I'd like to learn to read math articles in Japanese or Chinese, but I am not interested in learning these languages from usual textbooks. Exist suitable texts, specialized for the needs for reading mathematics? What do you suggest?

I look for something similar to "Russian for the mathematician", which was very usefull when I was interested in some russian articles. In the language books I know, most of the vocabulary is irrelevant for reading mathematics, but needed terminology is missing. A collection of mathematical vocabulary and training texts with translation would be usefull. I know good books, e.g. Bowring "An introduction to modern Japanese" or Lewin "Textlehrbuch der japanischen Sprache" and could read articles about history or humanities after having read them, but not mathematics (resulting in forgetting the language by lack of training).

Edit: F. Orgogozo's dictionary. (BTW, giving the direct link did not work, app. jap./chin. characters not accepted within a url by the MO-software)

Edit: Zagier's dictionary.

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    $\begingroup$ In all seriousness, I suspect you'd be sold short on any method that greatly differs from the traditional approach of textbooks, a heck of a lot of practice, and memorization of kanji/hanzi... $\endgroup$
    – Mensen
    Oct 29, 2009 at 12:30
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    $\begingroup$ There are lots of Google book results for "technical Japanese" and "technical Chinese." $\endgroup$ Oct 29, 2009 at 12:54
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    $\begingroup$ Most Chinese research mathematical journals have their corrsponding English editons. $\endgroup$
    – Sunni
    May 11, 2010 at 19:58
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    $\begingroup$ How much good research is currently being published in Chinese and Japanese? I honestly have no idea about this. I have read many papers in English by Japanese mathematicians, and they never seem to mention any work written in Japanese, but I don't know how much that proves. $\endgroup$ Jan 17, 2012 at 10:04
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    $\begingroup$ I am a native English speaker and I know a fair bit of Japanese (which I learned for general reading and writing, not for math). I love the Japanese language and would eagerly recommend its study to everyone. But it is definitely an uphill climb and I very much doubt there's a reasonable shortcut just for reading math. It takes quite a bit of practice to be able to distinguish one kanji from another -- but this is something that will come naturally if you make a full-throated attempt to learn the language. $\endgroup$ Jul 27, 2012 at 0:10

11 Answers 11


Here are a few for chinese:

Commercial Press Staff. English-Chinese Dictionary of Mathematical Terms. New York: French & European Publications, Incorporated, 1980.

De Francis, John F. Chinese-English Glossary of the Mathematical Sciences. Reprint. Ann Arbor, MI: Books on Demand.

Dictionary of Mathematics. New York: French & European Publications, Incorporated, 1974.

He Xiuhuang. A Glossary of Logical Terms. Hong Kong: Chinese University Press, 1982.

Science Press Staff. English - Chinese Mathematical Dictionary. Second Edition. New York: French & European Publications, Incorporated, 1989.

Science Press Staff. Chinese-English Mathematical Dictionary. New York: French & European Publications, Incorporated, 1990.

Science Press Staff. New Russian - Chinese Dictionary of Mathematical Terms. New York: French & European Publications, Incorporated, 1988.

Silverman, Alan S. Handbook of Chinese for Mathematicians. Berkeley, CA: University of California, Institute of East Asian Studies, 1970.

Source: here

I have never read any of these books, and I honestly doubt it that they have all the mathematical terms (especially in higher more sophisticated fields). Don't expect to be able to write "diffeomorphism between manifolds" in chinese or japanese immediately. I suggest you take a look at these references in your public library and get one that helps you the most. To be honest, I am also interested I have several chinese papers I really want to read. I would first try anything with the latest jedict/edict/cedict, and then try something else like the above references.


This is an answer of a friend of mine, who does not want to sign up:

I suppose you are really intelligent, good in abstract thinking and strenuous.

Since Chinese has no conjugation and no declination, it is not too difficult, to learn chinese grammar. The difficulty is learning characters. You do not need to learn the pronounciation, because you do not want to speak and be understood.

Characters consist of around 400 parts. When you learned the first 100 characters, you will discover the system and as time is passing it will be easier and easier to learn the characters. Don´t be afraid of them. Chinese children manage to learn them too.

This is a short chinese grammar:


The article „Chinese Grammar“ in Wikipedia lists some books about grammar.

Chinese states organs for teaching chinese language developed a standard examination about chinese language. The 汉语水平考试 Hanyu shuiping kaoshi short: HSK. There is a very systematic list of chinese characters made extra for this test. When you learn the characters of the beginners level, you will find out, that these characters will literally show up everywhere. I know it does not look like this but it´s true.

This is a list of beginners vocabulary for the HSK:


Learn the characters by heart.

After you learned the first characters und some grammar you should be able to understand chinese textes about mathematical topics which are already familiar to you. This is because chinese terminology is often orientated on western languages.

You will need to use Chinese-English Dictionaries then. Here is a short description of the problem.


For easier ways of using dictionaries you would have to know the pronounciation.

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    $\begingroup$ You say: "Don´t be afraid of them. Chinese children manage to learn them too." I am afraid this is not reassuring. We all do quite remarkable feats of language learning when we are young that are difficult to arrange and match when we are older. $\endgroup$
    – ogerard
    May 11, 2010 at 12:55
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    $\begingroup$ "it is not too difficult, to learn chinese grammar." As a non-native who has studied Chinese for 12 years and counting, I should say that my experience has differed somewhat. The grammar has been a continual struggle, whereas character memorization -- although a pain at first -- eventually becomes easier with time. $\endgroup$ Jul 5, 2010 at 4:54
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    $\begingroup$ However, I certainly don't mean to discourage anyone! Chinese is a wonderful language -- albeit a frustrating one -- and as with almost all languages, the reading will eventually prove to be the easiest part (that is, easier than writing, speaking or listening). $\endgroup$ Jul 5, 2010 at 4:54

I am at a Japanese university, and I teach mathematics in Japanese, but I don't consider myself an expert yet. You asked for recommendations for technical Japanese textbooks, but I don't really have anything to offer, since I don't study from language texts. However, I can give you some tips from my own experience.

If you want to progress reasonably quickly through a paper, it will help to have a basic understanding of grammar and the alphabet(s). This can come from most general-purpose introductions (e.g., software, textbooks, websites, classes).

For words that involve difficult characters, I use an electronic dictionary to look up characters by their pieces. My particular tool of choice is the free "imiwa" (formerly "kotoba!") app on iOS, which has a "multi-radical" option. It also has a decent amount of technical vocabulary, but is not comprehensive. Since I have it on my phone, it is very convenient when I am away from a library.

If an article is online and I can't understand a passage, I copy/paste into an online translator. My Japanese colleagues tell me that Yahoo is better than Google for technical language in physics and mathematics. I've also found that Wikipedia is not bad for this - you can search for keywords, and find corresponding articles in both languages.

The standard reference for technical words is "the Iwanami", meaning The Encyclopedic Dictionary of Mathematics (also mentioned by Iker). It has about 2000 pages, and weighs a lot. I almost never use it, and I don't own a copy. However, if I'm really stuck, I go to the library at work to find words in it.

Regarding Neil Strickland's comment: I have yet to encounter a research article in Japanese, but there are expository articles, textbooks, conference slides, and grant applications that can be useful reading.


This may not be the answer you're looking for, but I thought I'd share my experience as someone who was born in Japan but was transplanted quickly into the United States. My Japanese is not nearly as good as it should be, but is certainly good enough to read math.

A beautiful part of reading Japanese/Chinese math is that you can grasp the meaning without knowing how to pronounce anything. I don't know any technical Chinese, but in Japanese,


is the word for "mapping" or "function", and the literal meaning of its characters hints at this. Let me explain.

The first character means to transcribe, to picture, or to give a visual form--poetically, it can mean to simply give an abstract form to something, rather than a visual one. (For instance, the word 写真 means photograph, where the second character in this particular word means "truth". It might be silly to think the word for photograph is to "picture something truly/in its true form", but that's a beautiful translation to ponder on another occasion.)

The final character in 写像 means figure, or image, or an embodiment. For instance, the word 画像 means "image" in the computer sense of file type. In fact the character 像 alone can mean "image" in the sense of mathematics, as in the image of something under a map.

In short, the word for "function" or "map" can be literally and clumsily translated back into English as "forming an image" or "creating a figure" or "realizing a form", most abstractly. I doubt any Japanese person ever thinks in these terms, no more than we think of the word "projection" deeply in terms of its Latin roots. But to harzard a guess at the meanings of these words can be a beautiful experience, and one unique to those weirdos who know the meanings of things without knowing how to say them.

So it may be a really interesting experience to simply learn the meaning of each commonly occurring (math) character---I'll list a few below---and to get a feel for the mathematical meanings of their combinations via intuition. When I've read Japanese math books, the feeling of knowing the meaning on a page without knowing how to pronounce a word has been the most rewarding and beautiful part. If you choose to do this, the best tip I have is to simply write: Make sure you copy and write the characters over and over again, so you begin to distinguish subtle differences between them.

For the enjoyment of some, here are examples of Japanese math words and the meanings of their constituent characters. I'll list some irrelevant meanings of some characters--though characters often only take on one of many meanings based on context, I still think it's fun to know their other possible meanings.

空間 (space)

空 = sky, emptiness, space, air

間 = between, the space between, an interval of time

位相 (topology)

位 = rank (as in seniority or importance in an organization), a word for counting dead souls, decimal place, position. As a verb, it can mean to locate--i.e., to determine the position of.

相 = form, shape, appearance, the relationship of one thing to another.

Strangely enough, 位相 can also mean the phase of something, as in the angle or phase of a complex number or a wave. It also mean the phase of something as in "solid/liquid/gaseous". I would assume that the term first came to use to describe the states of matter, was tangentially used to describe the phase of wave-like phenomena since the English term "phase" was used in both instances.

微分 (derivative, to take the derivative of)

微 = infinitesimal, tiny, slight

分 = to divide, an amount of something.

In learning language so much emphasis is placed on the sounds of things, rather than on the abstract units of meaning. I suppose Chinese characters were developed exactly to avoid this aural emphasis, but it is always a joy to have zero verbal understanding with a Chinese or Korean person, but to be able to communicate by writing characters in the air.

Well, perhaps this was not helpful in the least, but maybe it will at least entertain some non-Japanese-speakers. (By the way, I'd be very curious to hear if the Chinese technical terms are the same, as almost all technical terms in Japanese utilize kanji, or Chinese characters.)

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    $\begingroup$ Even though Kanji's Chinese analogue is Hanzi (so I can "read" all the characters here) the translations are not the same. For example, I have never seen '位相' used for 'topology' in Chinese; rather, the word '拓扑学' is used, where the first two characters are phonetically similar - in Standard Mandarin - to the English ('tuo pu') and the last character, as in Japanese, means 'study [of]'. For more thoughts on Chinese, see my comment at the very top (possibly under the fold). $\endgroup$ May 15, 2013 at 15:29

I'm often surprised at how much I can translate at dict.cn (in the case of Chinese).

EDIT: Here's some other things that I found useful for learning Chinese (although not really maths related): ChinesePod for spoken Chinese and Skritter for written Chinese.

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    $\begingroup$ dict.cn is an amazing resource. Where else can you expect to find (free!) accurate Chinese translations of "topological manifold," "diffeomorphism," etc.? $\endgroup$ Jul 5, 2010 at 4:56

As far as Japanese is concerned, you can find many bilingual dictionaries, e.g. 数学英和和英辞典 (共立出版. 小松勇作 編) et 数学英和小事典 (講談社. 飯高茂 et al.). But for me, one of the best systematic source is the great encyclopedia/dictionary (数学辞典) of the Mathematical society of Japan (日本数学会). The names of the entries have translation in English, French and German (and Russian for the third edition); moreover, in the text, you will often find English translation of advanced vocabulary. (And, of course, this is a great book, sold with a searchable pdf file!) I used it a lot to construct the Japanese-French glossary mentionned above. Here is a sample page (4th edition).

I would love to know a Chinese equivalent.

PS. If you can read French, there is also a two-volume book, by Maurice Coyaud (Initiation au japonais mathématique), with a bilingual text (in topology if my memory is right).

PPS. This is my first message; please forgive me if it is not as it should be.


As a native Chinese speaker I would suggest the author at least try to make friends with Chinese math students who can check if his understanding of the paper he interested is accurate - is Lemma A really about Statement B is not true?, etc. Chinese is a very flexible language and sometimes the meaning has to be discerned from the proper context. So to have a dictionary and google translate probably is not enough, and since ordinary Chinese people do not know mathematical terminology that well, you should consult professionals. Alternatively, many papers have author's email, so I guess if you drop him or her an email the author will be happy to provide a brief note on the contents of the paper.

I had not read Chinese math papers for a while since I graduated from high school, so I expect someone who did his undergraduate math studies in China might be more helpful. My impression is the math papers I used to read were either too difficult to understand or written in such a way impossible to understand clearly what the author is really talking about. My Chinese classmates told me they often encounter similar difficulities. So presumably for a non-native speaker he or she will find the situation even more difficult, since sometimes the proof style, tex format, definitions, etc are all different. For example, sometimes Chinese people invent a name for foreign mathematicans using characters with a similar pronounciation. For not so well-known young mathematicans there is no orthodox translation, so you might be puzzled to look up who 西尔弗曼(Joe Silverman) is.

It is not impossible to train yourself to speak/read Chinese like a native speaker in a few years, and there are remarkable math work done in Chinese still yet to be translated. But this cost of energy and time seems neither what you wanted nor practical in real life.


I am also interested in learning Chinese and Japanese enough to read mathematical articles.

While also learning basic language notions with traditional courses, I am practicing by reading small and elementary mathematical wikipedia articles in english, chinese and japanese, that I sometimes translate back with google translate to match with the english version. I making slowly my own quadri-lingual dictionary (with english and french) with an electronic card system (Anki), so that key hanzi/kanji for mathematics allow me to progressively guess the subject of an article for instance. I devote some time to writing correctly by hand each new characters many times to reinforce memory by gesture and concentration.

  • $\begingroup$ Using google translator is not a good idea. Even a native speaker of Chinese, I sometimes find math (resarch) literatures in Chinese are difficult to follow. The only reason is Chinese is suitable for poem. $\endgroup$
    – Sunni
    May 11, 2010 at 20:02
  • $\begingroup$ I use google page translate (with Chrome) in both ways (ch->eng and eng->ch) because it relieves me from basic lookup and typing, but I do not take its results as final, just first order approximation that I correlate with scholarly sources (paper and web). This is a way to learn easy and unambiguous vocabulary, and certainly not style and grammar. Being a native speaker of french and german, I have the opportunity to regularly check the quality of such automatic translators. $\endgroup$
    – ogerard
    May 11, 2010 at 20:11

For learning characters, I've written a short summary of my own method. If you find Skritter annoying, which I do, you'll be pleased to find a stroke order manual there.

blog link

Note that it uses classical texts. You could easily modify it for your own purposes, if you can find a suitable mathematical text or lecture transcription.

For Japanese, Breaking Into Japanese Literature would be a good starting place. Recordings of the stuff in the book are all freely available. Technical language in Japanese and Chinese is pretty uniform. I would learn one language and stick with it instead of tackling both. I know several languages, and I prefer Chinese, but for reading math Japanese is probably a better choice, because it retains a great many traditional characters. As a rule of thumb, it's pretty easy to go from traditional to simplified, not so easy to go from reading simplified to traditional.


I use http://usa.mdbg.net/chindict/chindict.php most for translating Chinese. Although I don't think it has mathematical terms, you can cut and paste whole paragraphs into its "translate" page.


There is a good app on Android for Japanese whose name is tenjin. You can find terms as technical as "symplectic group" translated into Soseki's language.


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