I Used This Browser Extension to Boost My Chinese Literacy

Try Khov
3 min readSep 28, 2023

For many of you that follow my writing, you know that I’m a big proponent of comprehensible input (C.I).

Despite the progress I’ve experienced when it comes to listening, I realized that my reading ability was severely underdeveloped.

This was made apparent whenever I watch Chinese shows and miss a significant amount of details due to my inability to read the Chinese subtitles.

While I’ve tried reading Chinese books in the past, they were so difficult for me because I was unfamiliar with so many characters.

It was even more tedious to learn as I was using methods such as a separate dictionary website where I’d copy and paste characters for almost every other word.

This made it really difficult to focus on reading when I spent more than half the time just trying to understand what I was reading.

But after some research, I’ve stumbled upon a game-changing tool that made reading easier and enjoyable.

Zhongwen: The Popular Chinese Learning Tool

The Zhongwen (pinyin for 中文) Learning Tool is an extension tool for both the Chrome and Firefox browser.

Essentially, it is a dictionary extension that shows the definition and pinyin (拼音) of Chinese characters in real time.

What’s even better is that it’s independent of internet access.

During my recent flight to Beijing, I was able to read books and articles without the need of WiFi. (The books were just webpages already uploaded to my browser)

Here’s another example using a BBC Chinese article:

How it works

The extension is incredibly simple to use.

Simply hover over a text-based Chinese character and the extension will automatically show you the pinyin along with the definitions.

What’s great is that it isn’t limited to simplified characters.

If you’re learning traditional characters, you can adjust the settings so that whenever you see simplified or traditional, the extension will show you the traditional or the simplified version of your choosing.

This is great because it gives you access to much more content if the texts that you want to read is only in traditional or simplified.

Advantages of Reading

Ever since I started using this extension, I’ve been able to access so much more content than ever before.

With access to written content, my vocabulary and understanding of the language has grown immensely.

When I first started, I was reading BBC articles on COVID-19. Since these articles have similar themes, a lot of words are repeated such as 冠病 (Covid), 测试 (testing), 疫苗 (vaccine), etc.

Rather than learning words individually using flashcards such as Anki, I found a new convenient method of learn vocabulary through context. And the more that you’re exposed to a word in context, the easier it is to learn and remember.

Currently I’m reading the famous science-fiction book 三体 (The Three Body Problem) by Liu Cixin (刘慈欣). While it’s still pretty difficult, I’m learning a lot of new science terms and experiencing this great story in its original language.

Conclusion & Resources

Reading is a great, and arguable essential, way to learn a language.

Through reading, you have access to a greater amount of rich content that you’re unable to find elsewhere. In addition, you learn so much more vocabulary and grammar when used in real-life context.

Here are the links for resources that I’ve been using: