Pleco vs Anki – which flashcard app is better?

As many language learners know, flashcards and spaced-repetition software (SRS) are wonderful tools for learning new vocabulary.  I’ve used two different programs – Anki and Pleco (see my full review of Pleco here).  Here are some basic differences between the two:

  • Anki is mostly free (you have to pay to use it on iPhones, iPods and iPads) while Pleco’s flashcard program is mostly paid – the free version is very, very limited, but the good news is it only costs a one-off payment of US$14.95 (iOS) or US$9.95 (Android) to purchase it.  Alternatively, you can buy a Pleco “bundle” that includes flashcards, more dictionaries, and other stuff, but that’s more expensive from US$39.95 up.
  • Anki supports flashcards of all sorts – any language, and can even be used for different subjects like chemistry, or economics.  Pleco is only for learning Chinese.
  • Anki is more computer-based – you download it onto your computer and can sync it with your smartphone, tablet, etc. (You can also just use it from your computer if you don’t have a smartphone.)  It’s a lot easier to add/edit cards with your computer than with your smartphone.  Pleco, however, is only available on smartphones (and iPads/iPods).  You cannot sync your Pleco flashcards (but can make backups) and can only add, edit or delete cards using your smartphone. Luckily, Pleco makes it very easy to add cards – after looking up a word in the dictionary, it just takes one press of a button.
  • Anki’s flashcards are easier to use off the bat.  Pleco requires a bit more setup and customisation.
  • All of Pleco’s flashcards come with a sound file that demonstrates how to pronounce them.  Some Anki flashcards do as well, but if you’re making your own, it’s a hassle to record a sound with every card (and your pronunciation may not even be that accurate).
  • There are many different downloadable decks in Anki, since anyone can make and share them.  The only pre-made deck Pleco allows you to install are HSK words (it does come with all 6 decks though, sorted into different lists). This might seem like a “plus” for Anki, but the HSK vocab lists are a sufficient start, and, more importantly, are error-free.  The Anki decks I’ve downloaded in the past (and I’ve only tried the most popular ones) often had a number of errors – some of which were quite obvious, but others which I did not discover until much later, when I found out I’d been learning a word wrong for months.

Which one should you choose? My vote goes to Pleco, easily.  In fact, I’m working on transferring my remaining Anki flashcards to Pleco soon.

I started out using Anki because I had heard of it first, and also because it was free (and I was a poor student).  It was fine when I was just using one of the ready-made downloadable decks.  But when I started learning words other than from decks, I found it too much of a hassle to add all those new words into Anki manually.  Pleco let me add words much more easily, and I usually had to look those words up on Pleco first anyway, to get the meaning right.  (Incidentally, Pleco does have a function that allows you to export your flashcards so that you can use them in Anki, but they don’t look as nice with the tones and don’t come with the pronunciation.)  So if you’re still deciding between the two and you’re serious about wanting to learn Chinese, my advice is – spend the US$10-15 and buy Pleco’s flashcard program.  It’s easily the best money I’ve spent on learning Chinese so far.

The one advantage that Anki does have over Pleco is that it’s much easier to create your own decks and cards in Anki.  So if you want to include grammar points or phrases in your flashcards, then you’d still have to use Anki.

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