Learning Chinese Characters with Pleco

Every dictionary entry can be added as a flashcard by tapping the '+' button.

Perhaps the most frustrating aspect of learning Chinese is the hard-to-learn, easy-to-forget nature of Chinese characters. It takes a good deal of repetitive learning to memorize new words, yet if you're not careful you will have forgotten them by next week.

A great tool to help you remember Chinese characters is the Pleco dictionary app, in particular the flashcards function. Every word in the dictionary can be saved as a flashcard, allowing you to easily revise Chinese words you don't know.

Custom cards can also help you remember the Chinese name of your teacher.

You can start a test session whenever you like (I'd recommend once every day), and the app will give you a selection of the flashcards you have saved. The great thing about the Pleco app is that the words you've remembered will not be asked again until a few days later. If by then you still know the word, it won't show up until next week, etc., etc.

This way, the characters you know stay out of your way, but are still checked on every now and then. The characters you keep forgetting are repeated often, until eventually you will have learned them.

You can also add custom cards. So, if, for instance, you have trouble remembering how to say "I've never ..." in Chinese, you can add a card with "我从来没有吃过四川菜" (I've never eaten Sichuanese food) as an example sentence.

The habit you'll want yourself to get into is to review these flashcards every day. It is far more effective to practice Chinese characters every day for 30 minutes, rather than twice a week for 2 hours. Because the app sorts out which words are up for review, you don't need to think about which words to revise. So getting into this habit is easy: You just open the app and go.

The Pleco dictionary app is available for free for both Android and iOS phones. The flashcard add-on isn't free, but considering how much it has helped me improve my Chinese, I'd say it's well worth it.


Kevin writes columns for the GoEast Blog on studying Chinese, Chinese culture, and life as a foreign student. He has studied China and Chinese for over five years, first in his home country the Netherlands, then in Beijing, and now at Fudan University's Chinese Society department.