I'm learning Cantonese (native Danish speaker, I use traditional Chinese characters) and I'm compiling a list of characters that I've learned. I have two questions about creating this list.

  1. Since (many) single characters can be words, what is the most logical way of organizing such a dictionary? I figure that I should not group by nouns, verbs, adjectives etc. since that would lead to many repetitions. What do you think?
  2. If I simply create a list of characters (with translation, phonetics, etc.), then what is the most logical way of ordering this list? Using the Latin alphabet, I would simply use the alphabet ordering.

Because I do not know your competence in Chinese / Cantonese, here's some vague advice:

Maybe 2 lists. The first list of characters / words are grouped by function:

e.g. number (1, 2, 3 ...), location / direction (here, there, east, west).

Have a look at the Lonely Planet Cantonese phrasebook; you'll know what I mean.


Then, another list is sorted by alphabet, just like a dictionary. Again, have a look at these free resources from the internet archive:

An English and Cantonese pocket-dictionary

Cantonese for beginners

English and Cantonese dictionary

The Cantonese made easy vocabulary

Just a reminder, these books are published in the 18-19th centuries, some terms are not politically correct nowadays.

Another source: the 國語辭典 from Taiwan is authoritative. You may download 3 Excel files, sort all volumes, then find a suitable way for yourself.

Have fun :)

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  • 1
    Why do you consider Taiwan's 國語辭典 as authoritative for Cantonese, or even generally Standard Written Chinese in Hong Kong? There are quite a few differences, so I'm curious as to whether Hong Kong publishes something similar. – dROOOze Jan 20 '18 at 1:57
  • i do not. 國語辭典 is authoritative for written chinese. "我手寫我口" by cantonese, would produce "港式書面語". well, 🇭🇰 – 水巷孑蠻 Jan 20 '18 at 6:13

My experience comes from learning Mandarin. Like 水巷孑蠻 I suggest not mixing up Characters with Words. I ended up with 2 lists: one for Characters for learning to write, and one for Words for learning to speak.
I also suggest using Excel spreadsheet: using SORT function you can easily sort any column into any order you want, i.e you don’t have to make a decision about the order. (I know there is a learning curve for Excel but in the end it could save you hassle. )
I found the most useful Columns for sorting on (for words) to be:
1/ Chinese Character word 2/ Pinyin (or similar for Cantonese), 3/ Pinyin but with the numbers taken out (useful for me for finding a word where I could remember the sound but not the tone.) 4/ an order based on logical learning order. I used HSK level for Mandarin, but you could use a level from a Cantonese learning system, or word frequency.
I too recommend looking for lists of words or characters that are already available on the internet. You can read comma separated lists into excel columns and sort anyway you want.

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