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 http://www.pleco.com/. This app is available in both iOS and Android.

Looking for Chinese Enrichment Class

I’ve finally decided to send Little Edison for Chinese enrichment class. Although I’ve been putting a lot of efforts to teach him Chinese at home, I’ve to admit that our progress is rather pathetic.

First of all, the language itself is already a hurdle for me, as I don’t actually have any formal education on it. V, on the other hand, dislikes tutoring him at home even though he has a better command on the language than me (please don’t ask me why).

Little Edison likes English a lot; he views it as a language for entertainment (TV programs), for education and for interaction (we speak English at home). Chinese seems to be a language of struggle for him. Perhaps, it is all our fault – we should have spoken more Chinese at home when he was younger.

I told V that we must be realistic with our own “limited” ability and our expectations of him when it comes to Chinese. Since we intend to enroll him in a SAP school with strong emphasis on bilingualism, we have to help him to build a strong foundation and interest in the Chinese Language.

I’ve shortlisted a few Chinese enrichment classes – that is near to our place.

1. Hua Language Centre
2. Berries
3. Beijing Language School
4. Tien Hsia Language School
5. Eduplus Language Centre

Personally, I prefer a fun-learning environment rather than academically-driven. I’m also looking for some feedbacks on these schools. So, please drop me a comment – especially if you’ve any experiences with these schools or any recommendations.

Appreciate it and Thanks! 🙂


Learning Chinese (Part 1)

One of my plans for this year is to teach my son how to speak and write in Chinese, from scratch!

Eight months have passed and I’ve actually did nothing about it. I feel so bad. So, I went to Popular book store to get some Chinese workbooks for Little Edison.

I can speak Chinese well, but I can’t write them. I studied in Malay – English medium school when I was young. I took some extra classes on Chinese Language, but I can only read minimal Chinese words. I have to rely on han yu ping ying to read them now.

I started my first attempt to teach Little Edison to write in Chinese last week. I can’t believe it – the first obstacle came as soon as I flipped to the first page! The VERY first page where we need to write our names, to be exact. I can’t even write my son’s name in Chinese (don’t laugh, okay!).

That was my first problem. I learnt to write his name from the Husband.

We proceed to the second page. He learnt to write the basic strokes of Chinese characters – “Heng”, “Shu”, “Dian”, “Gou” etc. It was a good practice and he enjoyed it too.

I should start buying more Chinese educational products now. My colleague recommended to me Shine Kids Book Store. It’s an online shop with a wide variety of Chinese books. I’ve yet to order anything from them but I plan to do so when I have time.

Do you have any good recommendation for Chinese educational products? I love to hear some ideas from you.