The Chinese Voices Project

20 Jan 2007

Clavis Sinica is a piece of software similar to Wenlin. It helps you read Chinese by giving you definitions of words when you hover over them. I don’t use Clavis Sinica; in my research I’ve found that it’s pretty widely regarded as an “OK” tool but inferior to Wenlin in the quality of its dictionary.

But now Clavis Sinica is offering some very useful resources on its website: the Chinese Voices Project. In the page’s own words:

> Welcome to Chinese Voices, a collection of short, original Chinese mini-essays with accompanying audio for intermediate and advanced students of Chinese language and culture. All of the selections are written by savvy young Beijingers and are read in their own voices. The topics have been selected to help provide insights and perspectives you can’t get from language textbooks, the New York Times, or the China Daily.

I have to say, I don’t think any of the current offerings go beyond the intermediate level, but it’s still pretty cool. They’re all a very manageable length. I wasn’t able to listen to all the audio (the internet is still really slow here until they fix those stupid cables), but I like that there’s a variety of speakers (well, supposed to be — right now it’s mainly one guy and one girl doing the recordings). There are currently 10 offerings:

– Tutoring for the College Entrance Exam
– If You Love Me
– Addressing Beijing’s Traffic Snarl
– Yuanmingyuan: The Film
– Reclaiming the Mother Tongue
– Going Home for the Holiday?
– Beijing Opera Artists
– Christmas Eve Birthday
– No Answer is Also an Answer
– Walking in the Snow

Check it out.

Via the ChinesePod Forums.


John Pasden

John is a Shanghai-based linguist and entrepreneur, founder of AllSet Learning.


  1. It sounds a little strange

  2. It’s a shame more Chinese students don’t know about Wenlin: I used it in college (and my Chinese advisor provided a few of the included texts) — or should I say, I neglected to use it in college. I now have my own copy, and it’s helping me keep sharp with my characters (using the flashcard tool) and to get through a few texts. Wenlin is great, unfortunately their website and marketing isn’t very good.

  3. It’s also rather expensive..

  4. These are pretty cool. It’s a nice change of pace for me from conversational dialog and they’re only a bit above my level. (The speed seemed to vary pretty dramatically between the couple I listened to.)
    As for Wenlin, from what I can tell, and what I’ve used of it, it’s great. You can’t really argue with that. I do think though that the interface could look MUCH better. I’m not a programmer, but hey, something a bit more up to date would certainly catch people’s eye.
    (I suppose somebody could make skins for it right?)
    As for the website? That thing just sucks.

  5. Wenlin is expensive, but worth the price if you are a serious student of Chinese. And if you are currently in China it’s half the price.

    But the interface is kinda messed up, and I’m pretty sure that you can’t make skins for it. I’m frustrated enough with Wenlin’s interface that I’m thinking about making my own Chinese reader application using the free CEDICT database.

  6. I realize this is a bit different (and a bit above my level to really get into), but this is something I really like about ChinesePod, as it gives you better real life wording on things – stuff you just don’t get in the textbooks.

    You guys should scoop this concept and feature contemporary Chinese urban poetry or something on ChinesePod.

  7. Wenlin’s interface is simply on the standard that was current with Windows 3.1 and hasn’t evolved since.

    I have to admit, I kind of like it. 🙂

  8. Just want to say thanks a lot for mentioning Wenlin. I checked it out, the program is great! Wish I had heard about it before.

    Although yeah, the interface is stuck in Windows 3.1. Wish they had a PDA version, as well.

  9. Clavis Sinica does have a smaller dictionary than Wenlin’s, but it also has a much smaller price tag ($39.95 for students, and a sliding scale if you can’t afford that), as well as a user-interface designed to encourage comparisons between related words and characters. Because the definitions are short, you can view a long list of words (with pinyin and definitions) using a particular character in a single window, or a list of characters using a particular radical. For those who like making connections between new vocabulary and previously learned words, this can be a useful technique.

  10. In my Chinese studies (in Taiwan), I use a small, folding electronic dictionary, that allows me to write the characters on a screen, and then gives me the pinyin/zhu-yin-fu-hao, and an approximate English translation. This sort of thing is available at any department store, and most high school students use them, and there are several different brands to choose from.

    I have been waiting to see which company will be the first to begin marketing this sort of thing in the west to people learning Chinese as a second language. I think they would make a killing, and I don’t know what they’re waiting for. But my girlfriend tells me I’m wrong, that there are already PDAs and even cell phones available in the West that can support this kind of dictionary function, as well as software for computers, so she thinks there would be no great demand for this type of small portable apparatus.

    But I think there would be a demand, or will be soon. However, the companies will have to do two things first:

    One is to make it more user-friendly. My dictionary is made for Chinese-speaking people learning English, not vice-versa. All of the icons, commands and error messages are in Chinese, so it took considerable coaching before I was able to make practical use of it.

    The second is that it needs to be MUCH more enlightening. One example is the maddening multitude of 4-character phrases (not to mention cheng-yu!) used in written Chinese that are abbreviated in common usage to 2-character phrases comprising the first and third characters in the phrase. When I put these two characters into my dictionary, I get nothing but an error message…and remain as confused as before. However, someone who grew up speaking Chinese will see those two characters and immediately think of the whole 4-character phrase.

  11. While there is not a PDA version of Wenlin, there is PlecoDict, a PDA (both PalmOS or PocketPC) program that uses Wenlin’s dictionary. It’s not quite as useful to read a text with because you can’t just move your mouse over the characters (you have to mark them and push a button instead), but it’s great to look up words, especially if you want to look up characters. I’m much better at inputting characters with the pen than with the mouse…

  12. sorry about the broken link

  13. I can second the recommendation for PlecoDict. I own a Palm Tungsten T3 and have used PlecoDict extensively. I guess I’ll give a mini-review of it here, since I like it so much.

    Like nik said, PlecoDict does use the Wenlin dictionary, however I’ve noticed that they don’t include the full text of the entries in Wenlin, notably the etymology explanation and older depictions of the characters. This is probably to save space since PDA’s don’t have as much memory. But in addition to Wenlin’s dictionary, you can also also buy an optional English-to-Chinese dictionary that is quite good, and you can supposedly even use the free CEDICT database.

    Surprisingly, the handwriting recognition in PlecoDict is actually better than Wenlin’s, probably because they license their handwriting technology from Hanwang (汉王), which, if you live in China, you’ll know is the manufacturer of those Chinese writing tablets. Their flashcard system is similar to Wenlin’s but I think it’s actually better. That’s probably only personal preference though, because I’ve studied Chinese long enough to not have issues with pronunciation anymore. PlecoDict does not have Wenlin’s pronunciation files, so you cannot have your PDA say the words out loud to you.

    Overall, PlecoDict is not really “Wenlin in your pocket” but it’s still pretty good considering the features you get and the added portability of a PDA. When I bought it, I paid $80, which got me the program, the Chinese-English dictionary, and the Wenlin dictionary. You can pay a little more or less depending on how many dictionaries modules you want.

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