Five Must-See Websites to Advance Your Chinese

Of all the resources at your disposal for learning Chinese, the internet has to be at the top of the list after interaction with native speakers. The sheer number and quality of tools available (vocab lists, flashcards, conversational dialogues, etc) bring the ability to advance your Chinese at lightning quick speed.

I truly believe that with motivation and the tools listed below you can learn Chinese as fast as anyone paying to study in university. And you won’t have to pay a dime for it since the sites listed below are all free.

Without further ado, let’s get straight into the five must-see websites to advance your Chinese:

Site #1: Nciku

Nciku (pronounced “en-tse-koo”) is a free online dictionary that supports English and Chinese. I’ve been personally using Nciku for years and it has been my go-to online dictionary for as long as I’ve known about it. Although there are a ton of sites that offer similar functionality, Nciku stands above the competition with awesome features like:

  • Example sentences which show you how your new vocabulary is used correctly in practical sentences
  • Handwriting recognition which works even with incorrect stroke order
  • Q&A section where your specific Chinese questions are answered by the community
  • Vocabulary lists which allow you to create your own list based on words you look up, or browse others’ lists

Every Chinese learner should have an online Chinese-English dictionary bookmarked, and for me Nciku is simply the best.


My Favorite Nciku Resources

Nciku Vocab Lists

Nciku’s Free “Chengdu Snacks” iPhone app

Nciku Blog


Site #2:

When you’re just getting started, learning Mandarin is intimidating. Regional dialects are confusing, characters are complex and daunting, and correct tonality will seem impossible at first.

It’s absolutely essential that you build a solid foundation by fully understanding pinyin, the romanization of the Chinese language. Some learners choose to get started studying characters from the beginning, but I’ve found that this can in fact hurt your progress if you don’t master pinyin. The best site to do this, unquestionably, is

My Favorite Resources

Basic Rules of Hanyu Pinyin

Where to Place Tone Marks in Pinyin

Pinyin News Blog


Site #3: Chinese Hacks

I stumbled upon this blog several months ago and great content like “Retro Video Games in Chinese” have kept me coming back. The site is authored by a foreigner in Taiwan who’s been self publishing tips and tricks on learning Chinese for nearly a year. Much of the content featured on Chinese Hacks is topical and includes a vocabulary list for learning related words in context.

My Favorite Posts on Chinese Hacks

Retro Video Games in Chinese

Resume Keywords in Chinese

DVR Your Way to Better Chinese


Site #4: HSK Flashcards

The HSK (Hàny? Shu?píng K?oshì) is China’s “national standardized test to assess the Chinese language proficiency of non-native speakers”. It’s also a giant collection of characters and words you should aim to understand, whether you choose to take the actual HSK examination or not.

While Nciku has a vocabulary list section on their website with various HSK lists, this site is dedicated solely to the task. HSK Flashcards features HSK vocabulary at various levels and includes both simplified and traditional characters and a fantastic interface. For learning HSK vocabulary, it’s tough to best HSK Flashcards.

My Favorite HSK Flashcards Resources

Download HSK Lists for other software or printing

Browse HSK Flashcards


Site #5: Sinosplice

Sinosplice is a site authored by John Pasden, Shangha-based linguist and the Academic Director of ChinesePod. It’s part personal blog and part language aid, but considering the heavyweight credentials that John carries (a decade in China speaking Chinese, a masters in applied linguistics, etc) you’ll do well to check out Sinosplice.


My Favorite Resources on Sinosplice

The Five Stages to Learning Chinese

Chinese Pronunciation

The Process of Learning Tones


Of the dozens of websites devoted to learning Chinese, these are five which have helped me along. I’d love to hear what you think on the topic though: what sites are most beneficial to you as you advance your Chinese?

20 thoughts on “Five Must-See Websites to Advance Your Chinese”

  1. Great post, Charlie. I definitely agree with you that there is no need to study at a university. In fact, many experts think this is very inefficient. One of the online tools I use, though it does not happen to be a website explicitly, is Zhongwen app for Chrome (or Firefox). This has allowed me to actually have conversations on QQ or read Chinese material. Obviously when you are learning, you don’t know all the characters, and it can be frustrating when you have to go to Google translator all the time. This at least allows you to just roll over and get the translation.

    • Hi Tom,

      You’re absolutely right about Zhongwen, that is a fantastic browser plugin. I have it working in Chrome on several computers, it’s fantastic for getting quick translations. To anyone who doesn’t have it installed, you can grab it for Google Chrome right here:

      When you mention QQ, I assume that you use the QQ web interface? I use the web interface pretty much exclusively since it 1) allows you to use Zhongwen to mouse over Chinese you don’t understand and 2) it doesn’t bombard you with advertisements. Going back and forth between Google Translate does indeed get old very fast!

  2. Yup, I use web QQ, for exactly the reason you say, it lets you verify what you just wrote in Chinese before sending it. Of course my macbook just broke down, can’t wait to get that fixed when I go home in July!

  3. i can never really relate to these tools. the internet as a language tool baffles me really. i am sure its useful for some and i bet if i actually tried to use it it would work. but i basically walk the streets and yap and thats my technique. Serves me well to a certain point i suppose.

    • Have you ever read books to learn something? This is like that. Except interactive, infinite, and free.

      You’ll probably pick up language through osmosis if you hang out around Chinese people for years and years, but hitting the websites (or the books) is the fast way to get it done in months, not years.

      To each his own though, you’ve been in China for ten years and can definitely speak good Chinese.

    • Websites, iphones apps, ect are just supplements. In fact the only real way to become fluent in Chinese is by talking with locals on a daily basis (like you say what you are doing). There is really no substitute for that. But even if you are living in China, it can still be hard to do this if you are not in a 100% Chinese speaking work environment. That would include me teaching ESL… so that’s why I like to use these types of technology as supplements.

  4. I like the character test here:

    I used it a lot when I was prepping for the HSK. It drills your recognition of characters outside of context of familiar words, which is useful.

    I will say that for me personally, I found studying in the university very very useful. It is great to have so many resources available online, however I have trouble adhering to a consistent study schedule without any external pressure. Nothing motivates me like the fear of embarrassment in front of my peers. But Im sure that doesn’t apply to everyone.

    • This is cool because it tests you on character recognition and meaning simultaneously. Seems they also have an iPhone app available which is a flash card reader loaded with vocab sets. There are a lot of apps like this in the app store now and this has become a very crowded space.

      I can’t really judge the university path for language acquisition, but what I did was just go straight to China and start speaking to people, writing everything down, and researching. I never had parents willing to foot my tuition so this was always a much more attractive and exciting option for me personally (not that you did, but the idea of accruing tens of thousands in debt is very unappealing). It’d also be much easier to do now than when I did it considering the incredible proliferation of online tools and resources over the last several years.

      • My point is school vs no school, not university per se. I just think structure can be helpful for maintaining discipline. I know some people that claim to study better independently, but really just want to justify their lax approach to language learning. I know that you are a good self-starter- and capable of utilizing online resources- but not everyone is.

        Obviously there is no substitute for interacting with native speakers- especially for listening and pronunciation. But I think school can really help with other skills, like grammar and writing.

        Also, Chinese university is pretty cheap- around 1000 USD per semester- so I think that it is a worthwhile investment for a lot of language learners.

        • I agree, 1,000 USD per semester in China is reasonable. The comparison I was making was between studying Chinese overseas (in a Western university) versus coming to China and living cheap while interacting with locals everyday.

          One decision which I made when I first came to China which has paid off hugely has been living with Chinese people. I’ve never lived in a house where I speak English and I think that’s gone a really long way. The value of immersion truly cannot be understated.

  5. Has anyone ever used / paid for the character learning sites such as skritter or easychinesecharacters ? I’m curious if they’re any more effective than old school methods.

    • I have been gearing up to use Skritter for a while now. The only thing that is holding me back is I am waiting for my pen tablet to come from the States. I;ve heard great things, and as Charlie said, it is efficient. It’s supposed to teach you the correct stroke order. It’s like 10 -12 bucks a month or something, but I think it’s a great value.

  6. Hi Brandon,

    I’ve tried Skritter before and it’s pretty fantastic. I’m sure that many people have reservations about paying for a service like Skritter when there are so many free alternatives available, but for what it’s worth I think it’s great.

    Speaking from my own experience (and I don’t think my situation is unusual), I have a difficult time remembering characters if I don’t actually write them. Once I realized this many years ago, I started filling up notebooks with new characters and vocabulary. While that system works, Skritter is a more efficient way to achieve the same results.

    If you’re signing up for a year or Skritter service, it might be worth it to go ahead and get a tablet so you’re actually writing characters with a pen-like object. Writing characters with a mouse isn’t quite as satisfying, but a laptop trackpad is a good middle ground. Another thing to mention is that Skritter is always adding new features – since I tried it about a year ago it’s developed significantly (and even added a new language, Japanese).

    Hope this helps!

  7. “Zon is a multiplayer, online learning environment designed to teach Chinese language and culture through gameplay. As a web-based site, Zon provides real-time, on-demand connection to interactive learning activities and authentic cultural information.”

    This might be interesting for some people 🙂

  8. China’s interesting in many ways, particularly if you speak the language. But it’s advised to stay to popular cities, there’s hardly any English spoken in smaller places and it can be difficult to learn the language there.


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