Have Fun Learning Chinese with Pleco Chinese Dictionary

Many of my Singaporean friends do not understand why some Malaysian Chinese cannot read or write in Chinese. One of the questions that I was frequently asked is, “You can speak Mandarin so well, but why you can’t read in Chinese?”

In general, Malaysian Chinese can be categorized to be educated in three different streams of education: 1) English-educated, 2) Chinese-educated and 3) Malay-educated.

Public education in Malaysia is free. There are two types of public schools at the primary level, which are the Malay-medium and the non-Malay-medium. The non-Malay-medium schools are further divided into Chinese-medium and Tamil-medium schools. For the secondary level, there are only Malay-medium schools.

About 90% of the Malaysian Chinese go to Chinese-medium primary schools, and only a small group of about 10% attend the Malay-medium primary schools. I’m from the minority 10% who studied only Bahasa Melayu (Malay Language) and English Language in my primary and secondary school.

You see, I do not have any formal education in Chinese Language. I only learnt a few Chinese words from the non-compulsory extra classes that I had in my primary school and I didn’t speak a word of Mandarin until I was 18 years old. My family speaks in Cantonese dialect at home.

I learnt to speak in Mandarin when I went to a local university in Johor, and further improved when I started working in Singapore. I can read simple Chinese words now, but my major problems are writing Chinese words in the correct stroke orders and HanYuPinYin.

A lot of times, I got very frustrated with teaching Chinese at home. Even at K2 level, the Chinese Language fails me miserably, and I simply can’t imagine how to cope when Little Edison goes to Primary 1 next year. Getting a personal tutor for him seems inevitable.


Recently, my brother introduced to me a very useful app for learning and teaching Chinese Language named Pleco. I’m absolutely thrilled to have found such a useful tool in helping me to teach Chinese at home. How cool, you may ask. I can’t wait to share it with you now.

As an introduction, Pleco is an awesome app – something like a Chinese-English dictionary – suitable for anyone who is learning Mandarin Chinese. It’s a free app, but there are also optional paid add-ons. For a new user, it takes a little bit of time to get used to it. But once you get the hang of it, the usefulness of the app will never fail to impress you.

How to Use it


1. Once you’ve downloaded and opened the app, you’ll see a large text input box at the top of the screen. This is the Search Field where you’ll enter the character that you like to search.

2. There are various ways of inputting the character that you like to search, either by handwriting, radical input, keyboard input or microphone for voice recognition. You can select the input method from the row of buttons below the search field.

Handwriting, radical input and keyboard input are free, but for the microphone voice recognition input, you’ll need the paid add-on. For me, I use the free handwriting and keyboard input all the times and I’m happy with them.

3. Once you’ve found the character that you’re looking for, you can click on it and scroll down to see different words that the character makes up and examples of sentences for each word.

4. This app supports a wide array of add-on dictionary and other features, both paid and free, which greatly enhance its capabilities. Tap on the Menu button, then Add-Ons button to find all the available add-ons.

A very useful paid add-on that I used is the Stroke Order Diagrams (US$4.95). The Stroke Order Diagrams will show the stroke order and number of strokes for a Chinese character. I find this particularly useful when teaching Edison how to write a Chinese character in the correct stroke order.

Another free add-on that I like to recommend is the Audio Pronunciation, which is available in both female and male voice. Whenever I have difficulty reading a character, I just input it into Pleco using the handwriting input and the Audio Pronunciation will read it out for me.

5. The search result will show the Definition, Info and Words. Tap on “Defn” to see the definition of the selected character. Tap on “Info” to view more information on the selected character like HanYuPinYin etc. Lastly, tap on “Words” to view a list of compound words starting with or containing the selected character.

Why I Personally Like This App?

I can search for a Chinese character easily by writing it (using handwriting input) or by keying-in the HanYuPinYin (using keyboard input). The Audio Pronunciation reads out the characters that I’m searching for.

I can also use the word info to find out the HanYuPinYin, and Stroke Order Diagram to check the correct stroke order for a particular Chinese character. This app is extremely useful and easy to use.

If you’re a ‘banana mom’ like me who is struggling to teach your kids Chinese, go try out this app. I’m sure it will help you a great deal. And if you’re already using it, please share with me your experience in using this app. I like to hear from you too!

For more info, please check out Pleco’s website at This app is available in both iOS and Android.

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Ai Sakura June 3, 2013 at 6:32 PM

Thanks for this! I’m always on the lookout for good apps to help teach Lil Pumpkin Chinese. Will download and play around with this 🙂

Emily June 3, 2013 at 10:39 PM

Hi Ai,
Yes, it’s a pretty cool apps. Hope you’ll like it too. Btw, congrats for being selected as the finalist in SBA 2013. 🙂

Agy (Agatha) June 3, 2013 at 9:50 PM

Thanks for sharing. I’ve been using one on my ipod but it’s been too smart, and I get frustrated when I key in the strokes too slowly.

Emily June 3, 2013 at 10:39 PM

Hi Agy,
Try it on Android. It should be OK. I have it on my iPad too, but it doesn’t seem very good. Android is much better.

Maheswari April 14, 2014 at 4:55 PM

Hi Emily,
Very Useful Information.
I am Indian, my son learning Chinese in school. Any apps and websites which is useful for non-native Chinese speaker to teach Chinese for kids?
Thanks in Advance


Emily April 22, 2014 at 8:07 AM

Hi Maheswari,
Thanks for your message. I’m only using this app at the moment, not sure what other websites that teach Chinese for non-native Chinese speaker. Sorry about that.

Nelso March 13, 2016 at 10:58 AM

So inspiring.
Chinese is getting very important this days!! All thanks to China’s Economy and influence!
By reading this, this encourage me to brush up my Chinese.
Thanks for the App!!!!


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