The digital age has completely changed the way we learn foreign languages and learning to speak Chinese is no exception. There are now plenty of people who are now using their computer, smartphone, tablet or television to learn more about the Middle Kingdom’s most popular language and Chinese culture.
Mobile e-learning apps are also innovative and exciting ways to learn Chinese Mandarin when you compare them to dusty old tomes and textbooks.
Learning Chinese: The Apps for Getting Ahead
Here are some of our favourite apps for learning Chinese.
Hellotalk is an essential app for learning Chinese for students of any level. The application, which is built around its community of speakers, is available on both the Google Play and iTunes platforms and focuses on making sure that its users interact with one another.
The special thing about this app is that once you’ve created your profile, you can tell it where you are and it’ll find other users near you. It’s an interesting option for expats who find themselves in China looking for a speaking practice partner or just another language learner. Of course, you can turn this option off if you’d prefer to remain hidden.
Once you’ve finished setting up your profile, you can (just like you would on a social network) get in touch with other Chinese people that would like to help you to progress in their language. It’s a fun way to improve your Chinese online while:
- Meeting new people,
- Learning more about their culture,
- And learning more about their daily lives.
Of course, this isn’t a one-way relationship and, in addition to speaking Chinese, your partner will also expect you to help them with their English.
What makes this app special in comparison to an app like Whatsapp, Facebook Messenger, and Wechat is the fact that you can correct your partner’s spelling mistakes directly in the chat client so that they can learn new phrases, improve their vocabulary, and gain fluency. Additionally, those who’d like to improve their speaking can change a text message into a vocal message so that they can listen to the Chinese pronunciation.
As an ideal way to improve your Standard Mandarin, this language learning tool should also be seen as a way for students to practise their writing outside of their private classes.
With over 40,000 downloads on Google play and a score of 4 stars, this is a must-have application for anyone wanting to learn a new language.
Duolingo is one of the best language learning apps around and by practising for just a few minutes each day, you’ll make some impressive progress. While some of the sentences are a bit odd (I think they might be randomly generated in some cases), there are also some very useful expressions for you to learn.
Additionally, you can join groups and clubs set up by other members and learners and help each other to learn Chinese online.
The app is also completely free. However, you can pay for it if you want to remove the ads that pop up between lessons and practice sessions. That said, the ads aren’t that disruptive.
Chinese Characters First Steps
We all know that Chinese characters (both traditional and simplified) are difficult to learn. In order to get around these linguistic challenges, there are plenty of apps to help you study and practice.
Chinese Characters First Steps currently has a rating of 4.0 out of 5.0 stars on Google Play. The app will teach you about the characters and also help you practise writing them. It includes over 400 different Mandarin Chinese characters for you to practise from the Open University’s Beginners’ Chinese module which was based on the People’s Republic of China’s Ministry of Education’s frequently used words list.
It’s perfect for getting started with Chinese characters and once you’ve learnt them all, you can actually start combining them in order to make over 200 extra new words. This will help you both learn and remember Chinese characters, making your language learning process a little bit easier.
Pleco English-Chinese Dictionary
There are plenty of Chinese students from around the world who recommend using Pleco. This is probably why the app is so highly rated both on Android (4.6 out of 5) and iTunes (5 out of 5 for the current version).
“Pleco is alone in it's class of products for excellence and they offer many add-on features, dictionaries, and it has a good flash card system. I highly recommend it.” - Josh Dillon
There are nearly 130,000 Mandarin words, 22,000 Cantonese words, and 20,000 examples of expressions in Pinyin, a writing system that uses the Latin Alphabet to transcribe Chinese words.
The Pleco Dictionary App also offers a number of useful functions and features:
- Practise writing the Chinese characters. A great way to become a pro in Chinese calligraphy.
- Scan Chinese characters on your smartphone and get a real-time translations.
- Listen to Mandarin, Pinyin, or Cantonese audio clips from native speakers.
- Say a Chinese word or phrase into the app and it’ll tell you the Chinese character.
Try it yourself!
Learning Chinese: The Best Websites
Learning Chinese on the Internet couldn’t be simpler and learning Standard Mandarin Chinese online is becoming increasingly popular..
If you’re learning Chinese, you have to add the pronunciation dictionary “Forvo” to your browser favourites. Just type whatever Chinese word you’d like to pronounce into the search bar and the website will tell you exactly how it’s pronounced.
However, this isn’t just a website for those learning Chinese. Forvo claims to have pronunciations for every word in the world! While this probably isn’t true, there are still tonnes of different languages available with multiple examples of pronunciations for each word.
In addition to words, there are also examples of full sentences, expressions, and idioms for you to listen to as well.
While dictionaries are great for looking up words, you’ll understand a word much better if you can see it being used in context or in a sentence. This is where Jukuu comes into play. Jukuu is more than a dictionary, it’s a search engine for Chinese-English sentences and translations so that you can see both what the word means and how you’d use it in a sentence.
Personally, I find that these kinds of websites are far more useful than dictionaries since an out-of-context translation of a word can result in you completely misunderstanding a word or a whole sentence.
If you want to improve you Chinese from the comfort of your own home, you need to get involved with communities of other language learners, too. Chinese Forums is one of the best places to go if you have any questions about learning Chinese or are having a problem.
There are plenty of very active users who are happy to help absolute beginners as well as more experienced students. You can find the answers to almost all of your questions on Chinese here as well as meet other forum users who are just as interested in Chinese as you.
The best thing, though? It’s completely free!
Learn Chinese by Watching Videos
Since Chinese is generally considered a difficult language to learn, it’s a good idea to learn Mandarin Chinese through videos in addition to taking Chinese language courses. This will help you memorise the tones (which can be rather tricky) as well as master the pronunciation.
You can teach yourself some Mandarin Chinese (or any other variety of Chinese, for that matter) by watching one of the many educational channels on YouTube. Alternatively find Chinese tutors across the UK (including Mandarin courses London) for in-home or online lessons.
Whether you want to start learning Chinese, master your recognition of Chinese characters and ideograms, or even become a master of Mandarin Chinese grammar, YouTube is one of the first places you should go looking for quality language learning resources.
However, to make things a little simpler, Superprof has put together a list of a few of the very best YouTube channels for learning Chinese:
- Yoyo Chinese: The host of Yoyo Chinese is Yangyang Cheng, a resident of Los Angeles who’s fluent in English, Mandarin, and Cantonese. In addition to the lessons on the channel, you can also find interviews with other native Chinese speakers as well as some recordings of Google Live Hangouts that she’s conducted.
- Learn Chinese with Emma: Emma’s online Chinese lessons are very well produced and aimed at both absolute beginners and advanced beginners. While most of the videos are in English, there are sections completely in Chinese that are accompanied very clearly by subtitles so that you won’t get lost.
- Chinese with Mike: While Mike’s lessons are never serious, that doesn’t mean they can’t be educational. These are a great way to learn Chinese while having a load of fun. The videos are between 10 and 15 minutes each and go at a very good pace for those learning. You’ll never be bored in Teacher Mike’s (MIKE LǍOSHĪ) classes.
Aside from all the educational videos you can find on Chinese on YouTube, don’t forget that there are other ways to use videos to help you learn Mandarin Chinese. Younger readers (and maybe even a few of our older readers) should be familiar with Netflix. If you’ve never heard of it (somehow), it’s a TV and film streaming service and a service you should check out if you’d like to watch TV series and films in Chinese!
Learning Chinese: Which Books Should I Get?
Discover the best books for learning Chinese.
中文听说读写| Integrated Chinese
Integrated Chinese (3rd Edition) is a textbook written by Yuehua Liu and published by Cheng & Tsui. This book is highly recommended by Chinese professors and students alike and while it's probably a bit dry for some learners, it does have everything you’ll probably want to know about Chinese.
The book is highly rated on Amazon (between 3.5 and 5 stars, depending on the version) and is available in paperback for less than £20.
Unfortunately, if you’re wanting to do the audio exercises, you’re going to have to pay extra for the CD or audio. The CD can set you back around £40, too. Ouch! With all that said, this is a resource that you’ll be able to keep referring back to every time you need to refresh the basics.
It’s perfect for:
- Students just starting out in Chinese
- Getting used to Chinese characters, how they’re written, and how to use them.
- Anyone preparing to stay in China (or any other Chinese-speaking country) for an extended period of time who needs to familiarise themselves with the basics of the language.
Chinese for Dummies
Never underestimate the “Dummies” series of books. The version on learning Mandarin Chinese by Wendy Abraham is worth picking up and is available on Amazon for less than £20 (and for only a couple of quid if you’re happy to buy a used copy!).
Aimed at absolute beginners, the book can teach you how to have everyday conversations, get to grips with the tones used in Chinese, and get around in China. Furthermore, the accompanying CD can help you listen to actual Chinese being spoken by native speakers and help you to train your ear to the tones.
This book is great for anyone getting ready to go to China as it covers all the basics that you’ll need from the second you get off the plane.
Additionally, it also covers customs and taboos, meaning that you’ll never make any embarrassing errors and nor will you offend anyone when you go to China. You should also consider buying the book of Chinese expressions for dummies.
新实用汉语课本 | New Practical Chinese Reader
This book is a useful Chinese course. However, don’t forget to buy the workbook as well so that you can actually practice your Chinese. While there isn’t much difference between the first and second editions in terms of content, the second edition has changed the layout slightly.
You’ll be able to get both the textbook and workbook for under £30 and for even cheaper if you look around for used versions of the textbook Obviously, don’t buy a used version of the workbook as you’ll not be able to use it!
Get started learning Chinese with a private tutor from Superprof:
- Chinese courses London
- Chinese tutors in Scotland