Vocabulary is the foundation of any language.
After all, you’re reading this right now, aren’t you?
Congratulations! You’re using your English vocabulary knowledge at this very moment.
We can’t deny that understanding grammar, context and sentence structure is crucial in any language. But nothing is more important than vocabulary.
All Mandarin learners should study tones, grammar, 拼音 (pīn yīn) — Chinese romanization and 汉字 (hàn zì) — Chinese characters, but that doesn’t mean you should stop memorizing vocabulary words.
Vocabulary is one of the few aspects of learning Chinese that you’ll be confronting even once you’ve become fluent. No matter what, eventually you’ll find yourself stumped by an unfamiliar vocab word!
We created a great list of for you to discover helpful Chinese vocabulary builder activities online. But how exactly can these games help you reach your vocabulary goals?
Why Use a Chinese Vocabulary Builder?
- Chinese vocabulary builder activities help you memorize new or difficult vocabulary words. No matter what level of learner you are, there will always be a time when you run into a word that leaves you puzzled. This is just a result of learning a complex language! A vocabulary builder game, activity or video can broaden your vocabulary skills and familiarize you with difficult Chinese words.
- Many of these Chinese vocabulary builders are simple and easy to use, making them excellent tools to add to your daily study plan. Amidst the courses and lessons and note-taking and practice, your Mandarin daily study plan probably gets a bit boring at times. Why not add in something different, like a vocabulary builder game, to spice things up?
- Most of these activities are based on learning levels and HSK vocabulary words, so you know you’re learning the right vocabulary for your particular learning level. The HSK (Chinese Proficiency Test) is made up of six different levels of Mandarin proficiency. Each test includes its own set of Mandarin vocabulary words that you’ll be quizzed on. If you want to prep for the HSK or just want to improve your vocabulary skills, many of these vocabulary builders are based on the HSK system.
Brick by Brick: 5 Chinese Vocabulary Builders to Create a Strong Language Foundation
Most of the resources on this list are games or activities, but FluentU is a little different.
FluentU takes real-world videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons.
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.
FluentU's quizzes turn every video into a language learning lesson. You can always swipe left or right to see more examples for the word you're learning.
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!
Some vocabulary words from FluentU’s videos:
- 现在 (xiàn zài) — now, presently
- 趁 (chèn) — to take advantage of
- 在 (zài) — located at or existing in
- 世界 (shì jiè) — the world
- 没有 (méi yǒu) — have not
This vocabulary game is just one of many Flash games for learning Mandarin from Digital Dialects.
Learners who love simplicity and prefer to play Chinese vocabulary builder games on their laptop rather than through a smartphone app will definitely enjoy this vocabulary game.
To play, simply locate the “vocabulary” section accompanied by a picture of a bicycle and click to begin playing. There are multiple game options to choose from, such as “pinyin with audio” or “Chinese characters without audio.” Select your preference to begin playing. Many of the vocabulary words in this game are very simple, so it would best suit beginner learners.
All of the Flash games from Digital Dialects are 100% free to play in-browser.
Example words from Digital Dialects:
- 铅笔 (qiān bǐ) — pencil
- 瓶 (píng) — bottle
- 鸟 (niǎo) — bird
- 小船 (xiǎo chuán) — boat
- 花 (huā) — flower
Chinese Vocabulary Builder
This in-browser Flash game from 101 Languages is designed specifically for beginners—but intermediate and advanced learners will appreciate the focus on hanzi and some of the more difficult vocabulary words. Beginners can definitely benefit from this Chinese vocabulary builder’s in-depth list of vocabulary words divvied up between dozens of categories.
It’s simple to play. Select a lesson from the list (you’ll have to enable Flash beforehand) and click on a specific English word. You’ll be shown the hanzi for the word along with an image. You can quiz yourself on the characters you’ve studied per category, as well.
Some example words from Chinese Vocabulary Builder:
- 午安 (wǔ ān) — Good afternoon
- 银行 (yín háng) — bank
- 厂家 (chǎng jiā) — factory
- 男朋友 (nán péngyǒu) — boyfriend
- 儿子 (ēr zi) — son
Chinese Visual Vocabulary Builder
Visual learners know that just studying plain ol’ words definitely isn’t ideal. Luckily, there’s a Chinese vocabulary builder designed just for you!
This app from Microsoft is based on a unique learning method from the publisher Jourist Verlags GmbH.
Not only does Chinese Visual Vocabulary Builder teach you vocabulary words, it also focuses on spoken phrases. If you’re trying to learn Chinese for a business trip or vacation in a Mandarin-speaking country, this app is worth checking out.
The game is simple to play and is more of a simple flashcard game than anything, but it’s packed with a lot of images to help you properly associate hanzi and pinyin with the correct definition. You can also select different categories and genres to fit your needs.
The only downside to this app is that you have to organically progress through the beginner flashcard levels in order to reach vocabulary words that would best suit intermediate and advanced learners. But there’s nothing wrong with brushing up on the easy stuff, right?
Chinese Visual Vocabulary Builders costs $9.99 in the Microsoft store, but we think the price of a burger and fries is definitely worth this handy app.
Sample words and phrases from Chinese Visual Vocabulary Builder:
- 您能给我您的地址吗? (nín néng gěi wǒ nín dì dì zhǐ ma?) — May I have your address?
- 黄瓜 (huáng guā) — cucumber
- 恭喜！(gōng xǐ!) — Congratulations!
- 当然 了! (dāng rán le!) — Of course!
- 不是 (bù shì) — no
If you’re taking a traditional Chinese course, this vocabulary builder is definitely worth checking out. Not only is it great as a flashcard application and Chinese vocab matching game, but you can upload vocabulary lists that your Chinese professor may have sent you digitally for study. You can also manually look up Chinese vocab words that you need to memorize to build your own custom vocabulary builder games.
Scroll down to the bottom of the page to find some popular vocabulary lists used by learners around the world. To play the matching game, simply drag and drop the hanzi card into its respective pinyin or English translation card.
Some example words from Chinese Vocab Matching Game from Arch Chinese:
- 小 (xiǎo) — small
- 人 (rén) — man or person
- 我 (wǒ) — I or me
- 报纸 (bào zhǐ) — newspaper
- 穿 (chuān) — to wear
Ready to kick your Mandarin vocab skills up a notch? We suggest giving all of these Chinese vocabulary builder resources a shot before settling on just one or two to add to your Mandarin study plan.
学业進步 (xué yè jìn bù) — May your studies progress!
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.