Last Updated on July 30, 2016
While these days, there are many great smartphone apps and websites with online Chinese dictionaries, paper Chinese dictionaries are still around and still very useful. In fact, sometimes, paper dictionaries can be better than digital dictionaries because you can be more focused using them, and you don’t have the distractions of your computer or smartphone. You just have the book. Here is a list of what I think are the best paper Chinese dictionaries.
Tuttle’s Concise Chinese Dictionary
For beginners or frankly any level, I recommend Tuttle’s Concise Chinese Dictionary by Li Dong ISBN-10: 0-8048-3773-2. I first bought this book back in 2009 or 2010 while I was living in Singapore and first starting studying Mandarin. This is a fantastic dictionary for beginners. It has a Chinese-English and an English-Chinese section. The Chinese-English section is organized by the word or character’s Pinyin pronunciation. While this dictionary focuses on using Simplified Characters, it also gives Traditional Characters for individual characters if there is a difference between the Simplified and Traditional. It contains 11,000 vocabulary items including all high frequency words. Sometimes the author gives interesting word etymology, slang, and notes about colloquial Chinese. It is quite a compact dictionary and easy to travel with. I think this dictionary would be a great investment for anyone learning Chinese.
Berlitz Mandarin Chinese phrase book and dictionary
Berlitz updates these phrase books frequently. In addition to Chinese words and translations between Chinese and English, these books give you lots of information about Chinese culture and what to expect on many topics while in China.
These books are clearly designed for use by tourists and/or people who will likely be in China for only a short time. The books are laid out into numerous different sections with sub-sections you might need to talk about. The topics range from food, people, shopping, sightseeing, emergencies, and anything in between. It has a brief English-Chinese and Chinese-English dictionary at the end of the book which is like an index.
I highly recommend these books. In addition, am a big fan of the Berlitz company and of Charles Berlitz, a world class linguist and the grandson of the founder of the company.
6th edition printing published in November 2000 ISBN 2-8315-6265-1
8th edition printing published in March 2012 ISBN 978-178-004-265-7
The Pocket English-Chinese (Pinyin) Dictionary (袖珍英华 (拼音) 词典)
Edited by Wang Liang Bi (王良碧), Zhu Yuan (朱原), and Ren Yong Chang (任永长) ISBN 962-07-0086-4
This is only an English-Chinese dictionary, but it is still incredibly useful. All definitions are given using Simplified Characters. Interestingly each English word in the dictionary contains its pronunciation in international phonetic symbols, part-of-speech label (i.e. noun, verb, etc) along with the Chinese definitions. And also, the back of the book contains a table comparing Pinyin with Bopomofo, the Wade-Giles system, and the International Phonetic alphabet. Furthermore, the back of the book contains a brief chronology of Chinese Dynasties from roughly 2100 BCE to the present from the Xia Dynasty and everything in between. And, as another interesting note, there is a table at the back of the book containing a table of every possible sound in Mandarin using Pinyin. This dictionary contains over 6000 definitions.
New Pocket Chinese-English Dictionary (新汉英袖珍词典)
By editors: Wu Jingrong, Shen Shouyuan, Huang Zhongqing, Qin Yaqing, and Jin Li. ISBN: 7-5001-0428-6/Z*25.
The beginning of the book contains every Chinese character used in the book sorted by its radical number which can be very useful. If you know the Character’s radical, but forgot or simply don’t know the character’s pronunciation, you can find it by looking it up in the radical index. After the radical section, the dictionary begins. This is only a Chinese-English dictionary. The dictionary contains the pinyin pronunciation of the respective words, the part of speech like 名 (noun), 动词 (verb), etc. The editors explicitly say that this dictionary is for beginners and average readers, but it is still useful for anyone regardless. And, the book contains over 4,800 single-character and 24,000 multiple character entries. This is a Simplified Chinese Dictionary, but it does show the Traditional characters for individual characters when the Simplified and Traditional characters differ.
Xue sheng shi yong xin hua xi dian
by 赵秋荣 (zhao qiu rong)
I translate this into English as Student Practical Use New Chinese Dictionary. This dictionary is only a Chinese-Chinese dictionary, so it is only recommended for intermediate and advanced students of Chinese. This dictionary was given to me by one of my students in a college in China. I find this dictionary to be very useful, and it forces me to get better at Chinese whenever I use it, and it can do the same for you. The beginning of the dictionary contains a section where you can search characters by their radical number. After the radical section, the dictionary begins. The back of the book contains some explanation about Bopomofo, a brief chronology of all of the Chinese dynasties, and my favourite part, the periodic table in Chinese.
What did you think of this post. Do you know of any other great paper Chinese dictionaries? Let’s continue the conversation in the comments below.