Pleco: A Love Story

Tech in Asia recently published a piece about Mike Love, the creator of Pleco, a mobile app that is legendary among students of Chinese.

Anyone who has studied Mandarin without technological aid remembers the seven layers of hell that was searching for unknown characters in an old-school Chinese-to-English dictionary (for anyone who doesn’t remember, here’s a blow by blow).

How it all began…

Mike with his host family in 1999 (Photo:

Pleco is the brainchild of Mike Love, an entrepreneur who came to China in 1999 as a high schooler—an adventure that would prove to be life-altering.

After his own frustrating experiences with traditional dictionaries, Love was inspired to create his own electronic dictionary based on ones he’d seen in Zhongguancun for English learners.

After MacGyvering his Palm IIIx with apps that allowed him to write in Chinese, Love rigged himself a nifty gadget that he soon discovered had massive potential. What started out as a homemade tool soon evolved into a full-time business.

Pleco predates the era of prolific smart phone usage. It was officially launched in 2000, with cooperation and support from Motorola and Oxford, and even now, more than a decade later, it remains the king of English/Chinese dictionary apps. The phrase, “Let me Pleco it,” has become as commonplace to students learning Mandarin as, “Let me Google it.”

As Tech in Asia points out, “almost anyone that’s used it can recall a moment when Pleco ‘saved their life.'”

“The confidence that I gained (while in China) helped me to take risks that, in turn, had a lot to do with my startup of Pleco.” — Mike Love,

According to Mike, he was willing to go through the hardship and put in the time to learn Chinese because “I never run out of stuff to do with Chinese, it’s such a rich and incredibly complicated language.”

This is a sentiment that everyone from scholars of classical Chinese to avid Chinglish users can all agree on: studying Mandarin will keep you busy.

“With or without Pleco you’re going to run into walls in the course of learning Chinese, all we can really do is make life a bit more bearable while you’re climbing over them.” — Mike Love,

Mike’s innovation has revolutionized Mandarin learning for the rest of us, emboldening us to get out of the classroom without fear of coming across words that we don’t understand.

谢谢 Mike! Pengyous everywhere are grateful that you’ve turned Pleco into such an empowering tool.

Leave us a comment about how Pleco helped you on your Mandarin learning journey!

For those who don’t know, in the pre-Pleco days, you had to look characters up this way:

oldschool vertical