I usually have all three of these dictionaries open while I’m writing essays, because they all do very different things.
You can draw characters. YOU CAN DRAW CHARACTERS. WITH YOUR MOUSE. AND FIND OUT WHAT THEY ARE. Nciku has saved my life. Also, it has thousands of example sentences, for when you’re not sure how to use a certain grammar point.
For nouns, names and adjectives. Everyone uses this because you can input whole paragraphs, but I don’t recommend pasting whole sentences in here, because the grammar will come out weird! Good if you’re in a hurry though.
This dictionary is more comprehensive than Google Translate, and a bit more accurate.I like it a lot for less-common words.
Xinhua! For news in Chinese, with a focus on the Mainland. The articles are pretty good, and there’s nothing better for practicing Chinese than, you know, reading Chinese…
For if you’re not quite so dedicated and want to read news about China in English.
For if you are really lazy and just want to watch your news animated and hilarious, but in Chinese.
The Wall Street Journal’s take on China.
Chinese Youtube #1. Also has movies and TV shows!
Chinese Youtube #2.Exactly the same as above!
Free Chinese and Taiwanese TV shows, which are pretty fun to watch.
Read what Chinese netizens are talking about! Laugh a lot! Scroll over the English to read everything in the Original Chinese (TM)! These stories can be super offensive and obscene, proceed with caution. These two sites are great because it gives you a realtime idea of Chinese culture and news.
Some pretty excellent sites on Chinese current affairs.