Chinese learning / editing environment - Wenlin and others?

Maybe I haven’t looked in the right place but I haven’t seen much discussion about the environment (macOS or Windows) under which people study and write Chinese (as opposed to lots of discussion about graded readers, listening apps / websites, writing apps, flashcard apps etc).

For me, I’ve used Wenlin for more than 20 years - - it’s literally lightning fast, the built-in Chinese dictionary is good ( ABC Chinese–English Dictionary - Wikipedia ), I can copy text from elsewhere and paste into Wenlin to quickly read / skim something and I can very quickly type things out in Chinese using the keyboard (e.g. Chinese homework for my classes). It’s not a word processor as such - you can only type English and Chinese characters without any formatting and then save them as plain text files.

The only negative (possibly but not for me) is that the user interface is seriously outdated and hasn’t changed since version 1 which came out in 1997 but whilst it’s not pretty, the program doesn’t get in your way!

Besides Wenlin, does anyone else use anything similar as an environment for studying or composing Chinese text ?

I’ve heard of this software before, but have never used it, and most of the screenshots I can find of it are fairly old, so not sure how it looks/works nowadays.

For me, I just use Pleco for everything. It has a ~$90 bundle that contains most of the functionality people need:

  • look up a character by writing it
  • flashcard system
  • MULTIPLE paid dictionaries, including at least one Chinese-Chinese one
  • free dictionaries like CC-EDICT and my favorite, Taiwan’s Ministry of Education one
  • has an ability to paste text into it and easily select characters/words within it with a pop-up dictionary
  • e-reader, allowing one to read DRM-free epubs with a pop-up dictionary when one selects a word

The downside is that it does not have any desktop version yet. I think they may add one eventually, but they have been working on it for years. However, if one uses an iPhone and MacOS, you can typically copy+paste between your phone and laptop seamlessly, so it is not too much of a problem in practice.

Nowadays I don’t use the SRS much at all, and mainly use the free Chinese-Chinese dictionary. The e-reader is nice in practice but has some bugs so I use a Kindle with a Chinese-Chinese dictionary instead. However, though I use it less nowadays, I still got plenty of value out of it. Now I mainly use it to help with narrowing down the best English definition(s) for the curriculum items I add to HanziHero.

I have Pleco too (including running inside a Windows virtual machine on my Mac by using the Windows Subsystem for Android which is unfortunately slow and not reliable) from back in the PalmPilot days to now.

However, Pleco doesn’t cover the same ground as what Wenlin does because Wenlin is a plain (English and Chinese) text editor with a built-in Chinese dictionary with instantaneous lookups (it uses a built-in ABC Chinese-English Dictionary from John DeFrancis) and its own built-in Pinyin based IME. For example, in Wenlin, if I type “ni” and then hit “/”, it brings up on the screen possibilities and I can either move my mouse over it to get the definition at the bottom or just hit the relevant number to select the character I want.

I can also mouse click on any character and it’ll bring up information about the character in a new window, e.g. from screenshots of the Wenlin window on my Mac:

The sideways triangles are hyperlinks which can be clicked to show (e.g.) words containing this character etc.

The above is what I use Wenlin for but the program also has other, for me less useful features, e.g. the sounds of all the Pinyin syllables, a flashcard system (not SRS from what I recall) etc.

The tech behind Wenlin has been licensed to others (e.g. Pleco) for stuff like “CDL (Character Description Language) Database - XML descriptions of over 82,000 CJK characters, providing stroke/component analysis, and high-quality graphic images and stroke diagrams as outlines convertible to SVG, PostScript, MetaFont, etc.”:

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Interesting! Thanks for the detailed overview. :+1: