Saturday, June 20, 2009

Review: MandarinSpot (annotation)

Summary: If you're looking for a website to annotate Chinese text, I recommend (and yes, I use) MandarinSpot.

Whether you're learning to read Chinese, or are already mostly fluent, you're going to be looking at Chinese text. (Yup, I worked that part out all by myself.)

And every time you come across a word that you don't know, you copy & paste it into a web dictionary, and then move on. But that's a painful process - especially if you're a beginner and you're pretty much looking up every word.

To speed that up, you can use annotation websites. Basically, you load the Chinese text through the annotation site. However, when you now hover your mouse over a word or a phrase, a little popup tells you how to pronounce it in pinyin, and what it means.

MandarinSpot allows you to enter web addresses, or to paste Chinese text - either of which get annotated.

1. Websites

You can see MandarinSpot in action on the BBC Chinese-language site from the following screen capture, and note the transliteration & translation wrt the phrase I'm hovering over:

There are many different annotation tools out there, but my reasons for using MandarinSpot include:
  • it preserves the appearance of the website (some annotation sites seem to reformat the page a bit, or not cope well with images)
  • it preserves the function of websites (a couple of other sites I tried made a mess when I clicked links on annotated pages)
  • it doesn't just translate individual characters, but gives you the entire word or phrase where relevant (again, see screen capture above)
  • it gives you five options for annotation, including Hanyu Pinyin, Tongyong Pinyin & Wade-Giles)
And at one point I had problems where it was giving me cached versions of one particular page, so I emailed MandarinSpot - and Alex replied, did some tinkering, and it worked. So they feel more 'personal' to me.

2. Pure Text

If you simply have text, then paste into into the text box on the MandarinSpot page, and you get something along the lines of the following (text taken from the BBC sports page). Note how the transliteration is provided alongside the Chinese text, with the popup window also giving you translations:

Reasons for using MandarinSpot in this context include:
  • Again, you have five options for your method of transliteration
  • There is a print option - see the screen cap below - which does two great things: (a) it formats the output for printing, and (b) it gives an option to have the vocab from the text neatly presented at the end of the text (if you're an advanced reader, you can choose just to have words listed which are HSK Level x and above)

Finally, other things worth noting are:
  • MandarinSpot also has a dictionary
  • It's all powered by CC-CEDICT
  • They provide javascript-based bookmark links, so that you can make using the site's tools even easier for yourself
  • There is a mobile version of the site, for people accessing it through a Blackberry, iPhone, or similar
Happy, uhm, annotating ...


  1. MandarinSpot is really great. So far I have used a Firefox addon, but with the bookmarklet, MandarinSpot is much more flexible. I also like that you can get a vocabulary list with translations for every text that you copy paste.

  2. Hi Lisa

    I see from your blog article (although I can't seem to leave comments there) that you use the PeraperaKun add-on. I do sometimes too, but it doesn't work through Tor, which I usually have running. So I don't bother trying anymore.

    And I agree - that vocab list is really useful!