When a word isn't in the dictionary


These are tips for English speakers who need to conduct research on subjects in Chinese, though the ideas behind them should work just as well for those working in the other direction.

  1. Dictionaries rarely keep up with academic jargon, and often there are several different translations of a term in use at the same time. The easiest way to find a technical term in Chinese is to search for the English term on Google, but limit your search results to Taiwan (if you want the Taiwanese translation). You can do this by appending the following text to any search: site:.tw.
    • Note: it helps to limit your results to the past year, so that you get the most recent usage.
  2. As a next step you can also go to the National Digital Library of Theses and Dissertations in Taiwan and search for the English word there, limiting your search to the “abstract” field.
  3. When dealing with proper names a better approach is to use Wikipedia. Find the English word for a page and then switch languages to Chinese.
    • Note: If you use Chrome, this plugin will make switching easier. And if you want Wikipedia to default to a particular form of Chinese, use this.
  4. The above aren’t very useful for internet slang, idoms, or popular expressions. For those one needs to turn to the many Chinese language forums (mostly in China) where people ask for help and sometimes get helpful replies. It is usally easy enough to find these posts simply by adding the Chinese phrase “是什麼意思” after the English search terms.