July 21, 2009


Filed under: Uncategorized — ktetaichinh @ 3:48 pm

If you have any interest in learning 汉字 at all, do yourself a huge favor and buy PlecoDict as soon as possible. I’m all for saving money and using free resources when I can, but this program is too good to pass up. I’m not sure why I waited so long to buy it (I’ve known about it and wanted it for quite a while now). But my wife gave me permission the other day (that’s probably the sole reason!) to buy it, and I haven’t stopped using it. My Shanghainese friend was impressed with it, too.

I bought the Professional bundle, which comes with the ABC Chinese-English Comprehensive Dictionary and the New World Press English-Chinese Dictionary. If these aren’t great enough, you can also download the adsotrans database, CEDICT, the Unihan database, and the LDC English-Chinese Wordlist. If a definition is unclear, you can just look at other dictionaries to help you get a better idea of what it means.

One very cool feature is the handwriting recognition engine. This allows you to write the character on the screen and then find possible matches. My handwriting is horrible, but I’ve still had really good success with it. The obvious benefit to this feature is that you can write an unfamiliar character on the screen and find out its meaning even with no idea how to pronounce it or what the radical is. Of course you have to have some familiarity with stroke order. But that’s a good thing, right? Now you have a reason to practice writing (I know you’ve been putting it off since forever…me too). So here‘s a good resource for that.

On a similar note, here is a really cool page about Chinese calligraphy. Have a browse through it, you’ll enjoy it.

Anyway, back to the topic. Another fantastic feature of PlecoDict is the flashcard function. It is customizable, so you can do spaced repetition or traditional flashcards (guess which one I recommend). You can also customize the interval at which card get repeated based on how many times you get it right in a row, set how many “ranks” it gets moved back when you get it wrong, etc. You just look up a character, word, or phrase in the dictionary, hit the “add” button, and it gets added to your flashcard database. You can make multiple databases, as well. Since ZDT and HanziHelper both can export to Pleco, you can also make your lists on the computer and then import them to Pleco. I’ll be using this instead of Supermemo now, just for the convenience of adding new cards by tapping a button rather than actually having to type in each character, pinyin, and definition for each card. I’ll be adding the 3000 most common characters over time, and also any vocab I learn from ChinesePod, FSI, or ChinaPanorama. This would have taken an enormous amount of time before with Supermemo, but is now pretty quick and painless. As a side note, I prefer using the Adso definitions for most of the flashcards due to the short, sweet, simple definitions. I like this better than the mini-dissertations in the ABC dictionary or the long lists of words in CEDICT. Those definitions are great for studying, but aren’t so well-suited to flashcards.

You can also download a few pre-made flashcard databases, including HSK, Practical Chinese Reader, and Chinese Made Easier lists. I prefer to make my own cards, since I’m taking a wider approach and can add the vocab that I learn from other sources as I go.

They’re coming out with Pleco 2.0 within the next few months (a Beta version was released the other day), and it will include stroke order diagrams, native-speaker recordings, a document reader, Zhuyin Fuhao support, and two new dictionaries (a huge Chinese-Chinese dictionary and a much bigger English-Chinese dictionary). Upgrades will be free for people who have purchased Pleco after July 1, 2006. Good stuff!

I’ve only been tinkering a few days, so I’m sure there’s a lot more to this powerful program than I’ve listed here. Let me just say that it is more than worth the price and you’ll kick yourself for waiting to buy it. Do whatever you can to scrape up the money if you don’t have a spare $100, because it will be some of the best money you ever spend on learning Chinese.

The other cool news is that I finally picked up a copy of Rick Harbaugh’s Chinese Characters: A Genealogy and Dictionary. This book is an incredible resource, and if you’re memorizing large quantities of 漢字 a la Heisig (or ACATT), this is the book to use. It shows how 4000+ characters are formed from just 182 “components” or 部首. These aren’t necessarily radicals, although some of them are. They are just pictographs from which all of these characters are formed. The concept is similar to Heisig’s “primitives,” but many of his are made up to help with learning and not actual components. Harbaugh’s main resource in compiling this book was 說文解字, and ancient dictionary that explained the genealogies of seal characters. So you’re getting the character’s traditional genealogy, which I find very helpful. And you can feel free to change the meanings of the 部首 if you’d like, if it makes learning easier for you.

The book is focused on 繁體字 (traditional Chinese), but 简体 (simplified) forms are given in brackets. The components are explained, often in a mnemonic sort of way, and then there is a list of words containing that character. Each character is cross-referenced with each component, so you can look up those components quickly. And if you want to look up other characters from the word list, they are also cross-referenced. The book is a masterpiece as far as I’m concerned, and at $20 you can’t ask for more.

So I’m going through and learning all the 部首 first (almost done) and then go straight through and learn the 漢字 in order. If there is a component of a certain characters I’m not yet familiar with, I’ll skip ahead and learn that first. That shouldn’t be much of a problem because it seems that most of the characters are listed under the 部首 that is closest phonetically rather than a radical. So, take 紙 for instance. Let’s say I don’t already know the character, but I do know 糸 (because I’ve already learned all the radicals months ago). It won’t be a problem because 紙 is listed under 氏 rather than 糸. And that means I have to learn 氏 before I can learn 紙. If it were listed under 糸 instead, and I didn’t know 氏 yet, I’d have to go look it up before I could learn 紙. Clear as mud? It makes sense once you see how the book is laid out, I promise.

Yes, there is an online version of the book available, but I find the book easier to use. It’s worth the few bucks to have a portable version (I take mine to work and study during my lunch break).

I just wanted to mention that 新裤子 and 二手玫瑰 can now be found in the iTunes Store. Search for “New Pants” and “Second Hand Rose,” respectively. Worth the 10 bucks or so to have some decent Chinese music to listen to.


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