With access to the internet, students of Chinese have no lack of resources and tools to use, but sometimes it can be hard to find good resources for specifically for traditional characters. (Not sure about the difference between simplified and traditional Chinese? Read this!)
While most resources provide both character sets, it's obvious that many offer traditional characters as an after-thought or at least at lower priority than simplified characters. This means that the information about traditional characters less reliable and harder to access.
Taiwan's Ministry of Education Dictionaries to the rescue
Fortunately, help is now available. Taiwan's Ministry of Education has long provided various online dictionaries, but until recently, they were very hard to access and not well-adapted for the internet, making them less useful for foreign students. The current interface, however, is well-designed and easy to use. In this article, I'm going to introduce some of all the available feature that are truly essential for students learning traditional characters.
First though, here's a link to the main website:
Note that there's also an app for Windows, Mac OSX, Linux, Android and iOS, which is very impressive. It's free, too, just, click the download links in the top-right corner!
The main dictionary
Searches on the front page will give you:
- Other search terms containing the query (left sidebar)
- Character with animated stroke order (click the character)
- Historical variants with animated stroke order (click 歷代書體)
- Mark as favourite (click the star)
- Pronunciation (both Pinyin, Zhuyin and audio)
- Radical information (top right)
- Main reading with definitions sorted by word class (noun, verb, etc.)
- Additional readings with definitions
- Other languages (usually Taiwanese, English, French and German)
This is already very good for any dictionary, some functions are unique as far as I know (such as the historical animated stroke order). The only two problems for learners are that you need to have already reached a decent level to benefit from the Chinese-Chinese definitions and that the example sentences sometimes are historical and thus don't reflect modern usage. You don't want to uncritically add these to your spaced repetition program.
The additional features are located in the navigation bar at the top of the page where it says "國語辭典". For starters, you can access various kinds of idioms: 成語 (chéngyǔ), 諺語 (yànyǔ) and 歇後語 (xiēhòuyǔ) by clicking 分類索引 (fēnlèi suǒyǐn) "category index". The definitons are in Chinese, so this is again not suitable for beginners. There are also categories for loan-words (further divided into which kind of loanwords, which is hard to find elsewhere online). Further down, there are similar resources for Taiwanese and Hakka, but since this site is about learning Mandarin, they aren't relevant right now.
The last few menu entries are important, though, because they are some of the best resources available for Mainland and Taiwan differences in pronunciation, meaning and so on. Go down to 兩岸詞典 (liǎngàn cídiǎn) "two/both coasts (referring to Taiwan and Mainland China) dictionary" and again use the category index. You now have:
- 同實異名 (tóngshí yìmíng) "same thing, different names", listing words or phrases that mean the same thing, but are called different things on both sides of the Strait. For example, "internet (or network)" is 網路 (wǎnglù) in Taiwan, but 網絡 (wǎngluò) on the Mainland.
- 同名異實 (tóngmíng yìshí) "same name, different things", listing words or phrases that look the same, but actually mean different things. For instance, 土豆 (tǔdòu) means "potato" on the Mainland, but "peanut" in Taiwan.
- 臺灣用語 (táiwān yòngyǔ) "Taiwanese usage" lists words and phrases that are typically used in Taiwan, but not on the Mainland.
- 大陸用語 (dàlù yòngyǔ) "Mainland usage" lists the opposite, i.e. language that is common on the Mainland but not in Taiwan.
If you want to go back to check what you have looked-up before, just click the icon between 國語辭典 and the cogwheels.
Overall, this dictionary easily beats any alternative when it comes to online information about traditional characters. The only drawback is that it isn't beginner friendly, but as a beginner, you can still find pronunciation and stroke order here. These are manually recorded, which means they are more reliable than any other online source. The example sentences aren't perfect, but then again, there are no perfect dictionaries!