"I received my copy of Clavis Sinica already, and after looking at it must say that it is as good as I hoped: a very useful piece of software at a very affordable price. Thank you again for your quick service and this fine learning tool."
—Paul Fendos

"The very best thing about the program is the instant translation feature. It is fabulous being able to zap through a text and look up all the words you don't know instantly. It's the equivalent of an earthbound snail learning to fly."
—Gesa Walker, Edinburgh

"I have let my reading skills lapse since the last time I was in China, mainly because I can't enjoy reading when I have to stop to look up characters. Clavis Sinica takes the dictionary-induced eyestrain and boredom out of reading Chinese; it's made it much easier for me to read online news articles, and has really improved my reading."
—Eric Hayot, State College, PA

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Frequently Asked Questions

You'll find answers to the most commonly asked questions about Clavis Sinica on this page. If you don't see what you're looking for, please visit our User Forums page.

Text Reader | Dictionary Database | Other Program Features | Technical Issues | Miscellaneous

Text Reader

  • Can I use the program as a Chinese-English translator?
    Clavis Sinica is intended primarily as a Chinese language learning tool. However, it can also be used for Chinese character translation and can assist with the translation of Chinese language texts by users with some knowledge of the Chinese language.
  • Can I use the program to read any Chinese text, or only those included with the software?
    Clavis Sinica can be used to read any digitized Chinese text, provided it is stored in either the Guobiao (GB), Big 5, or Unicode coding format. Most Chinese texts on the web use one of these formats, and all Chinese-capable word processors (including Microsoft Word) can save file in these formats. You can copy and paste Chinese text from other applications directly into Clavis Sinica.
  • Can I use Clavis Sinica to read Chinese web sites?
    While you can't use the program to read Chinese web sites directly, you can easily download files from the web to read using Clavis Sinica, or copy and paste portions of Chinese web pages into the Clavis Sinica text reader window. (Copy and paste features are not supported in the demo version.)
  • Is Clavis Sinica compatible with Microsoft Word?
    Yes, Clavis can read Chinese text files saved using Word and vice versa. You can also copy and paste Chinese text from Word into Clavis, or from Clavis into Word. To save a document in Word as a standard Chinese text file that can be opened using Clavis, select the "Encoded Text" option for the file type in Word's "Save As" window. Then select the "Chinese Simplified (GB)" option from the next menu that appears. The resulting .txt file can be opened using Clavis Sinica.
  • Where can I get Chinese text files to read with Clavis Sinica?
    The best source for Chinese text files is the web. You can find hundreds of websites devoted to Chinese literature, politics, history, current events, and popular culture; many of these provide access to the full texts of stories, poems, essays, articles, and song lyrics. Most of these texts can be downloaded to your computer and then read using Clavis Sinica, or you can copy and paste selections from them directly into the program. Some examples of the many kinds of texts that are available online can be found on the Chinese Text Sampler webpage.
  • Does the program use simplified or traditional characters?
    Any Chinese text can be displayed using either form of the characters, regardless of which character form was used in the original version of the file.
  • How can I keep track of the new characters I've learned using Clavis Sinica?
    Clavis Sinica 3.0 introduced a custom vocabulary list-building feature that enables you to easily create lists of all the words and characters you' re learning with the program. You can save these lists, print them out, study them using Clavis Sinica, or drill yourself on them using the flashcard tool. You'll find the "Learn character" and "Learn compound" options under the Tools menu on the program toolbar. For more information, please see the program documentation.
  • Can I use Clavis Sinica as a Chinese language word processor?
    It is possible to use Clavis Sinica to perform basic editing functions--such as copy, paste, delete, and character insertion--on a Chinese text document. The program is primarily designed, however, for reading texts rather than creating them, and does not support rapid text entry. You can, of course, use Clavis Sinica to read texts created using other Chinese word processing software, such as NJStar.
  • Can Clavis Sinica read Chinese text files saved using Microsoft Word?
    Yes, you can use Clavis Sinica to read files saved using Word. The trick is to save your Chinese text file in Word using the "Encoded Text" file type, and then to choose "Chinese Simplified (GB)" from the list of encoding methods that appears when you click "Save." Clavis Sinica will open such a file as a standard GB file, even though the file extension will be ".txt".
  • Can I scan a printed Chinese text document for use with Clavis Sinica?
    Yes, but you need to first convert the image file produced by the scanner into a Chinese text file using special OCR (optical character recognition) software. There are several good Chinese OCR programs out there: just Google "Chinese OCR Software" and try out the various demos.

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Dictionary Database

  • Can I use the program as a stand-alone Chinese-English dictionary?
    Yes. Clavis Sinica includes a full set of dictionary search functions that enables it to be used as a Chinese-English or English-Chinese dictionary. Individual character entries include pinyin pronunciation, English meaning, and an analysis of the character into its radical and phonetic parts. You can look up Chinese words by pinyin, radical, order and/or number of strokes, or English equivalent.
  • How large is the program's dictionary?
    The dictionary contains over 37,000 separate entries, including approximately 4,000 characters and over 33,000 multi-character compound words, phrases, and idioms, or chengyu. All of the entries are fully searchable in both English and Chinese.
  • I've heard that written Chinese has tens of thousands of characters. How can a dictionary of 4,000 characters be of much use?
    It is true that the great Kang Xi dictionary of 1716 listed nearly 50,000 characters, but this number included many variant and obsolete forms. The number of characters to be found in modern Chinese texts is probably much closer to 10,000, and of these, more than half are used only rarely. The 4,000 characters included in the Clavis Sinica dictionary account for approximately 98% of the characters to be found in a typical modern newspaper, and 100% of the characters found in any of the most commonly used college-level Chinese textbooks.
  • On what basis were these 4,000 characters selected?
    The Clavis Sinica dictionary is based on the first level of the Guo Biao Chinese character set, which is the accepted standard in the PRC. The 3,754 characters in this set represent the most commonly used characters in the modern written language. Clavis Sinica supplements these with an additional 250 of the more frequently seen characters from the second level of the Guo Biao character set.
  • Can I edit the dictionary?
    Yes - in Version 4.0 you can both add new entries and edit existing entries in the program dictionary.
  • How can I find out how many characters I already know?
    The Chinese Character Test, based on the Clavis Sinica dictionary, provides an easy and accurate way to estimate how many Chinese characters you already know. The test is a free, web-based resource that you are welcome to use as often as you like. The test is included with the CD version of the program.
  • What Chinese dictionary is the program based on?
    A large number of reference sources, including a half-dozen Chinese-English dictionaries as well as a variety of respected etymological guides and textbooks were consulted in the preparation of the Clavis Sinica dictionary.
  • Which dialect of Chinese is the program based on?
    Mandarin. The dictionary uses the pinyin system of romanization, and the pronunciations of characters are those of a Northern speaker of putonghua.
  • Can I look up a Chinese character in the Clavis dictionary even if I don't know how it is pronounced?
    Yes. The built-in Chinese-English dictionary can be searched by both radical number and the number and/or sequence of strokes. If you recognize the radical for the character, you can simply look up that radical and find the character in the list of characters using that radical. If you don't know the radical, you can search by the number of strokes in the character and the direction of the first two or three strokes. Please see the program documentation for more information.
  • Can new words be added to the dictionary?
    Yes. You can easily add both new characters and compound words and phrases to the dictionary database.

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Other Program Features

  • How can I look up a character if I don't know its meaning or pronunication?
    1. Select 'Look up character' under the Dictionary menu.
    2. Select the 'Search by Strokes' option.
    3. Enter the number of strokes in the character (optional: enter only if certain).
    4. Enter the numerical codes provided for the first four strokes in the character.
    5. If the character has five strokes, enter the code for the fifth stroke. If it has six or more strokes, enter either an asterisk (*) as a wildcard or the code for the final stroke in the character.
    6. Click on 'Search' and select your character from the displayed list.
  • Can I create my own separate vocabulary lists for quizzing using the flashcard tool?
    Yes. Clavis Sinica allows you easily to create an unlimited number of customized vocabulary lists that you can drill yourself on using the flashcard tool. The lists are stored as standard Chinese text files, so they can also be manually edited and/or combined.
  • What are the steps for creating and using a custom vocabulary list?
    1. Open the text you want to study in the Text Reader Window
    2. Click on a character or word you want to add to your vocabulary list
    3. Press F5 to add the character to your list, or F6 to add the word.
    4. Repeat the previous two steps with as many words or characters as you like (or you can automatically add all the characters and/or words in the text to your list using the Learn all characters / compounds commands under Tools on the menu bar)
    5. Save your vocabulary list using 'Save Vocabulary List As' option under File on the menu bar.
    6. Open the Flashcards tool (under Tools), choose 'Vocabulary List File', and select the file you've just created.
    You can also create a list manually using MS Word or a Chinese word processing program. Just enter your vocabulary items (characters or compounds) one per line, save the file in .gb format, and open it using the Flashcards tool.
  • What kind of audio features does the program provide?
    The program includes sound recordings for every character in the dictionary. You can hear the pronunciation of individual characters or of compound words and phrases. The recordings are in the voice of a native female speaker of Mandarin with a standard accent.
  • How do I enter a pinyin search term containing an umlaut (as in nü = woman)?
    Just type the letter u followed by a colon, eg nu:
  • Does the program include electronic documentation and/or help files?
    Yes. Both the CD and download versions of the program have a Help function that enables you to view complete documentation from within the program. You can also view or print out the help file at www.clavisinica.com/help.html.
  • What's the difference between the Chinese Character Test included on the program CD & the one on your website?
    The CD version of the Chinese Character Test is the same as the one on the website. It works much faster than the web version, though, since it doesn't require an Internet connection.
  • Where can I find additional documentation about program features?
    Complete program documentation is available on our website here. You can also view the documentation file from within the program under Help on the menu bar.

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Technical Issues

  • What Chinese system do I need on my computer in order to use Clavis Sinica?
    The program is entirely self-contained: no additional Chinese software or fonts are required.
  • Do any features of the program require an Internet connection?
    No. Clavis Sinica is a stand-alone application, so no Internet connection is required. You will, of course, require a web connection if you want to copy and paste Chinese text from a Chinese web site into the program.
  • How large are the installation files for the program in case I want to download them?
    The installation file for the demo version is approximately 16 MB. The standard version is approximately 22 MB.
  • When I try to install the program, I get an error message saying "the magic number did not match."
    This message indicates a faulty download. Try downloading the file again.
  • Is Clavis Sinica compatible with all versions of Windows?
    Yes. The program is written in Java, which means it is entirely platform independent. It runs on all versions of Windows from 95 onward, including 98, 2000, NT, XP, Vista, and 7. There is no reason to think it won't work as well on whatever version Microsoft comes up with next.
  • Since Clavis Sinica is a Java application, will it also run under Linux?
    Yes, the program works well on Linux machines. Detailed installation instructions are provided on our Linux Installation page.
  • The program doesn't launch when I click on the desktop icon.
    This issue may be caused by a Java conflict. Try starting the program by clicking directly on the Clavis.jar icon in the Clavis folder on your hard drive..
  • The program runs very slowly.
    Try starting the program by clicking directly on the Clavis.jar icon in the Clavis folder on your hard drive. This often improves the performance considerably.
  • Are you planning to make the program available for iPhone, Android, or other smart phone platforms?
    Yes, we're working on it. Check back soon!

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  • What does the Chinese title of the program mean?
    The Chinese title of Clavis Sinica is Shi Wen Jie Zi, which can be translated literally as "annotate text, analyze characters."
  • Can I install the program on both my desktop and laptop machines?
    With a single-user license, you can install the program on more than one personal machine, provided that the program will not be used on more than one machine at any given time. For multi-user licenses, please see our site licensing page.
  • I'd like to purchase the program but I'm not comfortable using a credit card for online purchases. What should I do?
    In addition to credit card payments processed through our secure online server, we can also accept credit card orders by phone or fax, as well as payment by check, money order, Western Union, or direct bank transfer. For details please see our Payment Methods page.
  • Do you ship to Macao / Indonesia / Brazil?
    If so, what is the shipping fee?
    Yes, we're happy to ship program CDs anywhere in the world by first-class airmail. There is no additional charge for overseas shipping.
  • What kind of technical support is provided?
    We provide free technical support by email to paid users of the program. Simply send your question to support@clavisinica.com, and we'll get back to you soon, usually within a day or two. Please see our user mailbox for past comments on our product support.
  • I'm switching over to a new computer and need to reinstall Clavis Sinica, which I purchased several months ago. What should I do?
    Just email a copy of your purchase receipt to orders@clavisinica.com and we will send you a password so that you can download a copy of the program for your new machine.
  • Is an educational discount available?
    Yes. The academic edition of the program is available to full-time students for the discounted price of $39.95. In addition, free academic evaluation copies of the software are available to the students of any instructor who would like to try using the program in a Chinese language or literature class. A 30% discount is also available to students at institutions that have purchased a site license for the program. Finally, any group of ten or more students at a single institution may be eligible for a 20% group discount when purchasing individual copies of the program. Please contact orders@clavisinica.com for further details about any of these discounts.
  • Can I use the program to learn Cantonese?
    The pronunciation of words and characters in Clavis Sinica is provided in Mandarin pinyin only. If you're learning Cantonese, you can use the program to help translate Chinese characters into English, but the program can't help with their Cantonese pronunciation.

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If you have a question about the program that is not answered here, please contact us at info@clavisinica.com.