There’s a certain formula to “formal” learning.
You go to class, listen to the lecture, go home.
You practice reading, writing, speaking and listening for an hour or so.
Rinse and repeat.
Some Chinese learners might find this a bit boring and not their style. And that’s totally okay!
However, whether you’re in an actual traditional Mandarin class or learning things your own way, you should definitely have some go-to online Chinese learning tools.
A few super handy tools can either supplement an existing study routine or build the foundation for a new one from scratch.
To take the guesswork out of finding the best Chinese learning tools out there, we searched the net for the best of the best for you to check out.
First, let’s look into why you should even bother with online tools in the first place.
Why Should I Use Chinese Learning Tools Online?
- They’re convenient and readily available. There are so many tools available online to help you learn any new language, not just Chinese. And many of them are free to use. There’s nothing better than free!
- They make great supplements to other learning methods. While online Chinese learning tools can’t replace a physical teacher or course, they can greatly supplement your study plan.
Some of these tools aren’t necessarily designed to actually teach you Chinese, but that’s okay! They’re great for supplementing a lesson plan.
- They can be fun! Many Chinese learning tools are game and social-based, making them quite entertaining and giving you more of an incentive to study.
Some of these tools are built like an entertaining game and others will connect you with native Chinese speakers via in-app SMS. Learning a language certainly doesn’t have to be boring and you definitely don’t have to go it alone.
Which Chinese Learning Tools Are Best for Me?
As with many things in life, success in learning Chinese is all about making the right choices. The most important thing is choosing which Chinese learning tools to use and how to use them.
Not all of these tools are able to solve all the problems that you might face when learning Chinese, so a distributed approach is the key to success. Each of these tools has its own strengths and weaknesses, and knowing when to apply them is critical knowledge.
So among the thousands of apps, programs, games, people or websites, which Chinese learning tools are the best? Here are our 19 top picks!
19 Chinese Learning Tools for Building Solid Mandarin Language Skills
Chinese Learning Tools for Building Vocab and Grammar Skills
Chinese grammar is much simpler than the grammar of almost any other language. With no genders, no tenses, no cases and a similar sentence structure to English, it’s usually something that a Chinese language learner can easily master.
That being said, there are a few constructions and phrases which are comparatively tricky. To make these easier, there’s a Chinese language tool that can help.
This comes in the form of a website, Chinese Boost: Grammar. With a simple, mobile-friendly interface, this website presents an easy-to-use list of more than 100 potential Chinese grammar difficulties.
Each one has its own article that explains the grammar point in-depth with a great number of examples and none of the complex grammatical language that you might find in a textbook.
Think of FluentU like your Chinese-learning multi-tool. If you like, you can use it as a complete course and get hours of learning out of it every day. But it can also be a handy supplement to any other learning routine in any number of ways.
FluentU takes real-world videos—like movie trailers, music videos, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language lessons. Videos, which are sorted by subject, level and type, come with interactive captions that you can click or tap on to look up word definitions, but the learning doesn’t stop there.
You can also access customized quizzes, complete separate transcripts with audio, vocab lists and pre-made multimedia flashcards.
FluentU is there for you on your computer, phone or tablet with authentic, culture-rich content whenever you feel like learning, whether it’s for a few minutes or a few hours.
Best of all, you can use FluentU in your browser or use the iOS or Android FluentU app for on-the-go learning.
We know you’re not supposed to trust anything you read on Wikipedia, but this Chinese grammar Wiki is a different beast altogether. The huge resource is populated and maintained by AllSet Learning, a company whose goal is to ease the language learning struggles of foreigners in Shanghai.
You don’t have to live in Shanghai to reap the benefits of this repository of information. The Wiki has over 2,000 pages about Chinese grammar, covering every concept and point you could ever want to know. Content is organized by both the CEFR system (A1-C1) and HSK level (1-3), and each point is summarized into a neat table, so you can easily find the right level of information for you.
Explanations are provided in clear English, paired with plenty of Chinese examples with pinyin readings and English translations. Want a more traditional method of learning? You can purchase the information from the Wiki in book form, currently available for basic, elementary and intermediate learners.
Need some extra help understanding a grammar point? Have a really specific question about a kanji stroke order? Get some extra help from Reddit’s Chinese learning and speaking community on the /r/ChineseLanguage subreddit.
On this subreddit, you can find daily translation threads, Chinese-only conversations where learners of all levels are encouraged to use only the language in the comments, useful links and resources as well as answers to some obscure and specific questions.
Have a question of your own? Just post it! Any of the nearly 50k members of this sub will be happy to help.
Anki is definitely the best of the best when it comes to general flashcard apps. It’s open-source, fully extensible and easy to customize. You can even embed audio, images and video into your flashcards.
While it sounds like something out of a sci-fi novel, memory hacking is a real thing. But it doesn’t involve any strange technology or brain surgery. Rather, it uses innovative methods that take advantage of the brain’s own peculiar ways.
Anki uses one of the most popular methods of memory hacking: Spaced Repetition Software, also known as SRS. This involves showing a person a large amount of repeating information on flashcards, over a medium to long period of time.
You’ll see difficult words more frequently and words that you know best will appear less often. SRS enables a user to remember large amounts of information and store it successfully in their long term memory. You’ve probably guessed it already, but that makes Anki incredibly useful when it comes to learning Chinese characters.
You can create your own flashcards or browse the user-made decks for a powerful and ready-to-use Chinese learning tool.
This is one of those rare tools that every level of learner should have as part of their toolkit. No matter how advanced you get, you’ll still come across unfamiliar characters or words that you’ll want to study.
Chinese Dictionaries for Honing Reading and Vocab Skills
Let’s face the awkward truth: Chinese dictionaries are some of the most arcane and user-unfriendly study tools ever made. Being able to look up an unknown character or word requires a significant amount of Chinese knowledge, including stroke order rules, radical lists and phonetic elements—things a beginner simply doesn’t know.
Luckily, there’s Pleco. Available for both iOS and Android, this app shows the vast potential that apps have for anyone learning Chinese.
Why is this, you might ask? Because they’re so versatile.
Know how a character is pronounced? Do a pinyin search. Know what it looks like but don’t know its stroke order? Then just draw it with the touch pad. Recognize a radical? Search through all characters that incorporate it.
And once you’ve found a character or word, you can then see other words that use the same characters, allowing you to build on your knowledge thematically by learning associated words.
Hear us out with this one.
Most people know that Google Translate isn’t exactly the best of the best when it comes to translating Chinese. In their defense, it’s a pretty difficult thing to do! Because it’s so different from Germanic and Latin languages, a precise translation from Chinese isn’t always possible.
Still, we included Google Translate on this list for two of its functions: the handwriting lookup tool and the photo lookup tool.
The handwriting tool allows you to physically draw out a Chinese character that you’d like to translate, and this feature is surprisingly accurate.
The photo lookup feature allows you to take a photo or video of a physical object with Chinese characters and get a quick translation. That one will definitely come in handy when you decide to travel to China or Taiwan!
Say you have a script or a speech written entirely in Chinese characters and your comprehension skills aren’t the best. With this tool, you can do a massive translation from Chinese characters to pinyin in a matter of seconds.
Chinese Converter also has a ton of other super useful Mandarin tools you can check out from the bar at the top of the page, including stroke order animations, writing practice sheets and other types of text conversion.
Chinese Learning Tools for Speaking Practice
First and foremost, this app is a way to connect with native Chinese speakers. That alone makes it a valuable tool. You can make friends and have somebody around to speak Mandarin with to improve your fluency (and help them improve their fluency in your native language).
HelloTalk is also a pretty powerful correction tool. You can correct your partner’s vocabulary and grammar in the conversation and they can do the same for you. This is great for catching mistakes in real time.
Just about any level of learner can benefit from this app, but beginners will find that it’s really great for correcting newbie mistakes early on.
italki is an online language tutor site for just about any language. You can look for a language exchange partner and help each other learn. Or you can find a native Chinese tutor on the site and get one-on-one lessons from them on your time.
The lessons are highly customizable and you only pay per lesson, so you don’t have to worry about wasting a ton of money on a full course if you aren’t satisfied.
It’s versatile and easy to use, and its online and per-lesson nature makes it easy to fit into even the busiest schedule.
Chinese Learning Tools for Listening and Pronunciation Practice
If you’re learning Mandarin Chinese outside of a classroom or without a tutor, you may find yourself struggling to pronounce certain words correctly. Forvo can help with that.
Simply copy and paste a Chinese word or phrase into the search box and select “pronounce.” You’ll be presented, in many cases, with multiple pronunciations of the word in audio files from different fluent speakers.
Since many words and phrases have a few different samples from different people, this is also a great way to hear some variety in Chinese pronunciation.
It’s pretty obvious to beginner learners that pronouncing Chinese words is really difficult.
Luckily, Standard Mandarin’s Chinese Pronunciation app is here to help. With this app, you get to listen to all pinyin sounds, learn more in-depth about why certain words are pronounced a certain way and view a physical guide to pronouncing difficult words.
This app is free to download for iOS users, but you’ll have to make a purchase in order to access their full library of words.
We get it: When compared to other languages, listening in Chinese is much harder than it should be. Knowing just which of the hundred meanings of the syllable shi was just said, or which of the myriad of Chinese dialect accents the speaker has, makes listening a lot more difficult than almost any other part of Chinese learning.
What’s more, most common Chinese courses have audio tapes with mind-numbingly boring content, making listening practice a chore.
Luckily, there’s a vast repository of Chinese language video content online, hosted on Chinese video-sharing sites Youku and Tudou. Functioning in similar ways to YouTube, these sites enable someone without access to Chinese TV to watch a huge amount of Chinese language programming.
Language lessons, TV series and so-called “Micro Movies” can all be found with relatively little requisite Chinese knowledge.
What’s more, as with most Chinese video programming, videos on these sites more often than not come with Chinese character subtitles. This means that not only will you have assistance with deciphering unfamiliar spoken words, but you’ll also have the advantage of learning new characters, too.
One great way to brush up on your listening and comprehension skills is to try out Chinese audiobooks. Beginners may find this is a little too difficult to benefit from, but intermediate and advanced learners can certainly improve their skills with this handy library of public domain audiobooks in Chinese.
Just go to “Listen,” then “Language,” and scroll down to select “Chinese.” You’ll be taken to a list of more than 400 books with download links.
Chinese Learning Tools to Supercharge Your Browser
Chrome extensions are incredibly handy for learning Chinese and writing long documents in Chinese characters. This Chinese-English dictionary add-on is simply one of the best you’ll find.
After the super quick installation process, simply hover your mouse over a particular word in Chinese. A pop-up window will display the traditional and simplified pinyin and an in-depth definition.
While all levels of learner can certainly benefit from having this extension around, it’s especially useful for intermediate and advanced Chinese learners who have to write or decipher long essays in Chinese for their courses. With it, you can recognize and define unfamiliar characters in a flash.
Like Zhongwen, Flewent is an incredibly useful Chrome extension.
Where Zhongwen helps define and explain specific Chinese characters in your browser, Flewent replaces random chunks of text in English with Chinese.
It’ll definitely seem a bit weird at first, but consider how much time you spend reading on social media and other places online. By switching a percentage of words from English to Chinese, you’ll be forced to look at context clues and other language tools to understand those new words. It’s a pretty incredible piece of technology!
Chinese Games for Fun Learning
This resource has a library of video and audio lessons, vocabulary help and even lessons for kids, but one feature that’s not to be overlooked is the game and quiz section.
Through interactive activities like multiple-choice questions, matching games and even a Snakes and Ladders-style game, you can learn vocabulary words like family and direction words and even hone your pronunciation.
For instance, the Four Tone Memory Game will help you master the four tones of the Chinese language. Just match the sound to its written depiction for a fun way to remember these tones.
These exercises and games are a fun way for beginners to memorize new words and concepts!
This entertaining game app will definitely help out learners who have a hard time focusing.
Available in app or browser form, this handy game is as cute as it is functional. Ninchanese essentially brings you a game-based curriculum that teaches vocabulary, intuitive sentence building, speaking skills and high-speed Chinese writing.
The storyline is fun and you learn a lot about Chinese culture along the way.
You can play this game with limited access for free but there are various subscription options for premium content.
Even if you don’t actively use each one of these Chinese learning tools, you’ll certainly find at least a handful that’s perfect for your needs.
Good luck out there!
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn Chinese with real-world videos.