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.

2 Answers 2


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 :)

  • 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, 2018 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, 🇭🇰 Jan 20, 2018 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.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.