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Top 10 Apps for Learning Chinese

Learning Chinese can often seem like a difficult mountain to climb but at LingoClass we believe anyone has the ability to learn a language. Factors such as approach to learning, teaching quality and opportunities for practise can all have a huge impact on how quickly (and enjoyably) someone can improve their Chinese. Thankfully, there are a number of extremely useful Apps out there, developed by people just like you who have had experience learning the language from scratch.

To help you on your language journey, LingoClass has compiled a list of the best Chinese learning Apps that make studying Mandarin a whole lot easier. Some are free and some come at a cost, but all are useful in improving different elements of Chinese language proficiency: Reading, writing, translation, pronunciation etc.

We hope you find the list useful, if you have any Apps you have found particularly helpful, please contact us and let us know.

Price: Free for 5 minutes a day, unlimited access starts from £9.49 a month.

10. Scripts

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Scripts' full name in the app store is "Scripts - Learn to write alphabets". This app is one of the best out there for learning to write Chinese, Japanese or Korean characters for a number of reasons. The first reason is it provides a lot of opportunity to practice; many other apps in this list cover writing but usually as a formality when learning grammar or vocabulary. Scripts' goes in depth on each character and encourages you to write it many times through a series of mini games and tests.

 

The second reason for this app's effectiveness is the beautiful, minimalist design of the interface. The app is a pleasure to use, which can often be the differentiator as to whether people use it long term. Finally, the app encourages regular practise of 5 minutes a day to gradually master the characters of your chosen language. Breaking the lessons into bitesize chunks and giving users regular opportunity for review helps to increase character retention and keep things fun.

While this app is one of the best out there for learning to write Chinese characters, it doesn't come cheap.  You get 5 minutes everyday for free but any more will cost you £9.49 a month, £29.49 a year or £159.99 for a lifetime subscription. We recommend trying it for 5 minutes a day and buying if you find it useful.

Price: The base package is free, more advanced learning tools are £7.99 a month or £49.99 for the year.

9. Zizzle

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Zizzle is a clever little app that teaches Chinese characters, or hanzi, through a series of images and short stories. This approach is surprisingly effective and works by engaging your visual and semantic memory on a deeper level than simply reading a new character and trying to remember it.

Zizzle stories contain one of 5 characters, each representing a tone in Chinese - 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th and neutral. The character then performs some behaviour that relates to the sound and meaning of the word, helping you to remember tone, pronunciation and meaning. For example, the story for the character 夕 (pronounced 'shee' and meaning "night") involves the magical turtle character (1st tone) going out at night (word meaning) and losing his sheep (pronunciation).

The app contains a wealth of characters and radicals all categorised under HSK levels and topic so you can choose the sets that are most helpful for you. The app comes with several free character sets and then has a series of price packages to choose from. You can opt for £7.99 for the month or £44.99 for the year.

Price: Free

8. Google Translate

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Translation

Like Pleco, Google translate offers a dictionary service, meaning you can translate basic Chinese words and phrases from Chinese to English or vice-versa. One thing Google Translate does better than Pleco however, is translate long sentences. For example, if you type 今天天气很好, Pleco will define each character or word phrase separately: 今天 = "Today", 天气 = "Weather" and so on. Google Translate on the other hand will give you the general meaning of the whole sentence in one go: "Today the weather is very good". This is really useful when reading long passages of text you don't understand or when looking at 3 or more characters in a row that are confusing you. However, this being said, Google's translations aren't as accurate as those in Pleco and the user interface is not as nice.

Another strength of Google's written translation system is that you have multiple input options. For example, you can draw each character using your finger (their character recognition is also superior to Pleco's), you can type in Chinese or you can take a picture of a page of text and highlight the characters you wish to translate. The latter is particularly useful when reading books.

Finally, google offers an audio translator function, which is remarkably good at understanding non-native speaker's Chinese. This is also an extremely useful tool when travelling around China and talking to locals in their own language. If there is something they cannot explain to you in Chinese, they may speak into their phone and have it show you the English version.

7. Tandem

Price: Free

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Chinese learning apps often focus on reading, writing and simple grammar. Listening is also relatively easy to cover using audio files, but how do you learn Chinese speaking and pronunciation using an app? This can be very difficult to do without a native speaker or teacher telling you whether you're using the language correctly. The answer? Tandem.

Tandem is a language exchange community app where learners of all backgrounds come together to practise speaking. Upon registering your account, you'll be asked your nationality, the languages you speak and those you wish to learn. Once you're set up, there are literally thousands of Chinese speakers signed in to the app who can add you based on the languages you speak. English is very popular but you will also have great success with all number of languages, the more obscure the better! The beauty of Tandem is that you can converse with real Chinese people without ever leaving your country. While spending time in China is very valuable for improving your speaking, it is not always convenient to travel.

This app is probably best suited for intermediate learners who wish to put the vocabulary they have learned to the test in real life conversations. Once connections have been made, you often add the other person on WeChat or WhatsApp so all conversations are totally free. In our opinion this is the best App on the market to help you improve your Chinese speaking outside of teacher led lessons.

Price: Free and premium versions

6. DuoLingo

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DuoLingo is a favourite for language learners everywhere. It's earned the title of 'editor's choice' on the app store and for good reason. The app lets you set your language goals, your desired learning speed (minutes per day) and assesses your current level. It has good resources for listening, reading and writing and the interface is clear and easy to use. Like ChineseSkill, Duolingo tests your learning at regular intervals to make sure you retain everything as well as possble. 

DuoLingo claims to allow you to learn any language you want for free but we would recommend using it as a supplementary tool alongside real life teacher and peer interaction. This way students have an opportunity to ask questions and practise what they learn.

The app is completely free, although they do have a plus version you can buy if you wish. This version comes with offline learning and removes all ads, which in all honestly can be quite annoying.

5. quizlet

Price: Free with a premium version available from £1.67 a month

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quizlet is a flashcard app, often used as a learning and testing tool by Chinese teachers around the world. These teachers may build entire lessons or homework assignments on quizlet and send the links to their students so they can study outside of class. However, anyone using the app also has access to these same lessons. For example, if you open the app and search "learn Chinese grammar", you will find many high quality teaching materials, often with mini tests set up to assess how well you have learned and retained the material.

The one problem with quizlet for learning Chinese is that you have to be able to sort the good lessons from the bad. Some teachers have created high quality resources that will make sense to anyone reading them but others will be poorer quality or will only make sense if you have had the necessary lesson beforehand. Furthermore, since quizlet is an international app, some of the lessons may teach you Chinese using other languages such as French or German. This can be incredibly helpful if one of these is your native tongue so we recommend finding a high quality lesson provider that matches your level and learning style and following their content.

Another way quizlet can be useful for studying Chinese is by letting you create your own flashcards. These can be tailored around a particular exam or skill. For example, you can include audio files and test your pronunciation against that of native Chinese speakers.

Price: First 8 characters are free, others begin at £1.79 per month

4. Chineasy Cards

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Chineasy Cards was developed by the famous Taiwanese entrepeneur ShaoLan. She designed the Chineasy system to help her own children learn how to read and write Chinese characters. The system works by associating each character with a relevant image to help you remember it. For example, the logo above is the character 火 (huo), meaning fire. As you can see, the character is drawn in such a way that makes it look like fire, thus helping you to learn the meaning.

Chineasy was originally a book (which we would also recommend) and later rolled out as an app following the book's success. The Chineasy Cards app uses the same system as the book and works in a very similar way to a lot of the learning apps on this list; there are regular lessons and then mini quizzes to make sure you review and retain the learned information. Chineasy Cards is another well designed app, the interface is laid out as a path and the user follows the path, unlocking new characters as they develop. 

Your first 8 characters are free to learn, which is enough to give you a flavour of the app. After this unlimited subscriptions cost £1.79 per month or £17.49 per year. This is definitely on the cheaper side of the apps on this list and definitely one to consider. 

Top Three

Price: 2 week trial, after which prices start from £8.99 a month.

3. Du Chinese

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Du Chinese is a great app for helping you read Chinese in a practical way. The app provides lessons on how to read certain characters but goes a step further in providing real stories and articles for users to read in Chinese. These can easily be checked against their English translations by tapping the sentence you wish to understand. The app also provides audio versions of the sentence so you can check your pronunciation.

One of the best features of this app is that it allows you to save words or lessons you find particularly troublesome. This way you can build a list of characters to test yourself on and improve your weaknesses. The app itself contains a wealth of learning resources to keep you busy for months, if not years. These are broken down into 6 difficulty levels from newbie all the way to master, so regardless of your current level, there will undoubtedly be something of use to you.

Pricing is a little confusing but a two week free trial is available for the lower level lessons, after this a one month unlimited subscription will cost your £8.99, 6 months will cost you £42.99 and you can get 12 months for £83.99. Testing the app is therefore a lot easier if you are a lower level but higher level students may feel a little left out. If you are wondering whether this is a good one to download, many of our intermediate students do use this app and it comes highly recommended. Perhaps try a one month subscription and see how you get on!

Top Three

2. ChineseSkill

Price: The level 1 course is free, but more advanced learning tools are £27.49 for a year's subscription.

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ChineseSkill has been around for years now and is a favourite for many Chinese learners. Aside from having the cutest logo out of all the apps in this list, ChineseSkill offers a number of  great features. Firstly, the entire level 1 course is free of charge, making it a good place to start for beginners. Their level 1 has weeks worth of short lessons to get learners up to speed with basic reading, writing, listening and pronunciation. They have mini tests at set intervals to make sure students review and use the lessons they have already completed. If you are a beginner and plan to start lessons with a teacher at some point in the future, ChineseSkill can be a good tool to prepare for lessons and let you know what to expect.

Once users complete the level 1 course, they have the option to purchase a subscription, giving them access to the full range of resources ChineseSkill has to offer. These range from HSK1 all the way to HSK6 level lessons (if you are unfamiliar with you current level, you can use our HSK level quiz to find out). The resources range from writing practise to full on conversational immersion and are a great resource to be used alongside professional tuition to boost your language skills. The immersion feature is also particularly useful if you're studying in the UK and have little chance to interact with native Chinese speakers outside of your lessons.

2.5 Improving Chinese Listening, Speaking and Reading Skills

OK so this isn't the catchiest name for an app but ChineseSkill also have a sister app dedicated more to speaking and listening skills. The main benefit of this version is that it lets you practise speaking by recording your voice and comparing it to that of a native Chinese speaker. Many phrases are covered and it offers a good way to self-study Chinese speaking, something which is generally very difficult to do.

At the moment this app is only available on iOS devices so android users will have to find an alternative app. 

Top Three

1. Pleco

Price: Free

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Pleco is hands down one of the most useful Apps for learning Chinese ever created. It is essentially a Chinese to English dictionary that allows you to convert words and short phrases from one language to the other. If you ever visit China you will use it A LOT, as will many of the locals.

 

Pleco not only translates English words into Chinese for you, it allows you to search in both Chinese characters and pinyin so you can understand the meaning of books, street signs and even Chinese speech. Furthermore, Pleco has an option to play an audio file of the correct pronunciation in Chinese and the text display can be customised to show each tone in a colour of your preference. For example, you can set all first tones to pink and all second tones to green, making it easier to distinguish the correct tones to use at a glance.

Whether you have just discovered an interest in learning Chinese or are nearing fluency, Pleco is an App you should definitely have in your repertoire. The best thing about it? It's totally free and works offline. If you don't already have this on your phone or tablet, download it now by clicking the link above.

Price: Free

Bonus!

YouTube

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OK, we said top 10 and YouTube is not strictly a Chinese learning app but we couldn't leave it off the list as it's genuinely one of the most useful learning tools out there for Chinese study. YouTube has a number of users dedicated to teaching useful Chinese phrases, exploring Chinese culture and even just discussing the highs and lows of studying this amazing language. We have listed some of our favourite channels below for you to explore but we would also recommend trying to find your own as everyone learns in a different way and is interested in different content.

Mandarin Corner - This channel is a great resource for most things Chinese. It has a wealth of audio and written material, covers HSK exams and caters for all levels from basic words down to in depth discussions and advanced conversational skills.

Learn Chinese Now - This channel is run by a Chinese learner from the UK living in Taiwan. His style is logical and easy to follow and his videos are often amusing. This channel is suitable for beginners with basic concepts covered in short videos.

MYBY 孟言布语 - This channel is run by 2 Chinese learners, one English and one American. Their Chinese is very advanced and they are both regulars on Chinese TV shows. They use YouTube to discuss current issues, cultural differences and dating. Their videos are often funny and usually around 20 minutes long. This channel is probably best for intermediate to advanced learners but all videos come with subtitles to help you keep up.