We’re lucky to live in a world where there are so many resources for learning Chinese.
Learners don’t have to shell out substantial tuition fees to attend a college course or study abroad to learn Mandarin anymore.
These days, people can learn Chinese directly from their smartphone!
In fact, many learners are already familiar with a popular app called HelloChinese.
But does this language-learning resource really live up to the hype?
We took the time to test out and review HelloChinese so you can make a more informed decision on whether or not this app is right for your language journey.
First, let’s take a look at what exactly HelloChinese does and how it works.
What Is HelloChinese?
HelloChinese is a language-learning app for mobile devices. It uses a daily learning goal approach to help learners attain a conversational level of Chinese. It claims to teach learners over 1000 words, 320 characters and 235 grammar points.
HelloChinese boasts quite a few features:
- Chinese speech recognition
- The ability to write 汉字 (hànzì) — Chinese characters by hand
- Game-based lessons
- Pinyin courses for newbies
- Customizable and personalized interface
- Daily training exercises
- Mini curricula for different language needs
- Study progress trackers
- Offline capabilities
- Traditional and simplified Chinese character support
HelloChinese Review: Which Language Skills Will You Develop with This App?
When compared with other Mandarin language apps, HelloChinese definitely holds its own. Regardless, it does have its pros and cons that learners should consider before downloading it.
First Impressions and App Appearance
Right away, HelloChinese has a neat little feature.
You can sign up and log in immediately, as is normal for most apps like this. But HelloChinese also has a “let me try” button so users can test out the app before going through the process of signing up.
At a glance, the app is very clean and user-friendly. Your homepage, or the “Learn” section, has a map that shows the trajectory of your lessons, with sections like Introduction, Hello, School 1 and so on.
The next section, “Immerse,” features immersive lessons, the majority of which are behind a paywall. We will look at this section more in-depth later.
In an older version of the app, there was a section called “Train,” which featured a bunch of different games for learners to practice listening writing, reading and speaking. These games are still available if learners toggle to the “Old Course” instead of the “Main Course.” However, all but one of the games are behind a paywall.
The final section, which is called “Me,” shows your account name (if you signed up) and your daily goal progress. It also displays the total amount of time you’ve used the app.
The notification bell at the top of the app is essentially an ad system where users will receive messages promoting HelloChinese’s YouTube channel.
The “🌿” section is a sort of miscellaneous section. From here, you can choose to review with native speakers (behind a paywall) and brush up on areas that you’ve struggled with. You can also view a character bank of the hanzi you’ve learned as a reference point for review.
Okay, so we keep mentioning that certain features are hidden behind a paywall. So what are the types of accounts and their corresponding prices?
There are two premium options: Premium and Premium+.
Premium ranges from $4.99 to $8.99 per month. The longer a commitment you make, the lower your monthly cost—for example, you’ll pay less per month if you sign up for a year upfront than just three months. The Premium membership allows users to access the smart review system and all training games.
Premium+ ranges from $12.49 to $19.99 per month. This membership has all of the Premium benefits, plus access to immersion lessons and customer support.
Unfortunately, it’s clear that the HelloChinese app is mainly designed with beginners in mind. You can skip the pinyin lessons if they’re too easy for you, but otherwise, the app seems to be very basic in its lesson content.
On the plus side, there’s a “take a shortcut” option to skip easier lessons, so learners can determine pretty quickly if the lessons are challenging enough for them.
The Good: Speaking, Pronunciation and Listening Skills
When starting out, you get to learn the basics about what pinyin and hanzi are, how tones work and the bottom basics of Mandarin overall. Each lesson section is pretty short, so even on-the-go learners can get through a section fairly quickly.
You’ll pick up Chinese speaking and listening skills through interactive lessons on the lesson map. Pronunciation in the audio clips is fairly good, as is the voice recognition for lesson quizzes that assess your accent. We deliberately mispronounced various words in the quizzes, and the app caught all of them easily.
It becomes pretty apparent that the app lacks video lessons, which can be very useful for visual language learning as well as for hearing vocabulary and native accents in context.
If these benefits sound appealing, FluentU could be a great resource to pair with or replace HelloChinese.
You'll find a wide range of contemporary videos that cover all different interests and levels, as you can see here:
FluentU brings these native Chinese videos within reach via interactive captions. You can tap on any word to instantly look it up.
All words have carefully written definitions and examples that will help you understand how a word is used. Tap to add words you'd like to review to a vocab list.
From the description page, you can access interactive transcripts under the Dialogue tab, or review words and phrases under Vocab.
The best part is that FluentU always keeps track of your learning, then suggests content and examples based on what you've already learned. In other words, you get a 100% personalized experience.
Try FluentU in your browser or, better yet, download the FluentU iOS or Android app today!
The Bad: Writing Skills
Unfortunately, HelloChinese is greatly lacking when it comes to teaching learners how to write. So much of written Chinese involves stroke order, pattern and character radicals, and you don’t get much of those details through this language learning software because all the Chinese writing practice is tracing character shapes.
The app also doesn’t teach learners how to type in Chinese.
The So-so: Reading Characters and Written Tones
Each lesson section features Chinese characters accompanied by their romanization, so it’s easy to associate Chinese pronunciation with the appropriate character.
As we mentioned earlier, this app isn’t really suited for advanced learners. While you can toggle off pinyin and get new words solely in Chinese characters knowing around 1,000 Chinese words only brings learners to the intermediate stage.
HelloChinese has an extensive vocab library. You can only access the characters you’ve already learned from the leaf menu, which is actually very beneficial. Learners tend to get ahead of themselves with app dictionaries, but HelloChinese makes you take it slow and review only the characters you’ve already learned in the lessons.
The So-so: You Get Immersion, if You Want to Pay
One of the drawbacks of some Chinese learning apps is that it lacks exposure to real Chinese language as it is spoken by native speakers. It seems like HelloChinese is aware of this, and it has put forward an “Immerse” component to its main “Learn” course.
Under this screen, there are dozens of lessons sorted by topic or by level. The topics include shopping, ordering food and travel, and there are four levels ranging from beginner to intermediate. Each lesson includes a short video, notes on key words and grammar, an “audio class” breaking down the clip, speaking practice as well as other exercises.
While this is great for getting some exposure to the Chinese language in “immersive” settings, this doesn’t quite solve the problem. Namely, while there are a couple of free lessons, most of the videos in “Immerse” are behind a paywall and only Premium+ users get access to the full library.
Next, it appears that paying for the “Immerse” videos may not even be worth it: The videos themselves seem inauthentic and staged, and from what we can see from the free lessons, many of the clips are less than 30 seconds long.
The So-so: The Craziness That Is Chinese Grammar
HelloChinese does take the time to explain certain grammar concepts. Every once in a while, the lessons will dip into the “what” and “why” of Chinese grammar, but there’s very little information available on complex grammar concepts.
However, beginner learners get a pretty clear and concise explanation of different basic grammar concepts early on. It just doesn’t go anywhere after the first few lessons, and the focus starts to shift primarily to listening and reading.
Conclusion: Should You Try HelloChinese?
The short answer? Yes! Smartphone language learners should definitely download this app and take it for a spin.
Because HelloChinese lacks so much in the way of writing Chinese characters, it would be wise to supplement this app with worksheets or another Chinese character-writing app.
Further, HelloChinese also doesn’t have a lot of advanced fluency tools, with limited real-world conversations and rather ineffective “immersion” videos behind a paywall.
FluentU would be a great supplement for this, as our app is entirely video-based and focuses on passive and active listening for fluency.
What do you think about HelloChinese as a language-learning resource?
Give it a go!
Em Casalena is a published author, freelance writer and music columnist. They write about a lot of stuff, from music to films to language.
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn Chinese with real-world videos.