Monday, February 11, 2019

User's Guide

Zhongwen is an extension for the Google Chrome browser that allows you to translate Chinese words by hovering over them with the mouse.


In order to use Zhongwen, you must have the Chrome browser on your computer. If you haven't installed it yet you can install Chrome from here.

Then open Chrome and click on the following installation link for the Zhongwen extension: Simply click on the "Install" button to start the installation.

How does it work?

Once Zhongwen is installed on your computer you'll see a little icon showing the Zhongwen logo near the upper right-hand corner of your Chrome browser. By clicking on this icon you can turn the extension on and off. Click on it and wait until you see the word "ON" displayed in red and white on top of the icon. This tells you that the dictionary is active. If you want to turn it off again, just click on the icon again and the red "ON" label disappears. So with a single mouse-click you can activate or deactivate the dictionary.

Once Zhongwen has been turned on, showing the red "ON" label on the icon, you can go to a web page in Chinese and point your mouse at some Chinese characters. A pop-up window opens up automatically showing you the translation of the word you were pointing at.

Zhongwen can translate both simplified characters as well as traditional characters.

What information does it show?

By default, the pop-up window shows the following pieces of information:
  1. the Chinese charaters forming the word you're pointing at with your mouse. If the simplified and the traditional forms differ, then both forms are shown.
  2. the corresponding Pinyin. The individual Pinyin syllables are shown in different colors (see below).
  3. the English translation.
Sometimes, Zhongwen finds more than one matching entry in its dictionary. In this case it shows you all of the matching entries.


If you want to see Zhuyin, a.k.a. Bopomofo, you can enable it via the options page (see below).

Chinese Grammar Wiki

Zhongwen also allows you to learn more about Chinese grammar and usage. If  Zhongwen knows that there's an entry at the Chinese Grammar Wiki for the entry you're just looking at, it will show you the following text at the bottom of the pop-up window: 'Press "g" for grammar and usage notes.' If you then press "g" on your keyboard, a new tab will open in your browser and it will take you directly to the corresponding page in the Chinese Grammar Wiki.

Why is Pinyin shown in different colors?

If you're learning Chinese, Zhongwen helps you remember the tone of each character by displaying it in a different color. It uses the following color scheme for showing Pinying syllables:
  1. First tone syllables are shown in red.
  2. Second tone syllables are shown in orange.
  3. Third tone syllables are shown in green.
  4. Forth tone syllables are shown in blue.
I picked this color scheme because it is the one used by Skritter and in some books.

Keyboard Navigation

Some users don't use Zhongwen to look up individual words, they want to read an entire paragraph or article. In this case, rather than having to trace all the words with the mouse, you can use Zhongwen's built-in keyboard navigation support: You can move from character to character or from word to word by pressing keys on your keyboard:
  1. Pressing "n" on the keyboard takes you to the next word.
  2. Pressing "b" takes you back one character.
  3. Pressing "m" moves to the next character. (This is different from pressing "n" if you're currently over a word that consists of two or more characters.)
Sometimes the pop-up window is hiding the text you're looking at. You can move it out of the way using "x" and "y" on the keyboard (this moves the pop-up window up or down), or hit "a" once or twice to move it to an altogether different location.

Built-in Word List

So now that you can look up all those words when reading Chinese web sites, wouldn't it be nice to add the new words you want to remember to some list that you can use for studying? Zhongwen let's you do that, too! It has a built- in word list feature. You just need to press "r" (short for "remember") on your keyboard and the entries you're looking at in the currently opened pop-up window will be added to the built-in word list. How do you get to see this list? It's easy, you need to use press the "Alt" and the "w" key on your keyboard (Alt + w). The word list will then open in a new tab.

Skritter Support

If you're studying Chinese characters using Skritter you can easily add Chinese words to your vocabulary queue: just hit "s" on the keyboard. This opens up a new tab that takes you to the Skritter web site. If you're not logged into Skritter you'll see the login page. After you're logged in, the word is automatically added to your study queue.

Can I export the dictionary entries into a spreadsheet or import them into Anki?

Yes, if you want to copy the current dictionary entry, including the Chinese characters, Pinyin, and the English translation, to the clipboard, just hit "c" on the keyboard to copy to the clipboard. (Note: This is different from using "Ctrl + C" on a PC or "Command + C" on a Mac, which only copies the Chinese characters without the translation.) When you paste the clipboard into Excel or an OpenOffice spreadsheet, the individual components of the entry are nicely put in different columns and rows. From there you can also import them into Anki. (See the Anki manual for further details.)

What built-in dictionary does it use?

Zhongwen comes with a recent release of the CC-CEDICT dictionary. This dictionary is constantly updated, and each Zhongwen release will include an updated version of the dictionary.

Support for online dictionaries

Sometimes, in addition to looking at the translation in the pop-up window, you might want to look up a word in one of the freely available online dictionaries. Zhongwen lets you quickly do that by some simple keyboard shortcuts.

  1. Press the "Alt" key on your keyboard simultaneously with "1" to look up the selected word using nciku.
  2. Use "Alt + 3" to for a lookup.
  3. Use "Alt + 4" for iCIBA.
  4. Use "Alt + 5" for the MDBG dictionary.
  5. Use "Alt + 6" for JuKuu
  6. Use "t" for Tatoeba

Chrome will open a new tab and the word that was shown in the pop-up window will be looked up in the corresponding online dictionary listed above.

More Options

Zhongwen also has an options page which allows you to configure certain aspects of its behavior. In order to get there just right-click on the Zhongwen logo in the upper right-hand corner of the browser and choose "Options". A new tab will open showing you all the available options. If you don't know what they mean you probably don't need to use them. Zhongwen is designed to work out-of-the-box for most users. These options are basically for power users.


  1. I love this tool! Thanks for making it, please make some way of donating so that I can contribute!

    1. Thanks! If you want to make a donation, you can do so using this link:

  2. So thankful for this awesome extension.
    Awesome job !

  3. Would there be any way of adding the options to change tone colors in the preferences? I do not use the Skritter colors. Mine are: 1st - Blue (sky high); 2nd - Green (trees going up); 3rd - brown (low, in the mud); and, 4th - Red (angry, falling). Thanks for considering. Best regards, Dan

  4. Any plans for Safari MacOS support?

  5. Hi Chris, This tool is brilliant. I would like to chat with you if you are interested in bringing similar extension functionality to another industry.

  6. Is there anyway to make this work in combination with google play books in web browser?

  7. Is there a way to remove the alt+w shortcut? I usually use it for question mark.

  8. How do I use the app in a Word or PDF document?

  9. I think if you're viewing the PDF in Chrome it works fine. Not sure about Word or OpenOffice, but you can always copy into a Google doc and read it there in Chrome.

  10. Christian,

    I'm interested in exporting the words to another application, as it does with Skritter. How can I contact you about adding that feature?



  11. I will install in to learn chinese

  12. Awesome extension! For some reason it has stopped working for me in Google Docs. It works in Gmail and on other websites. I have uninstalled it, reinstalled it, done basically everything I could think of. Just seems to have stopped working on Google Docs. I am using Windows 10 and Chrome. I have searched and searched online for a solution. Hope someone here will give me their thoughts. Thanks in advance. Landon

  13. Hi Landon, unfortunately this is because Google is in the process of changing Google Docs pages to a different formt. The unintended consequence of this change is that it breaks Zhongwen. I don't see a way how to fix it. So once your account has been converted to the new Google Docs format, Zhongwen won't work on that site anymore. :(

  14. It also stopped working in my Google Docs, but only in some files, and seemingly at random (in some files, it would work fine one day and the next day it wouldn't). So I made copies of files where it worked and then copied the contents of files where it didn't work into those copies where it did work. This took a bit of fiddling around and was a bit hit and miss (I had to play around with file names and settings), but eventually I was able to thereby 'restore' the functionality. But if anyone finds a better way, please share it.

  15. Well, as of today, it doesn't work in any of my Google Docs files anymore, which is a real shame. BUT, I found a kind of workaround, as follows. Just select the Chinese word in your Google Docs file and right-click. The window which appears will include the Chinese expression, and if you then hover your mouse over that, the pop-up dictionary will work. It's not ideal but much better than nothing.

    1. Cheers! You're right - it is better than nothing! I also use Reverso by highlighting text and pressing CTRL-C (twice) but this allows me to look up a thorny word without tapping the keyboard and I can stay in the window.