Initial thoughts from a newbie

Duan

秀才
Here are some general impressions of the beta Pleco.

I only started using Pleco a few weeks ago, to my astonishment and delight. When I started learning Chinese in the 80s before dictionaries had pinyin for entries, we had to look characters up in different dictionaries to get the meaning and then the pinyin. It was a joyful day when I got my hands on the first Concise Oxford dictionary with pinyin (with pinyin!!!). I never went back to China after Tiananmen and stopped learning Chinese. When I recently came across my old worn and tattered dictionary again recently, I remembered how very very much time I spent using it, and took a look to see what dictionaries are available today

It is truly wonderful seeing all the resources available to learners of Chinese these days. Mostly because of Pleco, I've started studying Chinese again. It is encouraging how much of it is coming back. Being able to follow the connections between words and characters in Pleco is a thrill.

This is all to say that my experience with Pleco is as a total n00b using Chinese on a device but I have a good deal of experience with paper dictionaries and handmade flashcards, and quite a few of deeply buried and forgotten words. v3 was very easy to learn to use. Most of the things to learn were really becoming aware that something was even possible. I was agog upon realizing I could plop words from the reader straight into the collection of flashcards, and then again realizing how flashcards can be arranged into sets.

My experience with v4 has been bumpier. One thing I notice, using a small iPhone (SE), is that the screen seems to use space less efficiently. For example in v3 the dictionary is labeled with a 3 letter indicator tucked away next to other info. In v4, a whole line of large text identifies the dictionary,, with less space available for definitions. Some headwords have linebreaks in the middle of the opposite character set, adding visual clutter around the headword (which is the thing whose shape I really want to see). I suspect the experience may be better on a bigger device, but on a small one I prefer the v3 layout.

I spend a few hours trying to grok the Learning profile, but haven't got it worked out. I think the obstacle is that I don't have a mental model of what it is supposed to be doing. The icons don't give much help. I still don't understand where the words go if I tap the mortar board hat. I don't know what "promoted to review" means either, when I really want to know how soon it will come back. I also don't really get "mark completed". I was reluctant to tap that except for the few cases when I was positive I never needed to see a card again ever. But the set of cards were taken from a song because I didn't know the word well to start with. "Too easy" and "totally forgotten" are also confusing. I thought at first that "too easy" == "mark completed" but see the card again later. Using the profile is easy but knowing what it is doing remains opaque to me.

I suspect that many v4 features will be easier to learn as I learn what is possible.

One unexpected plus I'm getting from the beta is having both versions available at the same time. I often switch to v3 (easier to look up characters) to explore a word that comes up in a flashcard that comes up in v4 when I have a dim memory that the characters may be shared in a different word. I can spelunk in the dictionary without losing my place in the flashcard session.

OK, enough of a monograph for now. I'm looking forward to seeing what comes next. A lot. Pleco has me fascinated; in a sense, fascinated to the point where I'm learning Chinese again.

Thanks for these magically wonderful tools!
 

mikelove

皇帝
Staff member
Thanks for the feedback, and I'm glad your experience with Pleco has been so positive in general.

Regarding space efficiency, the issue with headword linebreaks at least seems like a bug, or at least unexpected behavior - that should be working more-or-less the same way it did before. Are the font sizes the same? Could you post screenshots of how a headword with this problem looks in 4.0 versus 3.0 so we can see if there's any bug / font issue obvious from that?

The dictionary labels serve two functions: they separate definitions from different dictionaries visually (also helped by the rounded borders) and they make it more obvious what the sections actually are - that you're seeing entries from different dictionaries. Just in general, the biggest design failure in version 3 is that it's not at all clear to a lot of new users what those abbreviations mean, or for that matter that they're searching multiple dictionaries at all, so both that label + the surfacing of dictionary browse links on the main screen are some of our attempts to help with that.

We are indeed focused on larger screens now, yes; the UI design in version 3 dates all the way back to 2012, when the predominant form of iPhone had a 3.5 inch screen, so a UI that's sized around that tends to look tiny and cramped on a larger one. The added visual spacing actually came in part after a design lab session I had with a pair of Apple designers at a WWDC a couple of years ago; I was also inspired by some other iOS dictionary apps regarded as having particularly good design, like LookUp. I think in general it's a positive step, but part of the reason the Legacy app exists is because it might not be an improvement for everyone, and we want to make sure people who are happy with the way things are now have the option to continue with them.

Regarding the Learning Profile: yeah, we didn't do a great job with labeling there, and the buttons are kind of a disaster visually. Basically a card starts out in a series of progressively longer intervals until you've learned it, then it stays in 'review' where the app shows it to you again every once in a while to make sure you still know it, and it can eventually be marked completed if you know you know it so well that you never need to see it again (你好 say). We were trying to avoid the opaque 1/2/3/4 sort of scoring with Anki where it's even less obvious what's going to happen when you select a particular score, but I think we probably need to go further and put those more extreme actions outside of the normal scoring buttons altogether.
 
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Duan

秀才
Attached are an example of a long headword linebreak.
I'm probably going to pick up a cheap ipad. Pleco is the first app I've ever loved enough to consider getting an Apple device for (besides making telephone calls). Smartphones are a chore for me to operate with Parkinsons so I prefer Linux and a chunky keyboard. But Pleco is laid out well enough that it's usable even with a tremor. In v4 I miss the handwriting feature for words I don't have the sound for. It works better for me than the microscopic device "keyboard."
Thanks again for this wonderful tool!
 

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Ledu

举人
@Duan

I think this can be fixed this way unless you are trying to learn traditional characters or cantonese too. I'm not an expert just learning this software along the way.

settings>language>headword mode>one set only
 

mikelove

皇帝
Staff member
Thanks - we somehow hadn't noticed the brackets and dashes were so wide compared to 3.0, that should be pretty straightforward to fix.

Handwriting - that's still supported in 4.0; did you maybe neglect to give us your Registration ID when you signed up for the beta?
 

Duan

秀才
Thanks - we somehow hadn't noticed the brackets and dashes were so wide compared to 3.0, that should be pretty straightforward to fix.

Handwriting - that's still supported in 4.0; did you maybe neglect to give us your Registration ID when you signed up for the beta?
Super! PEBCAK
 

Duan

秀才
A grab-bag of impressions/nits/requests:
  • The icon to leave a flashcard session is very tiny (see screenshot)
  • I can't find an explanation of what the slash(es) // mean in the pinyin for some headwords (see screenshot)
  • Is it possible to change the font for the stroke order animations? I only really care about stroke order when writing, and the Kaiti brush-like font in v3 is more clear to me than the Songti font I see in v4. [edit: I see the Kai font in v3 but not v4]
  • Feature request: a tian zi ge grid option in the stroke order pane. [edit: I see you have already implemented this]
I am so loving Pleco!
Screenshot 2024-02-09 at 1.51.08 PM.jpeg
 
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mikelove

皇帝
Staff member
Thanks!

The icon to leave a flashcard session is very tiny (see screenshot)
That shouldn't be, look like it's running out of space. Could you let me know what setting your system display scale is set to (how many notches from the left of the screen in system settings)?

I can't find an explanation of what the slash(es) // mean in the pinyin for some headwords (see screenshot)
They mean it's separable, i.e. you can use it as "pao <something> bu".

Is it possible to change the font for the stroke order animations? I only really care about stroke order when writing, and the Kaiti brush-like font in v3 is more clear to me than the Songti font I see in v4.
Yes, make sure you download the experimental Kai font in "Add-ons" and then you can select it under 'preferred font style' in Settings / Definition Screen / Stroke Order Settings.
 

Duan

秀才
That shouldn't be, look like it's running out of space. Could you let me know what setting your system display scale is set to (how many notches from the left of the screen in system settings)?

Is that display scale setting in Pleco or for the iPhone? I don't see a display scale setting in either.
 

mikelove

皇帝
Staff member
Thanks - might be the really long date string in that case, it should probably be shrinking more than it is.
 

Ledu

举人
When I started learning Chinese in the 80s before dictionaries had pinyin for entries, we had to look characters up in different dictionaries to get the meaning and then the pinyin. It was a joyful day when I got my hands on the first Concise Oxford dictionary with pinyin (with pinyin!!!). I never went back to China after Tiananmen and stopped learning Chinese. When I recently came across my old worn and tattered dictionary again recently, I remembered how very very much time I spent using it, and took a look to see what dictionaries are available today
@Duan
I feel that books are poorly written, even today. It took awhile for the word "comrade" to feel acceptable for me to use given my upbringing which is Anti Communism/Socialism. My knowledge is just theoretical and from some effects I see in modern China. I don't want to offend others who have personal unique experiences in their countries histories or lives. I am a fan of communism/socialism. I wish I could have been supported more to learn about it while growing up. I also wish studying Chinese was offered. Collectivism is quite hard for me though, getting easier now.

I have no idea why I didn't start with NPCR, instead I have been using Hanban's HSK textbooks. I think they should be updating within every 4 years. Books shouldn't be over 10 years old. Like you said, some dialogues are memorable. Some are so bad within the Hanban textbook that I can remember vocabulary just from the strange dialogue. Also the formatting is often in third person but I have my feelings this is how Chinese people actually talk (about others, not directly to them, gossip). Or it could just be poorly written. Countries should develop their languages through official textbooks so that the world can access and communicate with them better. Having wifi available for all citizens is great but textbooks are also a way for the world to connect with China. Textbooks are a form of technology too.

Nowadays people are buying taxi services with their phone, coffee with their phones. Books should keep up with technology. Every Chinese book should teach about Chinese tea and coffee and include question and answer dialogues. It should also teach non-verbal communication as it is used in China. Readings should also show kiosks, for example buying subway tickets. Technology has developed faster than the textbooks. I advise any learner to buy the most current book you can find. The newest one. It will still be behind modern daily life in China. Just my 2 kuai.
 

Duan

秀才
@Ledu

The NPCR used to just be the yellow "Elementary Chinese" and the green "Chinese Reader". There was nothing new or practical about them! When the USA recognized Taiwan, the textbooks here (USA) used traditional characters and bopomofu. Then the PRC got recognized and allofasuddenlike everything had to be all jiantizi and pinyin. The only textbooks meeting that criteria were published in the 70's, by the same outfit that does the NPCR. At the uni, my class was the first to use the new books.

Your comments about collectivism, socialism, and learning Chinese are very interesting. Reading that brought back memories of my early motivations. Certainly learning Chinese was politicized. And I was too, kindasorta. Books I read as a young teen, especially Joshua Horn's account serving as a medic during the Long March (Away With All Pests), made a big impression on me. I was totally ready to study Lei Feng! I was sympathetic to the idea of the revolution, with naive youthful enthusiasm. Learning Chinese was an extension of my curiosity to know what life was like in that distant world.

And yet. Those books had so little to do with daily life. One of the lesson texts was about a brave 8th Route Army soldier who was about to suicide-bomb a bridge to keep the Japanese devils away. We learned this before learning how to make a telephone call. It was a little bit funny in a sad way, but also annoying to have worked so hard for so little ability to communicate. When I arrived in China after two year's study at the Uni, my ability to navigate ordinary situations in Chinese was essentially nothing. But I knew the jargon for blood transfusions so I could read Mao's essay on Normal Bethune, so I had that going for me, which was good.

I'm slightly curious to see what other texts nowadays are like. I haven't seen the HSK books, but I am loving "Essential Chinese Grammar" from Tuttle. What a difference it makes reading about Chinese grammar from the perspective of what is hard for English speakers. I'm reading that book for fun. I never read the CR grammar for fun! It's different for me now learning just for fun with no expectation of using it for anything than amusement.

I still have a natural affinity and predisposition for collectivism. But not in my Chinese textbooks for crying out loud!

How did you end up studying this beautiful beast of a language?
 

Ledu

举人
I think it went from survival > curiosity > a challenge > curiousity/growth. In the beginning I thought at the time that I could be a solid HSK3 level + have a dictionary (Pleco) and be fine. Also most of the expat community I know tend to quit study after HSK4 level. A few have wanted to go highee though. I like your ideas and you seem quite passionate about the language and culture. I will keep fighting the beast.
 
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One note on the 4.0 dictionary interface, one UI item I hoped would be changed from 3.x is the indicators of what dictionary entry a flashcard is matched to. After using Pleco for years, I still get confused what the icons mean. For a card I've already added, I see a plus icon in a box and I assume that means I hit that button to match the card to that definition. It's not until I look at other definitions with the downward arrow that I remember what the plus means. I would assume a plus would mean match the card to the entry and a check in a box would mean it's already matched.

Then again, on the more spacious, modern 4.0 search screen, maybe different button shapes/icons altogether would be appropriate.
 

mikelove

皇帝
Staff member
That makes sense - I'd be extremely reluctant to change the main title bar [+] icon because people are used to it, but "+ for each dictionary" is already an esoteric off-by-default power user feature, and making it more of its own thing / focusing its icons specifically on the act of choosing between dictionaries has a certain amount of logic to it.
 
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