Studying the Outlier dictionary with Pleco

Posted on April 15, 2023

In this short blog post I will give some step by step instructions for how you can set up Pleco to study the Outlier Chinese dictionary.

Overview

When we want to study the Outlier dictionary, we want to make sure that when Pleco shows a flashcard, it uses the Outlier dictionary rather than any other dictionary that we might have installed.

Pleco has explicit support for this in its flashcard system. If you go to Display, you can choose Remap cards to dicts, and then select the Outlier dictionary as the only dictionary to use. Unfortunately, this does not seem to quite work. I’ve seen it fail in at least two scenarios: when the simplified and the traditional character are not the same (for example, 这 versus 這), and when a character has multiple pronunciations (for example, 地 “dì” versus “de”). When this happens (and it happens quite a lot), remapping fails and the characters in question will be excluded from the test—very frustrating.

Fortunately, I have now found a workaround. Instead of configuring the flashcard test profile to remap dictionaries, we can map flashcards to the Outlier dictionary when we import the cards. This seems to work much more reliably, and that’s the solution I am now using. Details below.

Step-by-step

I assume you have Pleco installed as well as the Outlier dictionary (the Essentials edition or the Expert edition, doesn’t really matter).

Create flashcards

As mentioned above, we really do need to create new flashcards, even if we already have some. If you don’t have any, you could download chinese-cursive-crash-course.pleco which are my flashcards for the Outlier course on cursive script, or chinese-cursive-script.pleco, which are flashcards for the textbook “Chinese Cursive Script”.

Go to Flashcards, Import/Export, then choose Import Cards. Select a file (for example the file you just downloaded). Now comes the important part: under Dictionaries, drag the line that says “Drag dictionaries below this line to exclude them” all the way to the top, and then the Outlier dictionary above it (choose either simplified or traditional, depending on what you want to study). It should look something like this:

Hit Save. The other setting you might want to change here is Duplicate entries, and set it to Allow. This will create new flashcards for characters for which you might already have flashcards. This is both necessary and fine: necessary because we need this flashcard to be tied to a specific dictionary, and fine because we anyway want to study the Outlier dictionary independently from any other way that we might study this character.

Now hit Begin Import. Eye-ball whether the preview that Pleco shows is sane, and then start the import. If you are using the flashcards for Chinese Cursive Script, it should import 300 flashcards.

Set up the test

Go to New test. We now want to set up a different profile for testing Outlier. Go to Manage Profiles, select New, and give it the name “Outlier”. Click on the scorefile (which will say “Default” first), and then choose create new. Hit Ok. Go back and make sure the new “Outlier” profile is selected.

You can now set up your test profile in any way you like. Two suggestions, if you haven’t used Pleco’s flashcards system before:

Start the test

You can now start learning. Go to Card categories and select some categories you want to study, and then choose Begin Test Session. Happy studying!

Profile for writing

If you also wanted to setup a profile for practicing writing these characters, I would suggest

as above. Then