My Favorite Apps: Studying Chinese

Mishi 1Technology and language learning are closely knit nowadays. Especially with a language such as Chinese, things like apps, games, online dictionaries, grammars and illustrations can prove to be extremely helpful to learners who are struggling to unlock the language’s gates and discover its magic. Chinese Tools contacted Peter Gokey (Chinese name高岩松) who is currently learning Chinese at Keats School in Kunming. An ardent lover of technology, Peter agreed to share his Chinese learning experience with us and talk to us about the digital tools he has found to be very helpful in the process. Here is what he has to say: “The continual evolution of technology transforms every area of our lives. The development of smart phones, tablets, and the applications (apps) that run on them have revolutionized the way I learn chinese. Here are two such apps that I highly recommend to anyone studying Chinese.”


Pleco (iOS and Android)

The free version of Pleco is an electronic bidirectional English-Chinese dictionary. Words can be looked up by entering English, typed or handwritten Hanzi (Chinese characters), or Pinyin (the phonetic system for writing Chinese using the Roman alphabet). What really makes this app special are the add-ons. First, there are additional dictionaries (some free) that each have distinct features. There are bidirectional German or French-Chinese dictionaries, Medical dictionaries, or even Chinese-Chinese dictionaries for the advanced learner. Each of these dictionaries has tens of thousands of entries all in the palm of your hand.

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My favorite add-on is the Flashcard module. It is incredibly quick and easy to create flashcards for your new vocabulary words. Simply look up the word and click the create flashcard button. By default the definition on the flashcard is from one of your downloaded dictionaries. If you are not satisfied with that definition you can switch to the definition of one of your other dictionaries or create your own custom definition.


You can completely customize the way that you review your flashcards. Pleco allows you to choose what information you are shown (Hanzi, Pinyin, Audio (separate add-on), definition, or a combination of these) and what information you are asked to enter (Hanzi, Pinyin, definition). The app remembers your correct and incorrect answers so you can track which words you have learned and which give you trouble. With this app I spend all my time reviewing flashcards rather than making them, and since they are electronic, I always have them with me.

Price: Free; Flashcard module $9.99 USD (Student price)


Notability (iOS only)

Can’t find your notes when you need them? Don’t know where to store all your notebooks and course handouts? Have you wanted to make your life paperless? Notability can make this dream a reality by taking electronic notes on your iPad or iPhone. There are many apps where you can type notes (Notability included) but I type slowly and want to practice writing Hanzi so I use a stylus to handwrite notes on my iPad mini. You can also record audio while typing or writing. Lately, I have been recording our daily listening exercises. You can take a picture of handouts and add them alongside your notes or, better yet, use the Scanner Pro App by Readdle ($6.99 USD) to turn your handout into a PDF first, so that you can take notes directly on it.


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I don’t worry about losing my notes if my iPad is broken or stolen because I have it set to automatically backup to my Dropbox account (You could also back up to Google Drive or Box).

When one of my classmates is sick our traveling I can email them my notes so they don’t fall behind. Price: $4.99 USD

These two apps have completely changed the way that I study. In Part 2 I will recommend apps for life in China outside of the classroom.