or any other features on the site. Just send me an email via our contact page, or leave a suggestion in our suggestion forum. Your ideas and comments help make the site better.

What features do you think Chinese dictionaries need the most? Tell me your opinion in the comments.

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