Having taken some Mandarin classes in my primary schooldays, I have always wanted to learn the language a bit more. I admit I am not linguistically gifted, but language is something everyone can pick up, sooner or later. With pinyin, I thought looking up Chinese words will be easier than learning the characters. Of course, nothing is that simple. Now, here is one app I am really excited about. It has got to be the BEST and most complete Chinese dictionary there is. It won't make you speak Mandarin as well as Kevin Rudd rightaway, but it will instantly give you control over the language.
This app is called Pleco, a very unflattering name that refers to a fish that eats scum from the bottom of the tank. Here are some screen shots from my Android phone.
You can enter your word in pinyin, or in English, or by writing out the character in Chinese. It will then give you the meaning in Chinese, as well as how it is used. You can also search for the character in "compound" words or common phrases. The words appear in both simplified strokes as well as traditional strokes. The different colours are for intonation. Don't know how to write the character? There is an OCR add-on that can recognize the character and tell you the meaning as you move the camera over the word. All these features can work offline.
One very useful feature is voice recognition (note: works only online). You can say the word in English or Chinese, and the word will be searched instantly. For example, if you say "president", it will return several words in Chinese. You can choose whether you mean president of a country, or a club, a school, etc. Pleco can say out the word for you in Mandarin.
This app is free. If you are lucky enough to own an Android phone, several of its add-ons are free until 31st Dec this year. After installing Pleco on your mobile device, make sure you also install all the free add-ons while you can. If you are on an Apple platform, be prepared to pay for these add-ons: the character recognition (US$15), the audio pronunciation (US$15?). You can also add various other paid dictionaries to Pleco.