The Pleco Chinese dictionary is a crucial app for Chinese learners. What about the Pleco flashcards add-on though, is it worth spending 10 bucks? How essential is the ‘dictionary-flashcards combination’ to get to the next level(s)?
The benefits of Pleco Flashcards
Pleco flashcards are a popular means to organize and train vocabulary. Especially when you’re in Taiwan or China and receiving tons of new input every day. How to keep track of all that new vocabulary? Are you going to write down the Pinyin and later add the character(s) and meaning? In such a scenario, working with Pleco flashcards might be the superior approach:
- Pleco combines dictionary functionality with a flashcard system. It’s very efficient to create flashcards based on your search history and to sort them by different categories. Scroll through your search history to bookmark those characters for further learning.
- If you like reading the news or any other Chinese text: Pleco allows you to bookmark important vocabulary from any given text while using the clipboard reader.
- The flashcards contain the link to the complete dictionary entry, including example sentences.
- Spaced repetition allows for efficient memorization. More advanced users know how to tweak the settings to their personal tastes. For most learners the standard settings will do just find.
- Sound is integrated.
- Ready-made lists of HSK-flashcards.
- Lists can be imported and exported between different users and devices.
Hidden dangers of Pleco flashcards
So, are Pleco flashcards the ultimate learning solution? Well, I personally think that the pros certainly outweigh the cons. If you have a goal of learning 100 new characters every month, Pleco flashcards allow you to realize this goal in a smart and efficient manner, helping you to keep track of your progress. There are some hidden dangers though which become more apparent the more frequent you use this feature:
- The easier it gets to create flashcards, the harder it becomes to maintain order. Flashcards have a tendency to pile up. You can’t keep track of them all. This raises some questions like: should I really memorize every new word? Which words are truly relevant, which words can wait or even be dumped? As far as the Pleco algorithm is concerned all words are equally important.
- The more cards are due every day, the more time you spend simply reviewing vocabulary.
- Is 100 percent retention a realistic goal or tyranny? How much time and energy do you want to spend on memorizing every single input?
- Even though Pleco flashcards make learning Chinese vocabulary considerably more convenient and manageable, we partly outsource the autonomy of our learning by allowing the algorithm to make daily decisions for us. It automatizes the process of vocabulary learning to some extent. We do control the algorithm of course and you can set up different test profiles, but I think there’s something to the idea that by employing such tools we become a little like these tools. The main point being that vocabulary learning shouldn’t turn into a blind automatism.
Pleco flashcards for whom?
All of these “hidden dangers” don’t have to be a real problem as long as you’re aware of them. The ultimate article about pros and cons of flashcard learning by Sinosplice notes that whether you like flashcards or not really depends on what kind of learner you are:
Over the years of working with lots of different learners of Chinese through AllSet Learning, I have noticed a very clear trend: analytical, programmer-types loooove spaced repetition software (SRS). It’s the efficiency of it, having the “checklist” where nothing gets omitted. These types of learners can find SRS a Godsend which changes their studies completely, and they often evangelize for SRS quite a bit.
However, learners much more interested in talking in Chinese, or reading in Chinese, may find the preoccupation with flashcards a bit off-putting and unnecessary. If you really are speaking Chinese all day, or reading for hours and hours every week, you may not need SRS flashcards as much.Sinosplice: SRS Flashcards: Pros and Cons
Pleco flashcards: yes or no?
Are Pleco flashcards as essential to learning Chinese as fuel to a flying airplane?
This – as usual – depends on your learning situation and goals. If you’re intensively studying Chinese, whether in China or at home, you might want to consider Pleco flashcards as probably one of the fastest and most efficient ways to organize, keep track of and ultimately memorize new vocabulary. In the heat of the moment, Pleco flashcards definitely beat a notebook or any other app I know of.
Pleco flashcards also come in handy preparing for HSK and other Chinese language tests. You simply use the pre-made HSK vocabulary lists or add your own words to a new category like ‘intermediate Chinese speaking test’.
On the other hand, if you’re not that technical kind of learner, or get fed up with the same daily routines quickly, you’re probably not going to find salvation using them.
But in any case, flashcard learning should never become a burden that takes more than 10 to 15 minutes.
As far as I am concerned: I’m somewhere in between. A daily flashcard routine (even 10 minutes) makes a difference, yet my motivation for flashcard learning seems to be coming in waves. I appreciate how Pleco combines dictionary and flashcards, but I have a hard time keeping the long-term motivation needed for daily reviews. Not to mention the need to organize all that vocabulary. Just reading an article might result in twenty interesting new words, but where to keep them all without going insane?
I personally prefer the flashcard app Daily Chinese that has ready-made and more manageable vocabulary lists (plus the better UX). Unlike Pleco flashcards, Daily Chinese is not connected to a dictionary and doesn’t allow creating your own flashcard sets. I like the simplicity of that. The app used to be free, but adopted a paid subscription model in 2023.
To wrap it up: Pleco flashcards aren’t the one-size-fits-all vocabulary learning solution, but it most certainly is a powerful tool and but a small investment compared to apps like Skritter or joining Chinese courses. Even if you’re not completely sure whether it matches your learning style, it doesn’t cost much more than a pizza margarita.
What’s your opinion about Pleco flashcards? Are they a godsend or can you do without them? Feel free to leave a comment down below!
Many long-term Pleco users have shared their favorite configurations and other tips:
- How to Use Pleco to Really Learn Chinese: “As a Chinese-language learner living in China, Pleco is the most important app on my phone. Some days, I spend more time on it than WeChat.”
- My Pleco flashcard setup: “The way I use the flashcard feature evolved over time. Now it is in a state that helps me learn new words faster. Therefore I will present to you the way I use Pleco’s flashcard feature in this post! You will learn about the different test profiles I have set up. Additionally, I will explain to you, how I customized Pleco’s scoring algorithm.”
- Pleco flashcards: “If you are not familiar with Pleco’s flashcard system yet, be sure to continue reading on how to set up an ideal spaced repetition testing system.”
- My Pleco flashcard configuration: “After going through various internet resources and using it for over a year, I’ve found a configuration that works for me. So I thought I would share it here.”
- Is the flashcard upgrade worth 10 bucks?: “Do you guys think it’s worth it getting the flashcards upgrade on the app? Is there a limit to how many you can make in the demo?”
- HSK 3.0 Flashcards: The Pleco flashcards for the new HSK.
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