How are you working to improve your Chinese reading?

One of my learning goals this semester is to learn the 100 most common radicals in Chinese.

Surprisingly, I wasn’t able to find a lot of resources online for help on this, but two were quite helpful. I consulted nciku a lot to gather and check information. But it was Hacking Chinese that helped the most, both in identifying the 100 most common radicals and in providing a very good template to work with.

I haven’t really done anything very groundbreaking. Basically, I’ve created a .txt file from Hacking Chinese’s template, cleaned it up a bit, and made it fit to import into Pleco. (By the way, if you’re learning Chinese, you MUST download Pleco and use it. It’s an absolute essential.)


The .txt file has three columns. The first is the Chinese radical in character form. The next is the “pronunciation” field, for which I made the decision to use the colloquial name, which is what I’ve heard most often in discussions about the written form of the character. The “definition” field is the rest of the great information that Hacking Chinese provides.

Here’s an example:

Radical (character):刂
Pronunciation: li4dao1pang2 (立刀旁)
Definition: knife, sword (dāo) 分切初利刻 Note similarity with 力, which means force. Also: 刀 (刀字旁)

These three fields are separated by tabs.

A few disclaimers are in order. First, I’ve checked the file pretty thoroughly, but I don’t believe that this is a perfect document. There may be errors, so use with some caution. And PLEASE let me know if you find any errors.

Second, I don’t think using flashcards is some sort of magic pill to learning characters. It’s helpful, but really, I think the most important way, by far, to learn how to read Chinese is to read lots and lots and LOTS of Chinese. (I probably will write a post later about what I think is the most effective way to use flashcards.)

Finally, I’ve written some instructions below about importing the .txt into an ANDROID version of Pleco (specifically, version 2.4.14). The iOS procedure is probably different. Click here to read the instruction manual for the iOS version of Pleco.

So without further ado, here are the instructions for the Android version of Pleco.

To create a dictionary:

  1. Right-click here to download the .txt file. Save the file to an easily remembered location on your phone.
  2. In Pleco, create a new user dictionary. Go to Pleco settings, tap “Dictionary” under “SETTINGS”, then tap “Manage Dictionaries” under “DICTIONARIES”. Tap “Add User”. Then tap “Create New” when the dialog box pops up. When prompted to enter a name, write “Radicals”.
  3. Tap the dictionary, and when the settings screen shows up, tap “Import Entries” under “OPERATIONS”.
  4. Tap “Choose File” under “FILE”, and then browse for the .txt file.
  5. Under “FILE FORMAT”, check to see that the “Text Encoding” setting is set to UTF-8.
  6. Tap “Begin Import”.
  7. Click “Yes” for the Encoding Check.
  8. To check that the import was successful, when in the settings screen for the “Radicals” dictionary, you should see that the “Number of Entries” is 100 under “INFORMATION”.

To create a set of flashcards (more important, in my opinion):

  1. If you haven’t already done so, right-click here to download the .txt file. Save the file to an easily remembered location on your phone.
  2. Open the Pleco Flashcards module.
  3. Under “SHARE”, tap “Import Cards”.
  4. Under “FILE”, tap “Choose File” and find the .txt file.
  5. Under “FILE FORMAT”, check to see that the text encoding is UTF-8 (which it is by default).
  6. Under “DEFINITIONS”, make sure that “Store in user dict” is NOT checked.
  7. Under “PROBLEM HANDLING”, for “Duplicate cards”, select “Allow”, since the set has one duplicate that we WANT to allow (on purpose).
  8. Make sure that “Unsafe mode” under “OTHER” is NOT checked. (Why anyone would deliberately do something in unsafe mode, even if it’s quicker, is beyond me. This particular important will just take a few seconds.)
  9. Finally, tap “Begin Import” at the top of the screen.
  10. Once the cards have been imported, go back to the home screen of Pleco Flashcards and tap “Organize Cards”.
  11. Tap “New Cat” and enter “Radicals” for the name of the new category.
  12. Then, go to Uncategorized cards. All the newly imported radicals flashcards should be there.
  13. Tap “Edit”. Then tap “All”. This should select all the radicals flashcards.
  14. Tap “Move”, and then select the newly-created “Radicals” category.

Hope this is useful! Please let me know if you have any problems or questions.


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