Pleco Review: Read Chinese from Day One

Full disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. ?

Pleco Review: Read Chinese from Day One

Full disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. ?

What is Pleco?

Pleco is a Chinese-English dictionary with advanced features such as Optical Character Recognition (OCR) that mean you can look up Chinese words and characters on-the-go in real-world situations.

what it’s for:
Reading, listening, full immersion


Beginner - Advanced


  • Chinese immersion even for complete beginners
  • Look up Chinese words in real-world situations with a cameraphone
  • Learn Chinese words and characters from newspaper articles, shop signs, menus, etc.
  • Hear the correct pronunciation while reading the pinyin
  • Save tough words for flashcard review
  • Focus on what you want to learn


  • Could encourage laziness in learning Chinese – similar to how few people remember phone numbers these days

Reading the language independently is an important part of my Chinese project. However, my focus is on speaking. So until I can read a larger amount by myself, I needed a boost to allow me to use the language immediately in everyday situations like making purchases, reading signs, and understanding menus and ingredients on products.

Without being able to read, it would be tempting to retreat away from such situations until I was “ready”, and this is absolutely unacceptable if I'm to get into the flow of speaking. But there is a solution! Even a language like Chinese with a complex writing system, can be worked with if you don't mind using a little technology!

To do that I've been using the Pleco app that I describe in detail, in this video:

[Sorry that it's 20 minutes long. If you are pressed for time, the coolest part (the OCR feature) starts at the 5:30 point in the video. If you are reading this from a country that blocks Youtube, check out the video on Youku instead].

For much more details about Pleco and its features, please see their website, or download the free version of the app from the iTunes or Android app store.

As I said in the video, the coolest features of the app, like the OCR option are paid. I mention some of the prices in the video (based on Android version, iPhone prices are a little different) and you can decide if it would be worth it, depending on if you'd really need the features, which you may not if you are learning the language without access to printed Chinese, or if most Chinese you read is on your computer (in that case plugins like this one are a big help).

If you are in the country however, then I do recommend you give it a try. (Note that I don't earn any commission from Pleco, this is just an honest recommendation).

Of course, using this app could be viewed as “cheating”, but as I said in the video it has been helping me to speak more, and it's been helping me to learn faster, since I can hear the correct pronunciation and read the pinyin (and do some other things like save tough words to review later in a flashcard module), as I see characters that I need to understand and pronounce in the real world.

Use of the app does not count towards the objective of getting the gist of menus and newspapers that I mentioned at the start of the mission, since obviously I need to be doing that myself. In the next post I'll explain what I'm doing that's essential in that regard. But I will continue to use this app throughout the mission to make sure that I don't avoid any situation that presents me with written Chinese I may not be “ready” for yet.

[Keep in mind that one strategy I'm implementing this week is to force myself to speak quicker and not think so much about saying things fully correctly, so I'm well aware that my tones are quite off in many of the brief segments of Chinese I spoke. Please save all thoughts, positive or negative, on my current level for when I upload a video entirely in Mandarin again next week!! 😉 ]

I'm happier to share this app with you because I can see that the developer who works on it has been focused on helping people learn Chinese via such apps for quite some time and is quick to accept feedback from those learning the language. It's presented as a means to help you learn Chinese, and not a replacement for needing to read. Some app devs have been terribly misleading in presenting the usefulness of their gimmicky apps, but luckily that's not the case here!

Would you use this app to help you read Chinese? Let me know in the comments!

author headshot

Benny Lewis

Founder, Fluent in 3 Months

Fun-loving Irish guy, full-time globe trotter and international bestselling author. Benny believes the best approach to language learning is to speak from day one.

Speaks: Spanish, French, German, Italian, Portuguese, Esperanto, Mandarin Chinese, American Sign Language, Dutch, Irish

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