I’ve been getting more and more requests to mention www.nciku.com, so now I finally am.
Before I even start, I have to say it’s a really, really hard website name to remember, which is a shame because there are some good things on it. This will not be a comprehensive review, but just a few of the highlights (and lowlights).
The dictionary itself is colorful, but I find it difficult to use and difficult to read. Here are my complaints about the dictionary portion:
- The English and Chinese are all mixed in together, which leads to a whole lot of scrolling down before you find what you’re looking for.
- Sometimes there is no pinyin for hanzi examples. It was only after using the site for a while that I discovered there is a mouse-over feature that displays the pinyin. Even so, it’s often long and hard to read in a bubble-tip format.
- Sometimes the tones don’t appear for the pinyin.
- Mixed pinyin and English searches are not allowed.
Overall, the dictionary has a little too much geegaw and clutter for my liking (like stars and green icons). But then again, I prefer a meat-and-potatoes dictionary display (like MDBG).
Now let’s move on to what I consider the best part of the site: the conversation bank.
- Every conversation has a transcript in English, pinyin, and hanzi.
- Every conversation has an automated text-to-speech bot that lets you hear the Chinese or English pronounced.
- The pronunciation, while automated, is pretty good with only a few problems (see below).
- You can browse conversations by topic or search for conversations that use a single English word or compound hanzi word.
- The translations are pretty good. If I had to guess, I’d say most conversations were written first in Chinese by Chinese speakers and then translated into English, but I’m not sure.
- You can submit your own conversations. I didn’t do this, because you have to sign up, but that’s a very cool feature.
All of these occur in this conversation about feeling cold. I suppose the developers of this site are borrowing some automated text-to-speech program, so they’re not responsible for these problems. But I still want readers to be aware that these are some non-authentic elements of the pronunciation on this site.
- The initial “h” sounds like a “p” to me sometimes.
- Can’t pronounce “érhuà” 儿化, like in “bǎo bèir” 宝贝儿. It should be two syllables but it is read as three.
- Tone changes are not exactly correct. For example “wǒ juéde” 我觉得 sounds like “wó juéde.” Really, the 3rd tone before a 2nd tone should be really low, and not like another 2nd tone. Also the 5th tone “ba” 吧 after a 3rd tone (hǎo ba 好吧) should be higher than it is after the other three tones.
- The “Auto play” option for sound files seems to really be “auto repeat.” But actually, if you clear the little check box, it doesn’t play at all. Can’t quite figure out what that’s for.
- The “Auto play” bubble often blocks your view of the transcript. If you move your mouse so that the bubble disappears, the sound file stops playing immediately.
- Pinyin is not allowed in searches.
- Multiple English words in searches doesn’t show conversations containing all words.
- Putting multiple English search terms “in quotes” breaks something.
The site’s still in “beta,” which means we’re supposed to give them a break and be patient while they work out these little issues.
It is cool to have this growing bank of conversations. This sort of corpus is exactly what Chinese-English dictionaries need. Does anyone know of any other sites that have conversations or sentence examples in Chinese and English?