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Archive for December, 2009

There are some great Chinese study apps out there on the iTunes store! For anyone with an iPhone, or iPod Touch, there are enough apps available to outclass dedicated electronic dictionaries in many cases. Better yet, there are enough free apps to satisfy quite a few language learners!

The Basic Tools

The things that I’m looking for are as follows: A dictionary, a lot of audio, flashcards (preferably with an SRS), and maybe some games.

Study Arcade

This is one heck of a study app! It can import vocabulary lists from ChinesePod, Anki, or a dozens of its own archives. These include HSK lists (in simplified or traditional characters!), resources for other languages ranging from Esperanto to biblical Greek, and even prep materials for standard tests such as the GRE or LSAT. The includes a flashcard “game”, that can be set to either cram mode or a spaced repetition mode based on Super Memo 2. Amazingly, the only limitation on the basic service is downloads from its own server. It starts by allowing the user to download five modules, after which it is necessary to “earn” them by reviewing 500 flash cards. Talk about motivation! Here’s the iTunes link for StudyArcade.


The Pleco dictionary has been a popular choice on PDAs for years. Many, many people have sung its praises. The iPhone/iPod Touch version just released this week doesn’t disappoint. As usual, the interface is snappy and the choice of dictionaries is top-notch. In addition, they’ve gone to the trouble to improve upon Apple’s already good Chinese character recognition software. While I hadn’t had any complaints about Apple’s character handwriting recognition, Pleco went the extra mile and added full-screen input, cursive recognition and a time-saving double-tap interface. Very impressive.

In the past, I’ve been put off by Pleco’s absurd prices (their palm version cost as much as an iPod Touch!), but with this version, things are a bit better. First of all, the complete package is now “only” $150. Secondly, dictionaries can be downloaded from within the app (after registering). The initial dictionary is somewhat pitiful, missing even common words such as “Sydney”. Some free dictionaries offered are a notable improvement, such as the ever growing Adsotrans dictionary. One final improvement in the value offered by Pleco is that the options are very modular. I have no interest in voice readings of the dictionary entries and it’s possible for me to avoid them. If I wanted to purchase just the Guifan Chinese-Chinese dictionary without paying for the ABC dictionary as well, that’s possible, too.


DianHua is a free dictionary available on the iStore that I found via some discussion boards. It’s based on the CC-CEDICT, which has some advantages over the built-in Pleco dictionary. Like Pleco, DianHua supports traditional Chinese characters fully and is fairly friendly to Taiwan-based learners. The one major advantage of DianHua is its integrated flashcard system. It makes it easy to review the words they’ve looked up, and it uses a spaced repetition system to make sure that you’re reviewing at optimal intervals. It’s a great dictionary, and it’s better than a number of non-free competitors in the iStore.


Clearly, iPods were made for podcasts. Or maybe it’s the other way around. In any case, load it up! Seize back that time on the subway that would have otherwise been wasted!


This is an area where I haven’t found anything compelling yet. I’ve heard of a game something like a Chinese version of Boggle, but I haven’t seen it. Anyone who’s found an app that manages to educate and amuse, please share!

I’ve long been an occasional user of the Perapera-kun plug-in for Firefox. It’s pretty handy for quickly looking up Japanese words online.

Once it was installed, you could right-click on any web page, pick “perapera” from the right-click menu, and then hovering the mouse over any word bring up a pop-up display with both the English translation and the pronunciation of the word in question. The Chinese version worked pretty much the same way.

Unfortunately, the developer decided to merge the Chinese and Japanese plugins and abandon the old right click interface and instead add an icon at the bottom right hand corner of the screen (incidentally, the same spot I use for my pinyin plugin). Instead of text, the developer decided to use flags.

Here is the result:

Why a flag?

Using flags is a poor user design choice

Needless to say there are a lot of people in Taiwan who would rather not fly the PRC flag on their desktops. Though I’m not a very political person myself, I felt a bit uncomfortable with this on the computers at my office after the upgrades today. I doubt the secretary would much care for seeing it and while I could explain it to her, it could be more awkward if students see it on the computers.

An icon with the character 中 would be a better choice. Also, from a purely functional standpoint, I miss the right-click interface. It was much quicker than having to go to the lower right-hand corner of my browser and make two clicks.