best-apps-to-learn-mandarin-chinese

20 Shockingly Good Apps to Learn Mandarin Chinese in 2021

These days, there’s an app for just about everything.

So it isn’t a surprise at all that there are apps for learning Mandarin Chinese.

But, you might be wondering, can they really move your studies forward?

They sure can!

Apps are incredibly useful if you know what your goals are, and get the right app to fit those goals.

Chinese learning apps make an awesome addition to your learning toolbox, right alongside your Chinese TV shows, textbooks, songs and movies.

Read on to learn about 20 of the best Chinese learning apps in 2021, no matter what your budget or learning needs are!

20 Shockingly Good Apps to Learn Mandarin Chinese in 2021

Developing an app is easy, developing a kick-ass one is not. Here are some free and paid apps that you should consider adding to your tool belt.

Anki

Website | iOS | Android

best apps for learning chinese

Price: Free for Android, one-time fee for iOS

Best for: Acing your vocabulary

6 best apps for learning mandarin chinese

If you’ve already begun your Chinese learning journey, you’ve probably realized by now that some words are easier for you to remember than others. If you’re looking for a way to learn those trouble words and build your vocabulary effectively, then Anki is the app for you.

Anki is a powerful and effective flashcard program that’s multi-platform, open-source and free (though the iOS version does have a fee). This means that you can study Chinese on any device where Anki is available.

Anki uses a Spaced Repetition System, also known as SRS. It detects how well you know a word, then shows it to you again at optimal times to help you learn it permanently.

It’s an incredibly powerful program, allowing a high degree of customization. This also makes it a bit intimidating. But don’t worry! If you don’t want to make your own flashcard deck, Anki also has a huge user base of passionate learners, many of whom have made entire amazing decks available for anyone to use. You’re sure to find something among those to suit your learning goals.

Pleco

Website | iOS | Android

best apps for learning chinese

Price: Free, option to pay for more features

Best for: Looking up words and characters, even offline

6 best apps for learning mandarin chinese

Every learner, from beginner to advanced, would benefit from a dictionary and translator app, and Pleco is one of the best.

Besides being a powerful dictionary with native audio pronunciations, Pleco has a plethora of additional features that make it indispensable for learners. The dictionary can be used offline, and it allows you to look up characters using a variety of methods: you can type in the word, draw it with your finger on the screen or even take a picture with your device’s camera! You can also search for words using character, pinyin or a combination of both.

Pleco has a few more tricks for learners. It has a built-in flashcard system that also allows you to upload your own flashcards, and it lets you instantly look up any word in documents and text files (though how robust this system is varies based on device type). If you want a reliable dictionary app to keep on hand, Pleco’s been around for over 20 years—you know you’re getting a quality product here.

 

Skritter

Website | iOS | Android

best apps for learning chinese

Price: Subscription-based, free trial available

Best for: Learning and writing Chinese characters

6 best apps for learning mandarin chinese

This is an app for those of you looking to get serious about your Chinese writing. The app uses a handwriting recognition system to allow learners to actually write the characters they’re learning.

With Skritter, you’re not only learning how to properly write each Chinese character with the correct stroke order (though you definitely get that, too). You’re also learning how to properly pronounce each word through audio pronunciations and tone gestures—swipe and tap to choose the right tone, and simultaneously learn how to write, read and pronounce each character.

Skritter also has video lessons, leaderboards to get you motivated and progress-tracking tools so you can see how far you’ve come. You can also race the clock in the “Time Attack” mode, read example sentences and more features designed to optimize your learning across the board.

Zizzle

Website | Android

best apps for learning chinese

Price: Subscription-based, option to pay to unlock full features and additional packs

Best for: Writing Chinese characters

best apps for learning chinese

Zizzle is an app that teaches Chinese characters through short stories and visuals.

Currently, there are over 1000 characters available in the app, of which about 600 have charming and memorable illustrations to help you remember them. These Chinese characters correspond to the most common characters in each of the HSK levels. 

Each Chinese character is taught through a helpful story, often one including the pronunciation of the character in it, as well as corresponding audio, stroke order and the meaning of the character (often in relation to the meaning of said character).

HelloChinese

Website | iOS | Android

best apps for learning chinese

Price: Free basic plan, option to pay to unlock additional features

Best for: Gamified, all-encompassing Chinese learning

best apps for learning chinese

HelloChinese is an all-around Chinese learning app that boasts over eight million downloads worldwide. The app focuses on the four pillars of language learning: reading, writing, listening and speaking. This makes it a great all-around app for learning a large amount of Chinese.

Its structure is similar to other gamified language learning apps, but the depth of its lessons and its all-arouencompassing functionality make this app quite special within the gamification sphere.

Lessons with HelloChinese have a structured curriculum to follow. They revolve around real-world conversations and other listening activities with transcriptions and English translations. Lesson topics range from family, food and numbers to more advanced lessons related to education, the workplace and the world. The app touts the ability to support learners through all six levels of the HSK.

Both traditional and simplified Chinese characters are supported in the app, and the lessons have Standard Mandarin audio recorded by native speakers. Further, learners can use the included speech recognition to help with tricky Chinese pronunciation and tones, and there’s an interface for in-app handwriting to practice writing Chinese characters.

Chinese Skill

iOS | Android

best apps for learning chinese

Price: Free, option to pay for more features

Best for: Learning with games

6 best apps for learning mandarin chinese

The Chinese Skill app makes learning fun through games and interactive exercises. More impressively, it does so at the HSK 3 and 4 level—in other words, the intermediate level. That said, the app is designed to be useful for complete beginners, too, so it’s a great option to take you from the beginner all the way through to mastery of the intermediate level.

Chinese Skill features a well-rounded curriculum designed by expert educators. You’ll learn over 400 grammar points, 300 sentence patterns, 1000 important words and over 1500 essential characters.

But don’t be alarmed at the high numbers! The app will ease you into all this information through games, native-speaker video and audio recordings with the option to slow down playback, character writing practice, speaking exercises powered by speech recognition software and more.

You’re also able to customize your learning, as characters are presented in both traditional and simplified forms, and you have the option to enable or disable pinyin as you wish.

Standard Mandarin

Website | iOS

best apps for learning chinese

Price: Free, option to remove ads for a fee

Best for: Studying pinyin and tones

6 best apps for learning mandarin chinese

This app specializes in getting your pronunciation right, and even tells you how to use your tongue and facial muscles to make the correct sounds—so you can really work at getting rid of your foreign accent. Remember, Chinese is a tonal language, so mispronunciations can easily lead to miscommunication!

With the Standard Mandarin app, you get facial anatomy charts and illustrations to take the guesswork out of making the right sound. All you have to do is pick the sound you want to hear (written in pinyin), and you’re presented with information and images for all the different tones for that sound.

The only real downside of this program is the price. Although you can use it for free, in order to see the animated visualizations for each pronunciation, you’ll need to pay a fee. Since you’re only getting pronunciation information, and absolutely no translations, vocabulary learning aspects or any other language-learning features, the price at the time of this writing seems quite high. But it would be worth the fee if this is exactly what you’re looking for.

Speechling

Website | iOS | Android

best apps for learning chinese

Price: Free, option to pay for unlimited tutoring

Best for: Practicing native Chinese pronunciation

best apps for learning chinese

Speechling is a nonprofit app that solely focuses on one language skill—speaking. If you want to sound like a native right away, Speechling takes your attention away from vocabulary lists and grammar rules, placing emphasis on pronouncing common phrases and sentences like a true Chinese speaker.

Created by Ivy League and Google alumni, Speechling is equipped with spaced repetition and other unique algorithms to help you reach conversational fluency. But technology is no substitute for real Chinese speakers, which is why the app includes human coaching. Best of all, all this tech and personal coaching are available for free to break down language barriers between students and native speakers.

The app contains a variety of language activities to improve your Chinese conversational skills: Dictation Practice, Listening Practice, Flashcards, Fill in the Blank and an Audio Dictionary. Each of these tools and activities is packed with thousands of common sentences voiced by professional native-speaking actors, so the content is relevant to your learning needs. These sentences are also recorded by both genders.

Here’s how it works. First, you’ll listen to the native audio and then you’ll repeat it back in a recording. Within 24 hours, a coach will analyze your recording for pronunciation, rhythm and intonation, as well as other aspects like word choice and grammar. All of your recordings and feedback will be compiled in your audio journal.

If you want a sneak peek of the app before downloading it, you can check out their free language learning tools on the website.

FluentU

Website | iOS | Android

Price: Subscription-based, free trial available

Best for: Real-world immersion

6 best apps for learning mandarin chinese

Wouldn’t you just love to learn Chinese with actual authentic content? With FluentU, you can.

The program takes videos created by native Mandarin Chinese speakers and makes them approachable to learners at any level! How is that possible? Check it out:

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:

learn-mandarin-chinese-with-videos

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.

learn-mandarin-chinese-with-interactive-subtitled-movie-clips

From the description page, you can access interactive transcripts under the Dialogue tab, or review words and phrases under Vocab.

learn-mandarin-chinese-with-popular-songs

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. practice-mandarin-chinese-with-adaptive-quizzes

The best part is that FluentU always keeps track of your learning. It customizes quizzes to focus on areas that need attention and reminds you when it’s time to review what you’ve 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!

Du Chinese—Mandarin Study

Website | iOS | Android

best apps for learning chinese

Price: Subscription-based, some features available for free

Best for: Reading in Chinese

best apps for learning chinese

Du Chinese is an app that teaches you Mandarin through stories. “Du” refers to the character (dú) which means “to read,” and the app encourages you to do exactly that to see how words and grammar constructions appear in literature, ultimately improving your Chinese reading comprehension.

All these stories have been written and recorded by native speakers, accompanied by professional translations. This ensures that you learn the language through real Chinese texts and not through Chinese-translated literature.

Every story is available in Simplified and Traditional Mandarin and clearly marked with the appropriate HSK level.

Beginners (HSK 1 and 2) start with really simple texts with basic vocabulary. The texts in the level are relatable to so they’re accessible to complete beginners and elementary learners, with some fun stories about everything from exchange students in China o cat adoption stories from the perspective of the cat. 

Stories for intermediate learners (HSK 3 and 4) are still relevant to everyday life, but they’re longer and have some surprising twists and turns to give them a bit more of a challenge. These stories also have a stronger focus on grammar. Learners at this stage are encouraged to turn off the pinyin and English translations at least during their first read.

As for advanced learners (HSK 5 and 6), they can read classical Chinese texts, such as poems and other literature from Tang Dynasty, known to be the golden age for Chinese arts and culture.

The Chairman’s Bao

Website | iOS | Android

best apps for learning chinese

Price: Subscription-based, free trial available

Best for: Reading practice with the news

 

The Chairman’s Babest apps for learning chineseo is an app that uses real-world news articles to create an immersion environment for Chinese learners of multiple levels. In fact, the app is used by over 131,000 people as well as in over 250 universities and institutions around the world, and it’s not hard to understand why.

The app primarily features over 7000 graded-reader lessons written as news articles found on the internet. For example, you can read an article about AI in China monitoring students’ behavior or a 107-year-old woman’s secret to a long life.

The Chairman’s Bao has lessons available for all HSK levels from HSK 1 (beginner) to HSK 6+ (advanced). It publishes 1600 new articles per year, so you’ll never run out of content!

During a lesson, learners can click on any word for a translation into English. Authentic Chinese audio is available for many lessons, and it’s spoken slowly and clearly. Each lesson also features grammar notes and vocabulary lists specific to the news article.

LingQ

Website | iOS | Android

best apps for learning chinese

Price: Free basic plan, option to pay to unlock full features

Best for: Flashcard creation through reading

best apps for learning chinese

LingQ is a program available for computer and mobile devices that revolves around learning languages through the creations of “LingQs.” Essentially, a LingQ is an unknown word that gets converted into a digital flashcard. LingQs can then be periodically reviewed, intentionally or through reading and listening to subsequent Chinese material, until they become a “known word” (ie. until you remember what they mean).

One of LingQ’s biggest strengths, aside from its effective way to teach new words and phrases, is its large library of Chinese written content with authentic corresponding audio recorded by real Chinese speakers. There’s built-in content developed by the app itself, but new lessons are added by its users daily, so the collection is always growing organically.

LingQ’s Chinese lessons cover an array of topics, and they’re sorted by level. There are six levels from Beginner 1 to Advanced 2, which correspond nicely to the six HSK levels. You can import your own written and audio content such as blog posts and news articles so that you learn Chinese with material that truly interests you. Further, you can save all the audio files from previously studied materials as a playlist for on-the-go listening practice.

ChinesePod

Website | iOS

best apps for learning chinese

Price: Subscription-based

Best for: Self-guided video lessons

best apps for learning chinese

ChinesePod is a program that uses over 4000 video and podcast lessons to teach Mandarin Chinese. In fact, ChinesePod touts not only authentic Chinese content that’s meant to immerse the learner, but also an unstructured approach that allows learners to choose which lessons they want to complete. In other words, there’s no rigid order that lessons need to be done in: Simply choose your level of Chinese and peruse the numerous lessons available.

Each lesson revolves around a dialogue or some other spoken Chinese component. Next, there’s a breakdown of the dialogue or spoken component, allowing learners to really understand the structures at play within the Chinese sentences and conversations.

In addition to this base video or audio, learners also have access to downloadable vocabulary lists and grammar notes. There are translations into English available for each lesson as well as an extensive pinyin section.

Unknown Chinese words can be added to the “Decks” feature (as flashcards) and reviewed later to help the vocabulary stick. Further, there’s a video course called “Say it Right” (S.I.R. for short) that allows learners to master all the tones in Mandarin as well as pronunciation.

It’s worth noting that, despite having excellent learning material on their website, the app version of this ChinesePod has very low reviews and users report many issues. If you’re going to use this one, stick to the web-based version.

ChineseClass101

Website | iOS | Android

best apps for learning chinese

Price: Subscription-based, some features available for free

Best for: A structured online course

best apps for learning chinese

ChineseClass101 is a language learning program and app from the famed Innovative Language, the company behind the Pod101 learning programs and apps series. In addition to Chinese, Innovative Language has developed in-depth programs for learning other languages such as Hindi, Korean and Russian.

Like its Pod101 companions, each lesson from ChineseClass101 is based around a video or audio clip (often recorded as a podcast). These clips often include a short scene or conversation in Chinese. Such scenes include an array of topics relating to school, work, family and everyday life. After the video or audio clips, grammar and vocabulary notes are given as well as an opportunity for learners to practice what they’ve learned through short exercises or interactions on the lesson’s forum.

Lessons are also presented in a chronological order that makes it easier for learners to know what they should study next in relation to their current level of Chinese.

There are also videos and audio clips related to grammar or vocabulary topics. For example, you could find a lesson that details how to create the past tense in Chinese. (Hint: you don’t need to conjugate any verbs!) You can also find lessons that detail the most common ways to greet someone or the top 50 phrases to use in a Chinese conversation.

There’s plenty of free content available with an account and on ChineseClass101’s YouTube channel.

Ninchanese

Website | iOS | Android

best apps for learning chinese

Price: Subscription-based, some features available for free

Best for: Spaced repetition technology

best apps for learning chinese

Ninchanese is a full Chinese learning course with more than 1500 Mandarin lessons available for learners. Most lessons are gamified or have game-like components, making Ninchanese a stress-free and even fun way to learn the language.

Lessons focus on reading, writing, speaking and listening to Chinese. Many of these lessons include interactive stories and games, so learning new Chinese characters and structures is never dull. There are specific lessons for writing practice via sentence building, recording speech (with speech recognition on Chrome), practice through dialogue and vocabulary matching with English translations and pictures.

Best of all, Ninchanese allows learners to study all the way up to HSK 6 with a structured, easy-to-follow curriculum. In addition to its lessons, the app includes Spaced Repetition System (SRS) flashcards that make it easy to review vocabulary and know when new words need attention over others. And you can use what you love to help you learn, thanks to specialized courses that focus on topics like Chinese cuisine and learning Chinese through video games.

Further, learners can really challenge themselves with Ninchanese’s speed writing lessons where learners practice writing a sentence or multiple sentences containing learned vocabulary as fast as they can. For these activities, you write in Chinese characters, but there’s also pinyin available in Ninchanese’s lessons for quick reference.

Learn Chinese—Listening and Speaking

Android

best apps for learning chinese

Price: Free, option to upgrade to the pro version

Best for: Getting Chinese listening practice

best apps for learning chinese

This is an app that contains audio-based lessons mainly focusing on conversations. Through these day-to-day dialogues, you can learn vocabulary and grammar structures in context.

There are four levels (Basic, Elementary, Intermediate and Advanced), covering everything from basic greetings to socializing and business interactions. All audios come with transcripts so you can read while you listen to the dialogue, but if you really want to test your listening skills, you can hide the transcript and customize your translation settings.

If you find that the people in the audio are speaking too quickly, there’s a slow reading function to make sure you can still follow everything that’s being said. Also, the sentences are simultaneously highlighted in the transcript as the dialogue moves along.

Other than conversations, this app also has sections on common Chinese sentences, songs, news and short stories. All these sections demonstrate how the language manifests in different settings. There’s also a section for essential words if you’d like to focus on HSK prep.

Although the app may be slightly too advanced for complete beginners, Learn Chinese—Listening and Speaking is great for false beginners and self-motivated learners.

Tandem

Website | iOS | Android

best apps for learning chinese

Price: Free, option to pay for more features

Best for: Conversing with native Chinese speakers

best apps for learning chinese

Tandem is an app that gives you real-world practice with native speakers. This is absolutely necessary for Mandarin learners, given how different written Chinese is from verbal Chinese. Chinese text doesn’t indicate pronunciation, multiple characters can share the same pinyin and some characters can have multiple definitions and pinyin spellings!

That’s what a language partner is for: Tandem bridges that divide between written and verbal Chinese by letting you communicate with native speakers.

Overall, this app is far less intimidating than in-person exchanges in classrooms and even language meetups.

On this language exchange platform, you’ll be connected with fellow learners whose target language is your mother tongue, allowing you to learn from one another. Tandem is essentially a social networking app for language learners. It provides you with the opportunity to hone in on your tones and learn how to be a natural conversationalist in Chinese in a casual learning manner.

Tandem is built with in-app language tools to make sure your interactions with Chinese-speaking “pen pals” are as smooth as possible. Native speakers can provide corrections in your text, and you can also use the translator to convert their texts to English if you have trouble understanding them.

To get pronunciation practice, Tandem gives you the option to communicate via voice notes, audio and video calls.

Chinese Grammar

Android

best apps for learning chinese

Price: Free

Best for: Learning and understanding Chinese grammar

best apps for learning chinese

Chinese Grammar is one of several apps under the Ninchanese umbrella. Written by professional teachers, there are more than 100 grammar lessons on the app that guide you from beginner to advanced Chinese comprehension.

It’s essentially a portable grammar guide, but instead of those longwinded and boring explanations often found in textbooks, every grammar point on this app is explained in the simplest terms. This ensures that you can readily apply each structure to your daily speaking and writing practice. The content is also clearly laid out and easy to read.

Each lesson also includes a link to the Ninchanese app so you can learn about each grammar point in a gamified format. Just make sure you already have an account on Ninchanese to access these links.

The app is completely free to use, with no ads or need to sign up for an account. However, there are a couple of things you need to be wary of with Chinese Grammar: Other than the fact that it’s only available on Android devices, the lessons are only in Simplified Mandarin and only go up to HSK 5. Those who need to study HSK 6 vocabulary and grammar will need to look elsewhere for exam prep.

Daily Chinese

Website | iOS | Android

best apps for learning chinese

Price: Subscription-based, some features available for free

Best for: Studying advanced Chinese

best apps for learning chinese

Daily Chinese is the ultimate app for reaching advanced levels of Chinese proficiency. Primarily an app for growing your vocabulary, Daily Chinese has one of the largest, if not the largest, collections of characters for learning Mandarin.

To pass the HSK 6 exam, you’ll need to know 2,663 characters and 5,000 words. But with new levels currently in the works, advanced learners will need an app like Daily Chinese, which contains over 9,000 characters for you to learn with the help of spaced repetition.

It also has the widest variety of word packs you’ll probably ever see in an app. From foundational topics like grammar and everyday language to niche categories such as Buddhism and industry-specific vocabulary, the range of subjects covered is huge. So no matter how obscure your interests or needs are, chances are that you’ll find all the right vocabulary packs to take your Mandarin to the next level.

There’s also a section for HSK vocabulary if you need extra help in that area.

The app keeps track of your progress, measuring the number of characters and words learned. It also notes the number of idioms learned, which are also included throughout the word packs.

HSK Online

Website | iOS | Android

best apps for learning chinese

Price: Free, option to upgrade for unlimited VIP access

Best for: HSK practice

best apps for learning chinese

HSK Online is the premier app for Chinese proficiency est practice. Although there are other apps out there that offer HSK word lists, HSK Online is by far the most thorough in terms of exam prep for all six levels, using previous exams and mock tests.

Other than HSK vocabulary, this app supplies over 300,000 exercises and practice questions that build on your listening, reading and writing skills. It’s not just about memorizing characters and words—it’s also about using the HSK vocab and formulating sentences, paragraphs and, eventually, essays.

The app is built on AI tech and other algorithms to review your progress and daily mistakes, customizing your study sessions to help you improve in your areas of weakness. In terms of feedback, you’ll be given detailed explanations of errors.

This app is free, but if you’re studying Chinese to advance your career, you might want to consider upgrading to a VIP account to help you ace your exams. To study at a Chinese university or work at a Chinese company, you’ll need to prove your competency through the HSK. Most institutions require at least an HSK 4 to study or work with them.

Why Learn Mandarin Chinese with Apps?

The first and most important reason to learn with apps is that you’re probably on the go and, guess what, so are apps. Whether or not you’re learning Chinese formally in a school, great apps enhance and speed up your learning.

And the best part? You’re using your time well! During long train and bus rides or while waiting in line at the bank, you’ll use spare moments to keep the learning going.

Apps are also great for people who travel and want to do some review without having to carry around heavy books. Plus, I personally find having a handy tool extremely useful for instant learning.

Let’s say you see an object and want to know how to say it in Chinese. A few swipes on a dictionary app would give you the answer right away, and learning it in a relevant real-world setting means you’ll probably remember it better.

So we know apps are useful, but what do we need to look out for when choosing an app?

What to Consider When Choosing a Chinese Learning App

Shopping for an app is not much different from shopping for a car or a coffee machine. There are just so many options in the market that you’re bound to get confused and annoyed if you start looking without first having an idea of what you’re looking for.

That’s why it’s so important to consider your budget, level and priorities before you go app hunting. Consider these factors:

  • Usability: Check out the app reviews to see if the program’s a joy or a pain to use. Some apps are also available offline, if that’s something you need. 
  • Learning actively: A Chinese language app shouldn’t be just a dead and dull translation tool. A good learning app, regardless of its key learning goals, should encourage you to think. This could be in the form of games, or simple question-and-answer.
  • Levels: Preferably, you should be able to choose settings that correspond to your own level. This helps to keep your learning structured, prevents you from getting overwhelmed (or underwhelmed) and inspires you to “level-up.”

The Secret to Getting the Most out of Your Chinese Learning Apps

So you now have a whole pack of Chinese learning apps and you’re ready to start. How do you get the most out of your apps?

The big secret is discipline.

When you first download an app, you get really obsessed with it, but then the magic often fades away. The best way to make your app learning sustainable is to set a minimum time commitment.

For example, spend 10 minutes studying flashcards on one app, then another 10 minutes in a grammar or video app learning how to actually use them. This may not seem like a lot, but if you do this every single day, you’ll get much better results than practicing for hours for a few days, and then getting an app burn-out and not opening them for weeks.

I also highly recommend not arming yourself with a hundred different apps and trying to use them all. Choose one area to focus on each month (or week, if you like), and download or purchase the apps that are specialized in that aspect.

 

And with that, pick your favorite Chinese learning app and turn your painful waiting times into learning opportunities!

If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn Chinese with real-world videos.

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