that we recommend at the moment!
The Best Apps to Learn Chinese
- Skritter: Learn to write Chinese characters
- FluentU: Learn Chinese through videos
- ChinesePod: Learn Chinese through podcasts
- The Chairman’s Bao: Learn Chinese by reading the news
- Memrise: Learn Chinese via flashcards
- Hello Talk and WeChat: Learn Chinese by talking with native speakers
- Hanping and Pleco: Best offline dictionaries Chinese-English
- Other apps
Before you begin
I’ve been studying Chinese language for more than eight years. Unfortunately I’m too old to be a full-time student and finding the time to study has been my biggest challenge. Thus I had to come up with a way to keep my motivation and, at the same time, be efficient.
Smartphone’s apps have been a really helpful tool because they allow me to study Chinese while I’m on the subway or in a coffee shop. However in the recent years hundreds apps to learn Chinese and other languages have been released. And I’d say that most of them are inefficient or even useless.
In this article I’ll talk to you about the best applications for learning Chinese on your smartphone or tablet.
I’ll start by listing the essential characteristics for a good app for learning Chinese.
After that, I’ll go on to present the apps that I prefer for learning to write characters, to watch videos (with subtitles and other features) or listen to podcasts, for using flashcards to improve your vocabulary, and for speaking in Mandarin with native speakers who are available for a linguistic “exchange”.
To conclude, I’ll speak about my favorite dictionaries for smartphones or tablets for Chinese.
The features of a good app for learning Chinese
- Active learning: A good app should involve active learning. This means that the app should ask you questions and force you to remember the correct answer. You can read more about this topic by clicking here.
- Customized product: A good app should let you the flexibility to choose the settings according to your needs. For instance, you should have the opportunity to choose to study the lessons or the vocabulary that match your interests and proficiency level. The best way to keep your motivation is to study only things you are interested on and you can use on your daily life.
- Learn from your mistakes: A good app will “learn” from your mistakes – by recording them – and force you to review what you forgot while skipping the parts you already know. I recommend you to find an app based on spaced repetition software (SRS). If you want to know what an SRS is just click here.
- An app should cover a specific need: A good app is going to be helpful (and a wonderful tool) to review your lessons or learn new vocabulary; however to master a new language you’ll need more than that. Never trust a developer that claims his app is the only tool you need to learn Chinese language.
In my opinion at the moment the best apps for learning Chinese are Skritter, FluentU, The Chairman’s Bao, Memrise and Anki (they are both SRS based). Additionally, Hanping, Pleco, Hello Talk and WeChat are apps that anyone aiming at learning Chinese should have.
Skritter: Learn how to write Chinese characters
Skritter is the best app out there to learn how to write Chinese characters. At the moment, the last version of the software is only available for Android devices or Apple devices with an operative system iOS7 or superior. If you own an Android smartphone or an iOS7/iOS8 device (iPhone 5 or iPhone 6, for instance), then you can try Skritter for free right now. If you have iOS6 device you can still use the app; just keep reading to know how to do. Also, here you find our full review of Skritter.
Skritter for iOS6 devices
The last version of Skritter only works on iOS7 devices. So if you own an old Apple device such as iPod Touch 4, iPhone 3 or iPad 1 you won’t be able to actualize your iOS operating system to iOS7. If you want to use Skritter you’ll be forced to install a previous version of the software.
But where to find it?
Since the release of the iOS7, Apple allows devices running older versions of the iOS to download apps that are backwards compatible. You can then download the previous version of Skritter (2.2.1) directly from your device.
IMPORTANT: Don’t use the link on the Skritter’s website or download it from iTunes in your computer as you’ll end up downloading the last version (the one for iOS7) that won’t work in your device.
p.s.: Skritter costs 14.99 USD/month (9.99 USD with our exclusive discount). However if you sign up through this link and use the coupon “SDC3952″ you get a 33% discount for the first six months (only valid for new accounts).
FluentU: Learn Chinese with videos
FluentU is without a doubt one of the best Chinese learning courses that exists on the market. The main goal of FluentU is to improve your language level through immersion in the language. To do this, they have designed a learning system whose main learning material is a selection of videos with subtitles adapted to all language competency levels.
FluentU developed a perfect app to complement its study program, which is available for both iOS and Android devices.
The app offers all of the platform’s videos with interactive subtitles (you can click on a word to see the definition), flashcards based on the videos, audio tracks of the vocabulary and much more.
FluentU costs 15 USD per month for the Basic Plan (10 USD per month if you get the yearly subscription) and 30 USD per month for the Plus Plan (20 USD per month if you get the yearly subscription). If you would like to find out more, you can click here to read our complete review of FluentU
Chinese Pod: Learning Chinese through podcasts
ChinesePod is one of the most prestigious and oldest platforms for learning Chinese, and has recently developed an excellent app that allows you to follow their study plan regardless of where you are. Its system is based on high-quality podcasts although the platform is much more than just that.
The app offers all of the services of the platform, which includes videos and podcasts organized by levels as well as supporting materials such as review exercises for lessons and flashcards with personalized vocabulary lists. The big advantage of the app is that you can download all of the content so that you can use the app even without an Internet connection.
A subscription to Chinese Pod costs 14 USD per month for the basic plan and 29 USD per month for the premium plan. For more information, click here to read our complete review of Chinese Pod.
The Chairman’s Bao: Read in Chinese
The Chairman’s Bao app (TCB) is one of the best apps for students with a more advanced level, but also can be a good resource for beginners.
TCB is an online newspaper that has been simplified for people learning Mandarin. The newspaper publishes news on very diverse subjects which are written in Mandarin by native Chinese professors using the HSK vocabulary list.
- Thousands of available articles: TCB has written a large number of articles over the years, all of which are accessible and classified according to their level (HSK1 to HSK6+);
- An interactive dictionary: While you are reading an article, you can click on any word and it will show you the pronunciation, definition and the possibility of adding it to your vocabulary list;
- Flashcards system: Once you have a vocabulary list, you can use a flashcard system (with an SRS system) to study vocabulary;
- Writing characters: You can watch animated videos of how to write characters and there is also a tool to test if you remember how to write them.
- Simplified or traditional Chinese: As opposed to many other apps, TCB offers the possibility of reading and studying in both simplified and traditional Chinese;
- List of key vocabulary and idiomatic expressions: At any time, you can consult the key vocabulary list and idiomatic expressions in the article so that you don’t miss any details.
The Chairman’s Bao app is no longer free, and if you want to access all of its content, you will need to subscribe. It costs 10 USD per month or 25, 45 and 80 USD for 3, 6 and 12 months respectively. For more information, click here to read our interview with Sean, its marketing director.
Memrise: Learn efficiently new vocabulary
At least once a year, we update our articles on learning Chinese to include the new resources we have found. When we add new apps, new free online resources, or new Chinese courses, we normally tend to put aside those that teach multiple languages. The reason is very simple: the majority are designed to learn Western languages (English, German, French, Spanish, etc.) and as Chinese is very different from these, it requires a different approach. However, there are exceptions, such as Memrise, which offers no less than 88 languages to learn.
The Memrise app is based on its popular learning website and offers numerous lists that you can include in your study program, such as: the complete list of radicals, all of the HSK vocabulary lists, the lessons from Chinese Grammar Wiki, and vocabulary from the most popular textbooks, among others.
However, the strong point of Memrise is not its list but rather its mnemonic rules and its community, which is all integrated into an SRS software so that you don’t forget anything. Basically, the software is designed to help you remember words by using visual or conceptual mnemonic rules that are created and tested both by the developers and the enormous community of students that it has. So, basically, when you are using Memrise, you are taking advantage of the experience of students that have gone through the same process.
While the basic version of the app is very high quality, there is also a Pro version that is quite a bit better (according to the authors, it increases the speed of learning by 60%). The Pro version also includes unlimited access to all of the learning modes, the ability to personalize your lists and difficulty level, specific statistics on the rate of your leaning and finally, video support and the ability to practice with native speakers.
The basic version of the Memrise app is free for both Android and iOS and the Pro version costs 7.11 EUR (8.99 USD) per month or 57.01 EUR (59.99 USD) per year.
Anki: Review your vocabulary
Anki is the most popular SRS based software to study using flashcards and probably one of the best apps to review your lessons or/and learn new words. With Anki you can create your customized decks or download decks from the public database. At the time I’m writing this article there are nearly eight hundred decks to study Chinese (and you can download all of them for free). I’m sure you can find one that suit you!
I won’t talk much about Anki because we already published a review of the software.
Anki is free for Android devices and costs 24.99 USD for iOS devices.
Duolingo: Memorize vocabulary and learn grammar
Duolingo is a software program that offers lessons for learning a vast number of languages.
Even though Chinese was added relatively late (compared to other languages) it has already become one of the most popular languages among students using this platform.
Besides having a usage style similar to Memrise and Anki, in my opinion Duolingo is also great for learning grammar, since there are many exercises that ask you to order lists of words to create full sentences, translate phrases, et cetera.
Right now Duolingo is free, and can be used both as a smartphone app (iOS or Android), as well as a software program on your PC. Note that so long as you login with the same account, the app and PC version automatically synchronize.
Hello Talk and WeChat: Chat with Chinese native people
Hello Talk is without a doubt an ideal app for people who have already been learning Chinese for a while and are not able to use it in real-life situations. The app uses the new possibilities provided to us by new technologies to get in contact with language students in the whole world.
Hello Talk is similar to Whatsapp, but with the peculiarity that you can chat with people you don’t know and who are native speakers of the language you are studying. The only thing you have to do is to download the app, sign up for the platform, say what your native language is and what language you are studying (and your level); then, you will be able to see a list of native speakers (in our case, Chinese) who are studying your language and chat with them. In other words, Hello Talk is an advanced search engine for language exchanges.
In addition, Hello Talk offers other options, among which its instant translator stands out, as it is very useful when you are chatting in a language you don’t know very well.
While Hello Talk is particularly designed for language students, if you want to get into contact with native Chinese speakers near you, I would recommend that you try WeChat (Weixin in Chinese), a sort of Whatsapp that is extremely popular in China but much more advanced. WeChat allows you to meet new people, it works as a social network (similar to Facebook) and much more. The good thing about WeChat is that it is mainly used by Chinese people and allows you to contact people depending on the distance between you and them.
Hanping: The best dictionary for Android devices
Hanping is, in my opinion, the best offline Chinese/English dictionary for Android devices.
Hanping “Lite” version includes a complete Chinese/English dictionary where you can search words using pinyin, characters or English. At the present moment the Lite version also offers you the audio and handwriting recognition functions.
The last versions of Hanping also feature two interesting tools: the first one is free and allows you to copy your searches to the clipboard or send them to eStroke (to know how to write the word), Skritter, Nicku (an online dictionary), Google translator and many other online resources. The second tool is an optical recognizing software that costs 9.99 USD and allows you to get an instant translation from any text using your cell phone’s camera (it only recognize short texts and standard characters).
I recommend taking a look at it add-ons, as it is constantly adding new functions, some of which are free and others of which are paid. Some of the recent interesting add-ons are: animated videos of how to write characters (only for the 3.99 USD pro version), an app to practice pronunciation (free), and a Cantonese dictionary (9.99 USD).
Pleco: The best dictionary for iOS devices
Pleco is available on Android and iOS devices and is an all-in-one app: off-line dictionary, flashcards, optical character recognizer, handwriting recognizer, stroke order diagrams, audio pronunciation, and text reader. Here a short description of each feature:
Off-line dictionary: Pleco is, in my experience, almost as good as Hanping and definitely the best Chinese/English dictionary for Apple devices (Hanping only works on Android devices). Additionally, it offers specific dictionaries (such as a traditional Chinese medicine dictionary).
Flashcards: Pleco Lite’s version offers a quite basic software (it lacks the SRS algo) to review your flashcards. The SRS based software is an add-on and cost 11.29 USD.
Optical character recognizer: Probably one of the best in the market and quite similar to the Hannping’s recognizer. You can test it for free, but if you want to link the tool to the Pleco’s dictionary you’ll have to download the add-on (it costs 11.29 USD).
Handwriting recognizer: This tool is available on the Lite version; it’s really useful if you want to know the meaning of a character you know how to write (but you ignore its pinyin).
Stroke order diagrams: You can use this tool to learn how to write a character stroke by stroke. This option is an add-on and costs 5.64 USD.
Audio pronunciation: Also available in the Lite version with both male an female pronunciation of individual characters. There are some paid add-ons more complete, such a full word pronunciation, synthetic audio for sentences and Cantonese pronunciation audios.
Text reader: It’s available for the Lite version; if you copy a text in Chinese on the clipboard and then you go to the Text reader it will appear there. At this point you can click on the words you don’t know in order to get the pronunciation and the translation.
Chinese Skill is an “all-in-one” app. In other words, it more or less covers all of the aspects of learning in just one app. It is well-designed and its graphics and games make it quite appealing.
However, I think that the previous apps are a lot better for different aspects of the language.
The free version of the app only covers basic aspects and is somewhat incomplete, which means that if you want to use all of the potential of the app, I recommend opting for the premium version, which costs 5.42 EUR per month for an annual subscription or 9.99 if you pay month-to-month. Keep in mind that this app is not a substitute for studying and regardless of what it says, you will not be able to learn Chinese in 3 months.
Despite being very simple, this app can be very useful for people who want a quick review before writing an official HSK exam.
The app is based on test-type questions from official HSK vocabulary lists and has a good SRS algorithm. The main problem that I see is that the vocabulary is slowly unlocked, starting with HSK1-level words, which means that if you have a higher level, in the beginning, it might be a bit annoying to go over all of the basic vocabulary.
The app is free.
Have you ever tried any of these apps? What’s your favorite app to learn Chinese?
that we recommend at the moment!