Using Pleco as a student for HSK self-study (experience)

#1
Hello,

I found Pleco 魚 (iPhone 8 | iOS 12.1.2) when searching for resources to prepare for the HSK exams 汉语水平考试.
I'm a high school student who attends an after-school Chinese class once a week during term time, however it's not an official examinable school subject here (in Ireland), so the class often gets cancelled due to a lack of interest or being busy with other language subjects. (In school, I study Irish, French, Japanese as official examinable subjects, but
Chinese, Korean, and Spanish unofficially after-school)

Mandarin Chinese is my favourite language to study. I passed HSK Level 2 (with 90%) and I recently passed the Level 3 milestone (not examined). However, I'd really like to pass the HSK Level 4 四级考试 by November this year.
I know the HSK is not a true determiner of real-life Chinese proficiency, but it looks good on your résumé whilst you gain a decent proficiency in Chinese.


I solely rely on the pre-made HSK Pleco flashcards along with the use of the HSK 标准教程 Standard Course textbooks (by the Beijing Language & Culture Press) I got from the Confucius Institute department at my local university. They're a boring set of textbooks to use, but they're officially certified by Hanban 国家汉办 (the HSK test makers) so it's my only real resource for test preparation, along with mock exam papers. There's not really any good web or app based resources for HSK apart from Pleco.

Thanks to carrier billing, I spent some leftover prepay mobile credit on Pleco Add-ons (since you can migrate them Android <=> iOS).
For Dictionaries, I have
1) 部首 Radical Dictionary (& Flashcards) – thanks to a post on these forums. There should be an official Pleco one as it's vital for learners to know radicals 部首. The components come together to form almost every character, and it nearly always give me a better understanding if how it evolved to be the way it is. It almost demystifies how ridiculous Chinese characters appear sometimes.
2) Tuttle Learner's C-E – best dictionary for me as I'm a learner
4) Pleco C-E – best dictionary overall
3) Outlier Mini SC + TC – I love this dictionary! However, I primarily focus on 简体字 Simplified Characters; I would only want the Traditional version of the dictionary to show if there was a difference I should know - instead of seeing the same paragraph twice for SC & TC. Can I enable the traditional version only when there's a difference between SC and TC? I still like to be aware of the differences (a lot of Traditional Characters are Japanese Kanji too).
4) Unihan Extended – I never paid attention to this until I found out you can add Japanese Kun/Onyomi and Korean Hangul readings! I'm not sure what the other categories are or what they mean.
5) CC-CEDICT – It's included by default but I don't know if it's necessary. I think it's for Cantonese although it has all Mandarin entries. I'm unsure if to disable it or not. What would CC-CEDICT have that differs from the other default dictionary Pleco C-E? I have to scroll more because I have about 5-6 dictionaries, so it'd be good to prioritise (or if there's any other dictionary add-ons recommended for learners?)

For Features, I have the Flashcards, OCR, Reader, Kai Font, Handwriting, Stroke Order, Qiang TTS, and male Extended Audio.
For headword audio, I'd rather use Qiang (Enhanced) as it sounds so much more natural than the Extended Audio (male) but it's not possible.
I downloaded the Kai-style Font because it is very common in my textbooks along with the standard Serif font.
As a learner, I'm not sure if to select FZNewKai, PingFang SC, or even Source Hans Serif CN?
Kai font looks nice, but PingFang is geometrically pleasing, but Kai is better for the stroke order, but PingFang is easier to read…etc
It's very hard to know which is best, because I was told Kai is better for a learner…but PingFang is easy on the eyes.
What font is best for a learner, especially a HSK test taker?

The flashcards feature is amazing. It has potential to be more, if there was more pre-made sets and test types added/
It'd be nice to have full screen flashcard mode with more colour customisation, even (solarised? different tone colour combos?) themes, with the target character centred rather than justified to the left; and maybe tests to formulate sentences with characters in the right order, and intermissions to test your writing, or show you grammar points in different ways (explaining specific grammar points is the only reason I even have a textbook). I probably just described Duolingo, but their Chinese course is terrible. Pleco could probably make a more user customisable Chinese course that would allow users to learn more with only Pleco open. Pleco is an impressive Chinese learning aid, but I think it could and should be a learning platform by itself (considering my generation would rather learn on their smartphone than put a pen on paper). Even just a flashcard set of grammar points, or measure words would be a start…very specific things in a set that are better to be learned as a group. Unless it's a
I didn't mean to suggest, I just wanted to put my opinion since I have been using Pleco for 2 years and I love it. I love it so much that I wish I didn't have to switch from using Pleco flashcards to going back to a textbook with restricted information to find specific grammar notes for words/characters.
 
#2
Hi 聰明的魚,

I think you have some very good ideas. Growing Pleco into a learning platform, as long as the learning content isn't too obtrusive to the pure dictionary users, could indeed be a worthwhile path to take in the long term.

I really like the Qiang TTS voice, too. On the choice of fonts, I like to use the FZNewShuSong for all Chinese text because it gives it a old-book printed feel, which is something you miss on modern smartphones. The STROKE tab always uses KaiTi, I believe.

Cheers,

Shun
 

mikelove

皇帝
Staff member
#3
Thanks for the feedback!

Regarding fonts: the current type design actually came out of a collaboration with a design professor in Hong Kong (who was, as one would expect, quite experienced with bilingual Chinese/English type design) and he pretty much dismissed out of hand the idea of using Kai as a body font; it's just too small and hard to read, it's lovely for magnified characters in stroke order or whatever but it really doesn't work as a body font (in Chinese texts you pretty much only see it as something equivalent to italics; for everything else they use Song or Hei).

Practically speaking, most of the Chinese text you read is going to be on a computer and most of that is going to be in Hei, so stroke order / shape / whatever concerns notwithstanding it's probably good to get used to Hei.

All that being said, we are investigating the possibility of multiple type 'themes' and we probably would include one built around Kai (pairing it with an English font that matches it better) since we have a lot of people who want to use it despite the readability concerns.

As far as Chinese learning course: we're building most of the infrastructure for that in 4.0, in fact pretty much everything except for some of the question types. We aren't going to have our own courses right away but we might develop/license one eventually and the tech will be there when we do.
 
Top