When it comes to learning a language, you’ve got to pick up the right tools. Everytime I had the chance to travel abroad, I tried to study the local language beforehand. I did it for Norway, Portugal, Turkey, Russia (six months before !), generally I used the Assimil method in french, perfect for beginners. There are two exceptions to this dogma : after travelling in Spain and China, I was so charmed by the language that I did continue to study it back in France.
I did it during one year for spanish, and it has been three years for mandarin chinese : as soon as I came back to France, I went to the local Confucius Institute and started a cursus. Now I’ve been graduating HSK 3 a few months ago but it doesn’t mean so much to me since I know it’s a long long way to approach something not even resembling fluency.
Anyway, even if the road is long, it’s a rewarding learning, and the maze of this language is a fascinating jungle. When you begin learning chinese, what is disturbing is that you have the feeling you are learning more than one language at a time. Let me explain : when you learn the word “tree” in chinese, you learn :
- the character itself, actually it’s very common that a word is made of TWO characters.
- the stroke order.
- the pinyin transcription, which will allow you to go back & forth between occidental and oriental (the pinyin for “tree” is “mu”).
- (!) the tones : there are five tones in chinese.
After trying a few tools and searching on the web for weeks how to improve memorization, at last I stumbled upon Pleco, an application developed for iOS and Android, the perfect companion for every chinese learner.
It’s primarily an offline dictionary, or I should say a collection of offline dictionaries : a few are free, you have to pay for the most specialized. Then you can build sets of flashcards, which are essential to learning chinese : you can review collections of characters regularly, choosing to question what you want to.
Here is what the dictionary looks like :
Reviewing the word “daxue” ( pinyin transcription of the word “university” ), you come to the following screen. There are three lines corresponding to the three dictionaries I’ve installed and I regularly use. You can listen to the pronunciation (male & female), see the strokes, the different characters composing the word (here there are two characters), words containing “daxue”, and examples of expressions :
The screen where you can detail the strokes :
Here is the main screen :
And, that’s very important, the screen where you can customize flashcards :
There are six test types :
You can only review a collection of cards, you can test yourself with “multiple choice” :
The correct answer was “xian”, it means “salty”. You can fill in the blanks, giving the right pinyin AND the right tones :
You can test your stroke ability :
You can check the tones :
Finally, the last and most difficult test : you have the word in english, and you must give all the elements in chinese, you can write the character on the screen :
Displaying the whole card :
Mmmhhh, ok, I will never be a master in calligraphy (!). The Pleco application is free. The flashcards add-on is definitely worth the few bucks you will be charged. It’s fully customizable and it’s a tremendous tool for everyday learning. Simple characters, traditional characters, cantonese, Pleco has it all (and they don’t pay me for this post !).
I’ve tried to collect and customize regularly the words I learned, and I gathered them in blocks of around 60/70 words, which I find is a correct progression each trimester.
You can download the whole file here. If you want to test it, you must first assure you have CFCDICT, PLECO C-E and ADSOTRANS dictionaries installed on your device. In the main menu, go under “import/export”, choose “restore database”, then select my .pqb file.