One of my favorite programs, Wenlin (which bills itself as “software for learning Chinese”), has just released a major upgrade for both Mac and Windows versions. This doesn’t happen often; it has been three-and-a-half years since the most recent big change was issued (Wenlin 3.4) and heaven only knows how long since 3.0 came out. So, yes, this release has many substantial improvements.
One of the features nearest and dearest to my heart is that Wenlin 4.0 features greatly improved handling of Pinyin. I was among the field testers for the new version, so I’ve already spent a lot of time examining this feature. Here are a few important aspects of this:
- Conversions from Chinese characters follow Hanyu Pinyin orthography much more closely than before. This is a major change for the better. (There’s still some room for improvement. But I don’t think we’ll have to wait years for this.)
- In the past, using Wenlin to convert long texts in Chinese characters into Pinyin could be a real chore, with users having to examine example after example of Chinese characters with multiple pronunciations in order to select the proper pronunciation for that particular context. But now users may, if they so desire, tell Wenlin not to ask users for disambiguation input. Of course, that doesn’t mean that Wenlin will always guess right; but many users will be happy that this trade-off allows them to skip the frustration of, for example, having to tell the program over and over and over that, yes, in this case 說 is pronounced shuō rather than shuì.
- Relative newcomers to Mandarin may appreciate that for common words tone sandhi is indicated in Wenlin with additional marks (a dot or line below the vowel). This feature can also be turned off, for those who want standard Pinyin.
There are, of course, many improvements beyond the area of Pinyin. Here are a few:
- One limitation of Wenlin 3.x was that its English dictionary wasn’t very large. But Wenlin 4.0 includes not only the ABC Chinese-English Comprehensive Dictionary but also the excellent new ABC English-Chinese, Chinese-English Dictionary (now finally in stock in the printed version).
- The flashcards are now set up to handle not just individual characters but polysyllabic words.
- There’s full Unicode Unihan 6.0 support for more than 75,000 Chinese characters.
- And for those who think 75,000 just isn’t enough, users can now access Wenlin’s CDL technology. Through this, users can create new, variant, and rare characters; moreover, these can be published and shared with other Wenlin users or CDL-friendly devices.
- Seal script versions of more than 11,000 characters are provided.
- Wenlin contains an e-edition of the Shuowen Jiezi (Shuōwén Jiězì / 說文解字 / 说文解字).
- Coders will be interested to know that Wenlin appears to be headed toward becoming open-source.
- Both Mandarin and English entries are marked with grade levels, which aids learners by indicating relative frequency of use. The levels for Mandarin words are based on the Hanyu Shuiping Kaoshi (Hànyǔ Shǔipíng Kǎoshì / 汉语水平考试 / 漢語水平考試 / HSK).
The full version (i.e., the CD with the program comes in a box and is likely packaged with a hard copy of the manual) is US$199, or US$179 if you download it from the Wenlin Web store. Upgrades from 3.x cost US$49.
For more information, see the summary of features and outline of what’s new in Wenlin 4.0.
You’re right, this is a huge development. This program almost never gets updated. Four-Oh, jeez. Never thought I’d see the day. One question: are there any UI improvements down the pipe, or does it still look like Win95?
@breandan: I’ve added a screenshot above (click to view larger version). As you can see, they’ve added a little swatch of color and some new buttons. And one can drag Wenlin’s windows around some. But other than that it looks about the same.
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I have been eyeing Wenlin for probably 13-14 years now, but the price is just too expensive. Unfortunately, it still is. Especially since I would only use it for CDL since there are still plenty of unencoded hanzi.
> Coders will be interested to know that Wenlin appears to be headed toward becoming open-source.
That is fantastic news.
I would really like to know more.
Are there any links with more information?
Did you explore the advanced options, you can have things like pinyin above characters as well (TeX or HTML codes) and there’s a Windows Mobile version by the way. The online manual is at http://guide.wenlininstitute.org/
I hope the partly opened source code will bring us closer to a native Linux version.
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Thank you for the helpful review. I just bought the new version and I found that the tone change marker (added dot below the vowel) creates problems when copied and pasted to other programs such as Anki.
You mentioned in your review that:
Relative newcomers to Mandarin may appreciate that for common words tone sandhi is indicated in Wenlin with additional marks (a dot or line below the vowel). This feature can also be turned off, for those who want standard Pinyin.
I couldn’t find any option to turn this feature off. Could you help me out, please?
DW: I had the same problem in field testing, so this is something I asked for. This will take care of the problem:
Edit –> Make transformed copy –> Remove tone change notation (dots/lines below vowels)
Hi. Do you have any idea when this will be available on disk as opposed to only as a download? Thanks!
I’m surprised that option isn’t listed yet on Wenlin’s site. You might try contacting the Wenlin Institute Store.
It really, really irks me … I was in contact with Wenlin for months with general usage questions and so on. Then about 4 weeks ago I sent an email asking if there were any plans to release a new version FROM VERSION 3.x as I was hoping for new features and the like. I was replied and told that a new version was forthcoming.
The fact is, version 4 was released, what, 6+ months ago? Never really advertised as happening, not informed as an owner, nothing, nothing, nothing.
Whoever I was in email contact with clearly must not be a native English speaker since my messages were clear that I was looking for an upgrade, new release, new version from version 3.x and what I was told makes no sense of course. I guess they didn’t read my message properly!!!!! They implied a new version, 4.x was new and COMING (thus, not already on the market). But, it seems the truth is, they were replying to me with information about an update to the already out version 4 – and the timing suggests to me that 4.0.2 was the release they were talking about. Of course, this is NOT what I was looking for. I was trying to get past version 3.x and get to something new.
How they can mistake things is beyond me.
6 months past the actual initial availability gives me no chance to upgrade at a much lower cost. Of course, 6 months of additional issues with 3.x…. uggg!!
Maybe they were playing a game to technically offer new release discounts, but do it so low key that nobody knew it was available in the first place?!
Then, I mean come on, $179 for the full version? WOW, stunning, that’s just horrendous !!
In this day and age… that’s a massive price.
The $49 upgrade from a previously owned version too, to me, is simply a stretch!! $19 – $30 maybe, but not $49.
Too bad, because I may have to find another program to replace Wenlin – based on these actions and price.
I realize I’m very late to the game and hope by now you’ve upgraded to Wenlin 4.1.1 for $29. The full version is $99. If you need help, do feel free to reach out to me at email@example.com.