Learning Chinese is not easy, especially as the locals tend to shout a lot and speak very fast with different dialects. Many people go to a country and assume they will magically pick it up. However learning a language past a certain level does require hard work (hard work does not mean boring work).
Apps are great for learning languages because they are with you whereever you go – so they are perfect for using on the bus/metro and you can fit your studying around your own schedule.
Of course, we are not suggesting you can become fluent by just using these apps (although some of them suggest you can). But we think if you want to supplement your learning with some fun, useful and free apps, these are the ones to use…
1. HelloTalk – Best For Practicing Chinese
HelloTalk is a cool new Wechat style app which enables you to add native speakers who want to learn your language, and have conversations with them.
Once you’ve downloaded the app you can set your name, self-introduction, photo, native language and level of Chinese. Once your profile is created you can start searching for people to talk with (you can choose same sex only if you are worried about harassment).
Once you’ve got chatting with someone you can use the in-app translation tools if you don’t understand someone. The great thing about this app is the translation tools also include and audio pronunciation and can also show you the pinyin.
Although I mentioned harassment earlier, and our mothers told us not to speak to strangers, I have only had good experiences with the people on this app and everyone genuinely seems to want to learn English and help you with your Chinese.
The app is free for a basic account but for premium (translations not limited per day) it will cost you 98RMB for 3 months or 198RMB for a year – although this is by no means necessary for casual users.
Here’s how to get a free membership (from Fluent in 3 Months): Sign up to the app, and one of your friends will automatically be HelloTalk Team. Message them “FI3M” and you’ll get 3 months free membership, which includes unlimited access to the premium features. These are Translation, Voice Recognition, and Transliteration.
2. Anki – Best For Vocabulary
Anki is a flashcard based system which remembers which words you know. Then tests you on harder words more often and less often for the words you know.
After downloading the app you can choose to make a ‘deck’ if you have a list of words to learn or download a shared deck. Decks can also include sentences and pictures so you’re not limited to boring words.
I recommend downloading some shared decks. To get started go to the ‘+’ in the bottom right of the screen then ‘Get shared decks’and click on ‘Chinese’. I recommend starting with ‘Chinese sentences and audio, spoon fed’.
Using the flashcards is very simple, just click on the deck, then for each card click on how easy/hard the word/sentence was and the app will then decide how often to show you the card depending on what you selected.
If you have Android you can download AnkiDroid for free, unfortunatly if you have an iPhone, you have to pay $24.99 on iOS.
3. HelloChinese / ChineseSkill – Best For Beginners
These two apps are basically the Chinese versions of Duolingo, which is one of the most successful language learning apps but doesn’t yet have a Chinese version.
The apps are almost identical to each-other but some prefer the interface and exact topics of one over the other so its worth checking out both of them.
The apps both try to teach you the basics of Chinese though a series of mini games and quizzes which are great for beginners to get a grasp of the language and a feel of how to use basic words and phrases.
Although these are great apps for beginners, its fair to say you won’t become fluent like they advertise.