Monday, December 21, 2009

Jingle Bells: Online Resources to study East Asian Languages

This past semester, I began studying Japanese. Because I am familiar with Korean grammar and studied Chinese for a bit, learning Japanese has been a very smooth and fun experience. Occasionally, I had to learn how to write certain characters differently, or rearrange words to conform Japanese structures, but overall the language is interesting. It has been particularly interesting to find linguistic similarities and go on small etymological quests to understand the history of related words. Sometimes, I confuse pronunciations and add onomatopoeia using the wrong languages: "その車は、ちょっと。。。那个那个那个。。。비싸, no, 高いですねえ!”

I noticed that if I was aware of all the internet resources to study the East Asian languages earlier in my Yale career, I probably would have enjoyed first-year Chinese more (though, Zhou Laoshi's lectures were always fun and second to none). I'll try to compile a few sites I use to study Japanese now, including a few other sites that I use to review Korean and Chinese.

First of all, I'd like to highly recommend a blogging site called Lang-8. You can write entries and have native speakers correct them for you. The website has fairly large communities of Japanese, Chinese and Koreans. This is one of the few social networks online that I've found to actually be effective in learning languages.

nciku - Back when nciku was still in beta, there were lots of expats trying to build this site and make it as organic as possible. The result today is impressive - you can write in characters that you cannot pronounce, or write in pinyin for the characters you can't write, and find definitions quickly. The example sentences are especially helpful to understand the contexts for word usage.
zdic - All Chinese interface, for the advanced learner. This site is excellent for understanding classical definitions of characters and finding fun chengyu (成语). It uses Kangxi Zidian and Cihai (kind of like OED, but Chinese) to explain character etymologies.
wenlin - translation and dictionary software. You can copy and paste anything Chinese into the interface to find quick definitions of characters. Whenever I write essays or translate articles, I usually have this open in the background for quick cross-referencing. Wenlin also offers flashcard programs to help you memorize pesky words and difficult phrases. Unfortunately, Wenlin is not free. For a free, but not as resourceful, software similar to Wenlin, try Chinese Practice.

jisho - Pretty basic layout, with search engines for hiragana, katakana and kanji all on the main page. You can even search/translate sentences!
naver - The major Korean search engine designed this dictionary for Korean speakers learning Japanese. It allows you to write Japanese on the screen to find definitions. The example sentences are extremely helpful. If you look up grammar words, the site also offers grammar explanations written and approved by bloggers.
wakan - like the Wenlin for Chinese learners. Built-in dictionary is a bit cumbersome to use, but the translation and pronunciation features are awesome.

naver - This one is a no-brainer. This site is not just a Korean-English dictionary, but also offers Korean-Hanzi, Korean-Chinese, Korean-Japanese, H-K, C-K and J-K dictionaries. Other major Korean search engines, like Nate (originally Empas) also offer dictionary services, but they are nowhere as comprehensive as Naver's.

Hope this helps. Happy holidays!

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1 Comment:

saars said...

Good luck with Japanese! I'm sure you'll pick it up in no time. It's the honorifics and culture that's harder to adjust to.

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