Jul 152012

This post fulfills my promise to discuss the additional features of Pleco Chinese Dictionary following up on its victory in the iOS OCR showdown. Pleco is the grand old man of apps for learning Chinese (see the Pleco website); I first used it on a Palm Tungsten C device in 2003. It took some time to be ported to iOS and, while the appearance is unfortunately too reminiscent of its earlier incarnations, Pleco is still a very powerful tool for students of Chinese.

Once the app has OCRed text from an image, tapping “Capture” will open the app’s “Reader” (available as a paid add-on) and display the text reflowed (preserving paragraph breaks, but not the arbitrary line breaks of the printed page). The reflowing is great for continuous prose, but is undesirable for things like poetry or song lyrics. I have not found a way to disable the reflowing and preserve line breaks. Once in the Reader, you can edit the OCRed text and then save it in Pleco for future reading, e-mail it out, or download to a computer on the same network.

The core of Pleco is its dictionary. Many Chinese dictionary apps draw on the popular open-source CC-CEDICT, but Pleco’s own dictionary can be more useful for beginners, because it gives examples of word usage. CC-CEDICT, which has the advantage of usually being more up-to-date, can be added to Pleco for free; other dictionaries (both free and paid) are also available.

The Reader allows you to tap characters for pop-up definitions, with pinyin, from the installed dictionaries. You can easily cycle through by tapping the dictionary abbreviation at the lower right of the definition pop-up. The app is smart about automatically selecting the rest of a word when you tap on one character of a multi-character word, but you can also manually lengthen or shorten the selection, using the icons at the upper left. (Incidentally, the images are not from an OCRed text, but from the Chinese edition of the New York Times online.)

Looking up a word in Pleco's Reader

Looking up a word in Pleco’s Reader

In the image below, notice that the definition being displayed is now from CC-CEDICT (indicated by “CC” at the lower right of the pop-up). This is a good example of CC-CEDICT showing a more modern use of the word 粉丝 to mean “fan, enthusiast”, which is the appropriate definition for this context.

The same word defined by CC-CEDICT

The same word defined by CC-CEDICT

Once you have pulled up a definition in the Reader, you can easily add words to your existing flashcard sets in Pleco; adding to the set that is the current default just takes a single tap. Other Pleco features, such as audio pronunciation of words (not of the whole text) and stroke order animation, are also accessible with the Reader.

All of this lets students put together a good workflow for new reading material entirely within Pleco.

  1. OCR the text (if it originates on paper).
  2. Bring the text into the Reader (from the OCR tool as described above, or through Pleco’s built-in Web browser). Edit as needed.
  3. Read the text in the Reader, using the integrated dictionary as needed. Save it for review in Pleco and/or export it.
  4. Create flashcards for the text, as described above, so that you can study the vocabulary with Pleco’s Flashcard tool (which I’ll discuss more in a future post).

Pleco Chinese Dictionary is available on the App Store. Pleco Chinese Dictionary - Pleco Software

The extras discussed (OCR, Reader, flashcards, audio, stroke order animation) are available through in-app purchase.

  3 Responses to “iOS app to OCR Chinese: Pleco”

  1. [...] the last post probably should have been entitled “Pleco’s Reader Tool.” “Readers” [...]

  2. Does TrainChinese provide OCR function like Pleco?

    • Dear Winnie,

      Trainchinese does not provide any OCR function at this time, as far as I know. You might want to contact them and ask if they are considering it and let them know that it is a desired feature.

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