Frequently Asked Questions about Wenlin

This is a list of frequently asked questions and answers (FAQ) about Wenlin Software for Learning Chinese. It was revised most recently on August 8, 2016.

NOTE: Some of the answers may only be valid for the most recently published version of Wenlin.

The FAQ site is maintained by Wenlin Institute's technical support staff. If you download a copy of this FAQ for reading while not connected to the web, keep in mind that we continue to update it.

What is the most recent version?

The newest version is 4.3.2.

What's new?

Wenlin 4.3.2 was released August 8, 2016 with quite a few improvements and corrections. Please see

How can I upgrade to the latest version?

We highly encourage all users to register their current version of Wenlin and to upgrade to the most recent version from our order site: You will need your serial number to upgrade/update to the most recent version. Please email our sales representatives should you need help locating your serial number.

How extensive are Wenlin's on-line help and printed User's Guide?

Wenlin provides its User's Guide in two forms: as a website,, and as HTML files you can view on your computer without being connected to the internet. The Guide includes an introduction, a tutorial, and detailed reference documentation. It's searchable and easy to use.

Will Wenlin's technical support staff answer my questions?

Wenlin's technical support staff will do its best to answer questions and solve problems. Please send e-mail to, or phone 1-877-4-WENLIN for technical support. Our office hours are 9am - 5pm EST. Please leave a detailed message if we are not available and we will get back to you.

Where can I find the list of abbreviations for part of speech (n. = noun, s.v. = stative verb, etc.)?

Choose Abbreviations from the Help menu.

Features and Capabilities

What is Wenlin? What is it good for?

Wenlin is designed to help students and scholars of the Chinese language, especially written Chinese, at all levels from beginning to very advanced. It is downloadable software for both Macintosh and MS-Windows. It combines a large, high-speed expandable Chinese dictionary, a full-featured text editor, and a unique "flashcard" system.

For details, please see our home page.

What is Wenlin NOT good for? What are its limitations?

Wenlin much more than just a dictionary, but it should not be used to replace a complete course. We wouldn't recommend trying to learn Chinese with Wenlin all by itself. Ideally one should take a class with a good teacher. If that's not possible, one should at least have a good textbook with audio tapes.

It is NOT an automatic translation device that would make it unnecessary for you to learn Chinese.

The current version gives Mandarin pronunciation only. It does not cover Cantonese or other dialects.

Wenlin is not designed for learning English and it assumes the user knows English and want to learn Chinese.

The English-Chinese dictionary isn't nearly as developed as the Chinese-English dictionary.

Sound recordings are currently limited to single characters, as opposed to words and phrases, but you can roll your pointer over several characters to hear combined sounds.

Wenlin is currently not able to read Chinese characters in a scanned image. First you would need to use an OCR program to convert the image into electronic text (Unicode, GB, Big5, etc.) See the question about Chinese OCR.

Does Wenlin cover both simple and full form Chinese characters?

Yes, Wenlin does support both simple and full form (complex/traditional) characters.

Dictionary entries for Chinese headwords (both single characters and compound words and phrases) show both simple and full forms if there is a difference, and you can look up an entry starting from either the complex or simple forms. The English-Chinese dictionary has pinyin and simple forms characters; you can point to any Chinese word in simple form characters to see the corresponding full form characters. Stroke-by-stroke animation is also given for both simple and full forms, and handwriting recognition works with both forms. When converting pinyin into characters, you can choose whether the characters will be simple or full form. There are functions for converting back and forth between the two forms. Since Wenlin supports the Unicode standard for encoding characters (as well as the more limited but still popular GB and Big5 standards), it even allows mixing simple and full form characters without having to change fonts.

Does Wenlin describe any Chinese dialects besides Mandarin, such as Cantonese?

We've added some Cantonese pronunciations of single characters, as footnotes near the bottom of character dictionary entries, but they are only transcriptions, not sound recordings.

Otherwise, Wenlin still only describes Mandarin pronunciation. Mandarin (also known as Putonghua or Guoyu) is the most widely spoken dialect of Chinese. We eventually plan to provide more support for Cantonese and other pronunciations in addition to Mandarin.

As is well known, written Chinese is essentially the same throughout China, in spite of huge differences in the spoken dialects (some of which are really mutually unintelligible languages). Modern writing generally uses Mandarin vocabulary and grammar. Wenlin is especially useful for learning to read and write Chinese characters so this is worth considering even if you are interested in a dialect other than Mandarin.

Does the same Wenlin CD-ROM run on both PC's and Macintosh computers?

Wenlin 4.3 is available by download or on CD-ROM in both MS-Windows and Mac OS versions. The CD-ROM runs on both platforms; the download is different depending on the platform.

Wenlin has almost exactly the same functionality regardless of the type of computer. There are some minor differences due to the differences between the operating systems. (For example, the dialog box for opening a file looks different.)

The same User's Guide describes Wenlin for MS-Windows and Macintosh. There are relatively few pages in the guide that need to make any distinction between the operating systems.

Please see also the section of the User's Guide for System Requirements.

For handwriting recognition, what kinds of pen and tablet work with Wenlin?

Any pen input device that can function as a mouse should work with Wenlin. From Wenlin's point of view, it makes no difference whether you use a mouse or a pen. However, good pen is easier to use than a mouse for writing characters.

The good pens, such as those from Wacom (, come with special tablets that you write on. (A good pen does not have a little ball at the end like a mouse; beware of cheap devices.) We've found the Wacom pens to work well on both Macintosh and MS-Windows; however, we can't guarantee compatibility since there are so many different pens and system configurations.

Note that there is some risk of incompatibility between your system and the "driver" software that has to be installed with the pen and tablet; make sure your computer and operating system (Macintosh or MS-Windows) are supported. Also, if you want to use both a mouse and a pen, it's best if they are both made by the same manufacturer. (We had a report that the combination of a certain Wacom pen and a certain Logitech mouse led to strange errors.)

Does the dictionary function both from Chinese to English and also from English to Chinese?

Yes. Wenlin's C-E dictionary is larger, with over 200,000 entries, compared to its E-C dictionary, with about 60,000 entries. Starting with version 4.0, Wenlin has a new E-C dictionary developed by John DeFrancis, Zhang Yanyin, and the ABC Dictionary team.

Can Wenlin be installed on a server if an institution has a multi-user (site) license?

Yes. This has been done in language labs with both PC's and Macintoshes. As specified in the license, you must ensure that only the authorized number of simultaneous users have access. However, the configuration of how many PC vs. Mac versions you have purchased can easily be changed as long as you remained within the authorized number of users.

You should make the file permissions read-only, since two people making changes to the same dictionary file simultaneously could in principle cause errors. (We haven't actually heard of this happening.)

What is the literature included on the Wenlin CD?

For ancient texts there are the I Ching and works by Confucius, Mencius, Laozi, Zhuangzi, and Xunzi. In the "beginner" folder are five short lessons in very elementary Mandarin. There are also Journey to the West; the Dream of the Red Chamber in 120 chapters; 300 Tang dynasty poems; a large selection of fiction and non-fiction by the famous 20th century auther Lu Xun; 40 poems and a couple of essays by Mao Zedong; thousands of news articles (in Chinese) from Voice of America; the complete old and new testaments in Chinese and English; a handful of children's stories and songs; a short story by Hu Shi; and other odds and ends.

Far more Chinese literature can be found on the internet and read with Wenlin. Copyright and other issues make it difficult to include more of it on the CD-ROM. If you should have content you would like us to include in Wenlin, we welcome it. Please contact us at

Is there a Linux or UNIX version?

We have made a Linux version of Wenlin; we call it Wenlinux. In order to run it you need to compile the program yourself using the source code, and this requires some technical skills, as well as signing a license amendment for accessing the source. Alternatively, Linux users can run Wenlin under WINE. See Wenlinux and Developers for details.

When will there be a handheld (Windows Mobile, iPhone/iPad, Palm, or Zaurus) version?

We started working on a handheld version of Wenlin. We have a prototype of Wenlin running on Windows Mobile and licensed users of Wenlin 4.0 or later are welcome to inquire about field testing it. Nevertheless, it's still too soon to predict when a handheld Wenlin will be ready for publication. We recommend checking what another company, Pleco ( has to offer for handheld devices.

Can polysyllabic words (like "nihao") be studied with flashcards?

Yes. Wenlin has a "Flexible Flashcard" format that supports polysyllabic words as well as single characters. (For example, 你好 nǐhǎo 'hello' as well as 你 nǐ 'you' and 好 hǎo 'good').

What operating system versions can Wenlin run on?

Please see the system requirements.

Is Wenlin available on CD-ROM? Can a backup copy be made?

Wenlin is available as both a download and on a CD-ROM. If you have purchased a download only copy of Wenlin, we recommend that you make a backup copy to keep handy. The easiest way is to copy the Wenlin installation file that you have downloaded to an external disk or drive, CD burner, thumb drive, or cloud storage. We are also happy to replace your copy as long as you have your serial number and are registered in our system.

Methods (How To...)

How can I use Wenlin in conjunction with my web browser to study Chinese texts on the Internet?

You can use a regular web browser to access the web. Then, when you find a Chinese text that you would like to read using Wenlin, you can copy the text, using the Copy command in the browser, and then go to Wenlin and use the commands New (to open a blank, untitled window) and Paste.

IMPORTANT: If you use a recent (at least 21st century) version of one of the major browsers (such as Netscape or Safari), on a recent Unicode-based operating system (such as Mac OS X or Windows 8/7/Vista/XP), then copying and pasting Chinese generally works fine, and you probably won't need to be concerned with the following technicalities. Older browsers and operating systems are more problematic, and with them you may need to choose the appropriate Clipboard Format from Wenlin's Edit menu, before choosing Paste. There are various ways of encoding Chinese text; fortunately Wenlin is compatible with all the most popular ones, including GB, Big5, UTF-8, and UTF-16. If at first you don't succeed, try a different Clipboard Format.

ALSO, ON MS-WINDOWS, if Copy/Paste doesn't work, your anti-virus software may be responsible; in particular, anti-virus software called Webroot has been found to prevent copying from other programs and pasting into Wenlin.

For this to work, it isn't actually necessary for your browser itself to be able to display Chinese text. If it can, of course it will then be easier to have some idea what you're copying, before you paste it into Wenlin. At least some versions of both Netscape and Internet Explorer can be set up to display Chinese; the methods have nothing to do with Wenlin, but you can probably find up-to-date instructions either from the documentation for your browser, or from one of the sites we have links to at links -- Marjorie Chan's site is particularly good for this kind of information.

Unicode text on the clipboard is recognized automatically by Wenlin. Recent versions of some browsers will put Unicode on the clipboard, even if the original text is in another encoding. Unfortunately, sometimes the browser doesn't recognize the original encoding, and then it may only put question marks on the clipboard. In such cases it may be necessary to set up your browser so that it knows how the text is encoded. Of course, this is closely related to the issue of making the browser itself display Chinese.

If you have trouble getting your browser to copy Chinese texts correctly, you can try using the browser's "View Source" command before copying and pasting. Another method is to use the browser's "Save As" command to save the text in a file on disk. Then you can open that file using Wenlin's Open command.

If you have trouble moving Chinese text from your web browser to Wenlin, TRY A DIFFERENT BROWSER! There are huge differences in how browsers manage, or damage, Chinese text, and when they damage it, wow, they really put it through the blender! (Here's an example of what can happen: using Internet Explorer 5.2 for Mac OS X, a particular Chinese website, using GB encoding, was displayed correctly, but the Copy command in Internet Explorer seemed to put only nonsense on the clipboard, anyway not GB or Unicode. For the same website, Netscape 6.2 for Mac OS X worked perfectly, displaying the Chinese text with a better font, and copying it to the clipboard correctly and with automatic conversion to Unicode, and when pasted into Wenlin it was perfect. But, with other versions, operating systems, websites, encodings, etc., the situtation may be reversed: Internet Explorer may work when Netscape doesn't.)

If nothing seems to work, please contact Wenlin Institute, and let us know the details such as your operating system (Windows or Macintosh), what browser(s) you're using (including the version numbers), the URL (web address) of the Chinese texts you want to view, and what other software you are using (if any) to make Chinese characters visible in the web browser.

How can I send and receive Chinese e-mail messages?

You can use Wenlin to read and write Chinese messages, including e-mail. You'll still need your regular e-mail program for actually sending and receiving the messages. There are two methods: (1) Copy/Paste; (2) Attachments. The Copy/Paste method can be more convenient when it works, but attachments are more reliable.

In the Copy/Paste method, you run Wenlin and your e-mail program at the same time. Copy from Wenlin the text you want to send, and Paste it into your e-mail program in the body of a message. Note that the Chinese characters may look like nonsense within your e-mail program, but the recipient of the message should be able to use their own Chinese software to read the text; if they use Wenlin they can simply Copy the text from their e-mail program and Paste it into Wenlin. There are a couple of complications with the Copy/Paste method. You need to set Wenlin's Clipboard Format (in the Edit menu) to an encoding that the recipient's software will be able to display (which is no problem if the recipient has Wenlin or the free Wenlin demo version, or any program that can display Chinese in the GB, Big5, or UTF-8 formats). (The Wenlin User's Guide section 8.5.5 gives details.) More troublesome is the fact that some e-mail systems cause non-English characters in the body of a message to be corrupted! (This is for obscure reasons such as automatic conversion between different Macintosh and Windows encodings for accented letters in European languages -- some piece of software somewhere is trying to be helpful, but it just ruins Chinese text.) If you have such a system, you might be able to reconfigure it, but you might find it easier just to use attachments, as described below. Or, if you know the recipient has Wenlin, use the ASCII clipboard format, and the mysterious [U+] codes will be magically converted back to Unicode when pasted back into Wenlin.

In the Attachments method, first you create a Chinese text file using Wenlin. Save it in a format that the recipient will be able to read -- if the person you're sending e-mail to also has Wenlin, then we recommend UTF-8 or Unicode. Otherwise, it depends on what kind of software they have; GB (simple form, Mainland) and Big5 (full form, Taiwan) are most likely. After you create your Chinese message with Wenlin and save it as a file called, for example, "" (pay attention to the location -- disk and folder/directory -- where you save it), then you can attach the file to an e-mail message, using your e-mail program's "Attachment" command and specifying the same file (for example, ""). Any good e-mail program should allow you to "attach" any file to an e-mail message. In Eudora (TM), for example, you would choose "Attach File" from the "Message" menu. When your friend receives the e-mail, the "attachment" file will be saved on their disk, and they can read it using Wenlin or whatever Chinese software they have available.

If someone sends you a Chinese e-mail message, no matter what method they use, you should be able to read their message using Wenlin (unless, of course, the message was garbled by the e-mail system). Just save the message as a file; pay attention to the location. (Using Eudora you'd choose "Save As..." from the "File" menu; your e-mail program should have a similar command.) Then open the file using Wenlin.

Is Wenlin compatible with other programs such as MS-Word?

Copying and pasting of Chinese text between Wenlin and various other programs, such as word processors, is possible. The other programs do need to have their own capability of displaying Chinese. Copying and pasting works best if the other programs support Unicode, as appears to be the case with at least some recent versions of Microsoft Word. We can't guarantee it will work on your system, though we think Wenlin is doing its part correctly. For non-Unicode, the Clipboard Format in Wenlin's Edit menu may need to be set appropriately, usually for GB or Big5, and after pasting into the word processor you may need to select a suitable Chinese font. Please see the answers to the previous two questions for more about copying and pasting with other programs.

If I add or modify some dictionary entries, what will happen to my changes when I upgrade to a new version of Wenlin?

Some users of Wenlin have made extensive additions and changes to their dictionaries. We're committed to supporting such personalized vocabularies. Wenlin versions 3.0 and later enable switching back and forth between different dictionary versions. Therefore you will still be able to use your customized copy of older dictionaries (from Wenlin 2.0 or later). There are also features for extracting the modified entries from an old dictionary and importing them into a new dictionary. These features are described in Chapter 15 of the User's Guide.

I have an optical scanner. Can I use Wenlin to read scanned Chinese text?

A scanned text is a picture -- a graphics file. To convert it into electronic text, you need Chinese OCR (optical character recognition) software. That's not included with Wenlin. There are links to some websites that advertise OCR software here.

However, be aware that even the best OCR software won't recognize all the Chinese text you scan. If it's 95% accurate, that means one out of twenty characters might be missing or wrong. You have to decide whether it's worth the trouble.

In addition to the texts on the Wenlin CD-ROM, there are thousands of Chinese texts already in electronic form that you can find on the internet and read using Wenlin. For most students, it probably makes more sense to use those existing texts rather than try to use OCR.

Problem, Difficulties, and Errors

Sometimes I click on a character to look it up, but nothing happens. Why?

Probably you just need to select the "Hand" tool from the Toolbar. (The Wenlin User's Guide Chapter 5 gives details.) If the "I-beam" tool is selected instead, that enables you to move the Insertion Point for editing (User's Guide Chapter 1).

Why does Wenlin sometimes fail to recognize my handwriting?

Wenlin's handwriting recognition works well only if you use the standard number of strokes in the standard order, but it does recognize both simplified and full form characters. It finds the character whose beginning and ending points for each stroke are closest to what you wrote. If you join strokes together or write them in a non-standard order, it will almost certainly fail, and beep at you or produce the wrong character. This is good for students learning to write new characters: it forces them to use the standard stroke order. For experienced writers, it may be frustrating since most people don't use exactly the same stroke order. (The User's Guide Chapter 7 describes what we mean by "standard"; the standard has been confirmed by official PRC publications.)

When I save a file in Big5 format, why do some characters get replaced by strange codes?

Wenlin can display over 70,000 different characters that are in the Unicode standard. The Big5 character set (which Wenlin supports for compatibility with other software) is more limited: it defines codes for 13,050. In some circumstances when you try to put a Unicode character into Big5 format, if the format doesn't include the character, Wenlin substitutes a notation like [U+xxxx], where xxxx is the four-digit Unicode number.

Many of the missing characters are rarely used; the main problem is that Big5 doesn't include simplified characters. Therefore, use Unicode (or UTF-8) whenever possible. When you must use Big5, use only full forms. You can convert between simple and full forms using the "Make Transformed Copy" command in the Edit menu.

Starting with version 2.1, the newer file format Big5+ (Big Five Plus), is supported: Big5+ is an extension of Big5. While still compatible with existing Big5 files, Big5+ includes all the Chinese characters (both simple and full form) that are in Unicode 2.0, but is still missing thousands of characters from later versions of Unicode. For compatibility with other software programs that may not support the extensions yet, you may still need to use only simple form characters when saving in GB format, and only full form characters when saving in Big5+ format. We recommend using Unicode whenever possible: it's the international code for modern applications; GB and Big5 (and their extensions) are likely to be used less and less in the future.

Wenlin 3.0 and later supports GB18030, which has a one-to-one correspondence to the entire Unicode character set.

Why would Wenlin report an "Internal Error" or "Database File Error" with a cryptic message including a file name?

The most frequent cause is a dirty CD-ROM. A bit of dust or a fingerprint can make a file on the CD-ROM unreadable. You can clean the disc by wiping it gently with a soft dry cloth.

There are other possible causes of such errors; if you encounter any difficulty, please contact us and describe the exact error message and the circumstances under which it occurred.

What if there is no sound for recorded pronunciations?

First, make sure your volume is turned on.

For versions before 4.3, the sound files were a separate download, due to their large size. The link was included in the same email message as the application download link, along with installation instructions.

Starting with version 4.3, the files are more compact (MP3 format instead of WAV), and they're included in the same download as the application. In fact, for Mac, they're included in the app itself and require no separate installation. For Windows, the installer provides a checkbox for you to choose whether to install them.