Here’s some handy tools I’ve stumbled across in my journey to becoming a Chinese speaker, fluent or otherwise:
This nifty little website can translate all sorts of languages from one to the other. To see the Chinese characters you will have to install the font. Google ‘Chinese Fonts’ to find out more about that.
If you translate sentences, you may find you end up with something you can’t use, especially because Chinese ‘words’ come in anything from 1 character on it’s own to 4 or 5 or more strung together to make up one ‘word’ and unlike English they are not always seperated by spaces to indicate this. So, if like me, you were speaking to a Chinese person using this translator, you will end up with some funny sentences which may, but probably won’t, be what you intended.
Translating individual words and then stringing them together yourself might make for more correct sentences (for the beginner too lazy to learn more and for the purpose of a casual online chat perhaps). A basic understanding of the lanugage structure might go a long way too.
Character to Pinyin Translation
Having the Chinese character is all good and well, but it gives no indication to the way it is pronounced.
And if ultimately you want to be able to speak, you must be able to pronounce. The links above will help you translate your character to Pinyin – which is the Romanisation (or representation with the western alphabet) of Chinese characters. Of course, the help of a Chinese native is vital, because words are pronounced much unlike you would imagine they would from the way they are written. ‘You’ for instance, is pronounced ‘yow’.
There is a catch to Pinyin though, especially the way you will find it above. In Mandarin one word (ie. ma) can have different meanings depending on the tone. There are 4 tones which change the pronounciation of the word and thus the meaning.
So if the word ‘ma’ is written as ma1, or ma2, ma3, it means you should pronounce the word ‘ma’ with the first, second, third or forth tone.
The link above will take you to a page which will help you understand tones and such.
Hmmm, my first non nonsense post. Hope it helps at least a bit. Oh, and when you’ve laid your hands on a Chinese song or so and you’ve got the hang of the tools above, pay a visit to Ting Dong (http://www.powersugoi.net/tingdong/) and source the words (and meaning) of your favourite song.