First off I want to say well done for choosing to learn Chinese. It is a very difficult but fascinating language and I am always impressed when I meet non native speakers who’ve mastered it. But if you’re reading this I guess you have a long way to go so let’s get you some app recommendations.
There may be a lot of language learning apps out there, but there’s really no one size fits all for every language. There’s also no getting over the fact that Chinese is difficult and you probably aren’t going to be able to use the same apps you would use for other languages because Chinese is so different to other languages.
So you may love Duolingo for learning French, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to find it useful for learning Chinese. So we have compiled our favourite apps that you can use to help you learn Chinese.
This is for Mandarin not Cantonese
I’m assuming you’ve already decided which Chinese you want to learn and if you haven’t you can look at some of the differences between cantonese and Mandarin here.
This article is specifically for people looking to learn Mandarin rather than Cantonese.
Top apps to learn Chinese
Chinese skill is my favourite app to learn Chinese. When I started my Chinese learning journey this app was recommended to me and it was the first one I used.
Chinese skill is an app that takes you through different grammar points whilst getting gradually more difficult. You have lots of practise exercises and if you don’t get something you have an explanation at each module.
Why I love Chinese skill
It’s flexibility: With Chinese skill you have flexibility depending on how you want to learn. Firstly you can choose whether you want to learn simplified or traditional characters. Secondly you can decide whether you want to pinyin or just the characters depending on where you’re at with your learning.
Its extra games: In addition to the modules, Chinese skill has extra games you can use to practise specific skills. It has a pinyin game a tone game and a vocab game. They’re all fun and quick and let you concentrate on the skill you have most problems with whilst still being fun.
It’s graphics: As well as being a good learning tool you want your apps to have good graphics and just look nice. It has a good interface, the panda is cute and it’s really user friendly.
Memrise is an app based on memorisation. It’s not as interactive as Chinese Skill but with spaced repetition it helps you remember things quickly. The courses on Memrise can be uploaded by anyone rather than ‘Memrise’ themselves. This means sometimes that the quality of course you get isn’t always the best but it doesn’t take long until you find one you like.
Also, because people can upload courses themselves this means there is an enormous choice to choose from and not just a course that you follow rigidly. You can choose specifically themes you want to learn and download them or delete them as suits you. If you want to learn vocabulary related to space there’s a course for that, if you want to learn a specific grammar rule then there’ll be one for that too.
My only draw back with memorise is that it doesn’t really help me learn grammar or how to form sentences. Even though they have modules for that, I need to have something a bit more interactive.
However for learning vocabulary and characters, Memrise is a great resource.
Why I love Memrise:
The amount of choice: As I mentioned earlier, there is so much choice on Memrise and you can tailor your learning to fit your needs rather than a one size fits all approach in an app where the course is set out for you.
Spaced repetition: Memrise has spaced repetition programmed into it so you’re never forgetting anything as whenever something starts to fade slightly in your memory, Memrise will have timed it so it’s shown to you again.
Anki is flashcard app and will probably be most useful to help you learn characters and vocabulary. Anyone can add flashcard decks, which may mean that something the quality isn’t great, or there’s possibility for human errors but on the whole I’ve found the flashcards to be of a pretty high quality.
The flashcards are programmed to come up at timed intervals depending on your rate of right or wrong answers. This is really good as spaced repetition is a great way to get you remembering new information.
I would recommend downloading the HSK decks. As you work your way up the levels of Chinese, you can download literally all the vocabulary in each HSK level. This is really useful, especially if you want to sit the exams.
Why I love Anki
Create your own flashcards: You can create your own flashcards, so if there’s a particular group of words or characters you need to learn for a test or a module you can make a deck of flashcards specifically for that. You can then choose whether to make them public or private.
Track your progress: Anki tracks your progress and shows you the percentage of correct or wrong answers. It also shows you how much you’ve improved so you can tell when you’re getting better at one deck and when you need to come back and practise.
Skritter practises a different skill to the other apps mentioned. Skritter helps you practise writing Chinese characters. Now you may want to concentrate on learning how to speak first but if you ever want to get to a level of fluency you need to start writing at some point. And the longer the leave it, the more of a pain it’ll be to catch up.
I would start learning Chinese with a concentration on speaking, but definitely doing at least some writing. You also need it to take the HSK exams, so I would download Skritter from day one and start working on writing those characters.
With this app you do have to pay, but it really helps with your characters so I guess that decision is up to you.
Why I love Skritter:
Spaced reptition: Just like Memrise and Anki, Skritter uses spaced repetition
Stroke order: It guides you through the stroke order, then you can try it for yourself. Then it tells you whether or not you got the stroke right and where you went wrong.
This app recommendation is to help you with your listening. FluentU has thousands of videos online that you can watch to help improve your listening skills. They give you a variety of scenarios and different levels so you can choose videos to suit your needs.
The only downside is that you have to pay, but I’ve met so many people who use this app and say that it really is worth the money.
Why I love FluentU:
The videos come with subtitles: This is great for people who aren’t too great with their listening skills because you get the chance to read along as you listen. Then as you get more and more confident you can start to watch videos without subtitles.
Authentic videos: The videos are authentic, with real native speakers. So you’re getting to hear how the language actually sounds.
Other apps worth mentioning
- Pleco – a Chinese dictionary, an absolute must especially if you’re visiting China
- Hello Chinese – Hello Chinese is very similar to Chinese Skill in it’s layout. I personally prefer Chinese Skill but I would give both a go
Disappointing apps for Chinese
Anyone who has been here before will know how much I love Duolingo and how I would recommend it to anyone. Unfortunately with Chinese, this just isn’t the case. I believe that Duolingo’s strengths lie with languages that use the roman alphabet and unfortunately courses for other languages just aren’t as good.
I was really excited for the Chinese duolingo to be released but when it was I found I was just a bit disappointed. For now I would recommend using an app that was created specifically for Chinese like Chinese Skill. However, because Duolingo is constantly improving itself I wouldn’t be surprised if the Chinese duolingo was just as good as the other courses in a year or two.
Read our comprehensive review of Duolingo here.
Chinese is definitely a tricky language. It’s a great language, but it’s also tricky and it’s definitely more difficult than European languages. This means you’re probably going to want to use a combination of the above apps, in addition to speaking practise, textbooks and maybe even class.
I would try and get as much exposure to the language as possible but also remember to have fun with it. Learning a language shouldn’t be a chore, so download some apps that have game like features and have fun as you learn one of the trickiest languages in the world.