“The Great Wall of China is a beautiful monument, but there are too many walls between men already.” This phrase was pronounced by Michael Gorbatchev - Head of the Soviet Union from 1985 to 1991 - during an official visit in China in 1989 just before the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Break down walls by learning Chinese
With language apps, there are no walls between native speakers and students of Chinese.
Learning a foreign language such as Chinese can also be a difficult wall to climb. When you are a native speaker of an Indo-European language - such as French, Spanish, German or English - learning the Chinese language seems inaccessible. Even if you concentrate on Mandarin Chinese, everything is different - the pronunciation, sounds (it’s a tonal language), the Chinese writing system (necessitating calligraphy lessons), grammar etc. That’s why it’s often not enough to simply take private Chinese lessons. Here is a series of tools you can use to supplement your Chinese lessons and learn Chinese fast: apps, websites, films, history lessons… Also discover the best way to learn Chinese...

Supplement Your Chinese Classes With Lessons Through Apps

With the exponential success of web 2.0 and the explosion of the market for tablets and smartphones, the number of language-learning apps - including Chinese - have multiplied. As in cooking, you will have to try them out and “taste” them. There is no miracle recipe for learning Chinese! If a free app to help you learn Chinese doesn’t appeal to you, simply delete it and download a new one. Are you planning an internship in China, a holiday trip to see the Great Wall of China or a language trip to Beijing or Shanghai? Here are some apps to help you learn Mandarin.

Hello Chinese

Hello Chinese boasts that it’s “The best Chinese learning app for total beginners” - and it’s true. This Android app has been tried and tested, it is a wonderful initiation to the Chinese language and lets you make rapid progress. Once installed, the program starts with an introduction to Pinyin transcription, the accepted method of transcribing Chinese characters into Roman script and ideal for working on pronunciation. After that, the app then leads you through about 40 lessons of 3 to 4 chapters each that are unlocked as you progress. All the lessons are punctuated by quizzes allowing you to verify your understanding of Chinese vocabulary and help you memorise it. The app lets you work on:

  • Pronouncing syllables correctly
  • Tonal accents
  • Reading
  • Writing Chinese characters on the screen
  • Your audio-visual memory
  • Vocal practise
  • Learning rules of politeness
  • Everyday customs

Hello Chinese is entirely free. It lets you listen to native speakers pronounce the words and to help you reproduce them as though you had a private Chinese tutor for home lessons. Find out how you can learn Chinese quickly...

Other free apps

Naturally, there are dozens of other apps for learning Chinese. Here is a non-exhaustive list of a few of the better ones:

  • Mondly: for learning Chinese vocabulary, daily expressions, verbs and pronunciation in a playful way, through games and speech recognition
  • Pleco is a Chinese dictionary with speech recognition for Chinese characters and English translations that help you understand the frequency of use, work on your pronunciation, the order of the strokes in Chinese calligraphy and help you memorise Chinese vocabulary
  • Skritter is similar to Pleco for reviewing Chinese characters and learning the direction and order of the strokes
  • Line dictionary offers conversational models to help you get through day-to-day life
  • Mandarin Madness is a fun game to learn Chinese pronunciation and vocabulary
  • Learn Chinese Mandarin Phrasebook lets you learn the Chinese language through basic expressions and phrases grouped according to subject - introducing yourself, simple conversations, transportation…

Looking for the perfect teacher to help you learn Chinese?

Use apps to learn Mandarin vocabulary
Sick of flashcards to learn Chinese vocabulary? Try free apps instead. Photo credit: Canadian Pacific via Visualhunt

Using Websites Specialised in Chinese Language Exercises

Studying a language requires the right tools to boost memorisation and help consolidate what you have learned. Beyond smartphone and tablet apps, there is a multitude of specialised sites that will help you progress in the language or offer beginner Chinese lessons. Learning Chinese online - who said the Internet was the death of knowledge? Here are some websites allowing you to revise what you have learned in your Mandarin classes through simple exercises:

  • Chinese Tools, a portal teeming with information and support tools to help you make progress. There are 31 free Chinese lessons to teach you phonetics, initials, finals, tones, work on you oral conversation and on Chinese calligraphy
  • Mosalingua offers resources for reading and writing exercises and tools for speaking and pronouncing Chinese
  • The BBC has a site with many different tools to learn Chinese, from online Chinese lessons to news in Mandarin to a list of phrases for your next holiday in China. Unfortunately, it is no longer updated, but the archived site is still available and the links still work.
  • Chinese Learner’s lessons are not structured, so if you are a beginner Chinese student you might not know where to start. But it offers lessons and audio on lots of different topics if you want to review something.
  • FluentU uses actual Mandarin-language videos from China’s YouTube equivalents to structure interactive lessons - a very different approach for those who don’t learn very well with the usual academic method.
  • The Chairman’s Bao is a Chinese news site geared specifically toward those learning the Mandarin language with an interactive vocabulary list and a mini-encyclopedia to provide context. It is unfortunately paying, with various plans starting at $10 a month to $80 for a full year.
  • Chengyu gives you the stories behind Chinese proverbs so you can understand them better.As you learn Chinese online, are you finding it difficult to find the discipline to sit down alone in front of the screen and do your homework? The complexity of Chinese discourages you as you try to unravel it on your own?

We understand. Fortunately, there are more ways of learning Chinese than through websites and apps. Find out, for example, the cost of a Chinese lesson with a Superprof tutor...

Take Part in a Chinese Language Exchange

Going to a foreign country is always a bit alarming, especially when there is a language barrier. But it is possible to immerse yourself both linguistically and culturally here in Britain, even before going to China. How, do you ask? Contact Chinese expats in the UK and participate in a cultural exchange programme. This is also a great way to find Chinese tutors in your local area, including and Mandarin classes London. Here are some tips on how to contact a native Mandarin or Cantonese speaker and learn…

A few sites for language exchanges

These 4 sites have the advantage of matching you (after you create a profile for free) to people living in China or Taiwan and wanting to learn a European language such as English, French or German. It’s an enriching way to learn a language without the constraints of formal Chinese classes: you speak, exchange and teach your native tongue while learning another language from a native speaker. This will also help you prepare your Chinese lessons. It’s a great way to prepare your holiday to China or Taiwan!

Learn Mandarin in a languge exchange
These apps and websites let you connect with real Chinese native speakers. Photo by Go-tea 郭天 on Visualhunt.com

Other ways of finding a language exchange partner

  • Go to a Chinese cultural centre
  • Talk with merchants in a Chinese neighbourhood (Chinatown): sympathise, talk, communicate with Chinese speakers - hearing their native tongue might encourage them to help you advance
  • Talk to your friends about your wish to learn Chinese: more and more young people are interested in learning Mandarin at University; your friends might know some of them
  • Join Facebook groups of travellers or Chinese expatriots
  • Look through student forums: there are a lot of Chinese seeking to learn English.
Learn Cantonese by going shopping in Chinatown.
Go shopping in Chinatown to practise your Chinese and find Mandarin language exchange partners. Photo by Ken Lund on Visual hunt

Learn About Chinese History

Learning a language without learning anything about its culture is like tasting a dish without knowing its ingredients. Taking Chinese language lessons is a good opportunity for finding out more about China’s history and that of its various dynasties. Learning about Chinese civilisation opens your eyes to an incredibly rich culture: literature, painting, calligraphy, music and all the arts.

Learning Chinese history helps you learn the language.
Chinese characters are a very ancient writing system. Learning their history can help you understand them. Photo credit: Fæ via VisualHunt
Learning about the history of China also lets you discover the biographies of the legendary emperors who shaped Chinese culture and whose heritage is still very much present today. It also helps you review Pinyin: you can learn to recognise Chinese characters by getting to know the great figures of Chinese history. China was first inhabited more than a million years ago by Homo Erectus in the lower Palaeolithic. But Chinese history truly starts with the reign of the Yellow Emperor Huándì of the ancient ethnicity of Huaxia, who ruled in the 27th century BC. Among the 56 ethnic groups inhabiting China today, the most important is the Han, making up 95 % of the current Chinese population. They reigned over the north-east of what is now modern China for more than 400 years (206 BC to 220 AD). To learn Chinese writing in private lessons is to learn the Han writing system. Now you understand why learning Chinese is considered so difficult - even though the Chinese language is now unified, its original form - traditional Chinese - is over 2000 years old.

Watch Chinese Movies in the Original Language

One last tip to help booster your knowledge of the Chinese language: watch Chinese films in the original language with English subtitles. You can learn Chinese through entertainment: by watching films “made in China”. But why do this to yourself? It’s excellent cognitive training. It helps the brain get used to the tones, accents and intonations in dialogue, hear phrases and expressions spoken by native-speaking Chinese actors. Watching Chinese movies is a wonderful strategy to stimulate your auditive memory and perfect your Chinese pronunciation. Apart from its non-negligible added value to your Chinese classes, Chinese movies are also helpful for cultural and linguistic immersion. A true intensive course without doing any actual work! Take Chinese classes London with a private tutor.

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