Do you work out?
Maybe you go to the gym with the aim to get swole (or at least stay fit).
Or maybe you jog around your block every morning for some light but effective cardio.
But do you work out your language skills on a daily basis, too?
Do you jog your memory now and then?
Help your brain stay fit by exercising it with Chinese flashcard apps.
Learning Chinese with flashcards is a pretty effective method to exercise your Mandarin learning muscle… as long as you use them right.
Research shows that flashcards are more effective when they’re spaced out at just the right intervals.
However, like choosing the right number of reps to include in each exercise set, it’s not always easy to tell what those intervals are.
Luckily, Chinese flashcards apps can take care of the spacing so you can focus on the learning. It’s a perfect match!
How to Learn Mandarin Chinese with Flashcard Apps
Since everything is digital these days, it makes sense that flashcards would evolve into an electronic format. And luckily for Mandarin learners, there’s a seemingly infinite wealth of Chinese flashcard apps available online.
But how do you use these apps, anyway?
Here are some tips:
- Study on your down-time. Most Chinese flashcard apps are meant to be used in short bursts. That means you can use them any time you have a few minutes free, like when you’re driving to work or when you’re on your lunch break.The beauty of having easily-accessible flashcard apps on hand is that you can whip them out whenever you want!
- Review challenging words. Most of the apps on our list below have a “save” feature where you can save certain vocabulary words. Use this feature to tag words that you’re struggling with to revisit them later.
- Don’t settle for just one. Each Chinese flashcard app has its strengths and weaknesses. But you’re not limited to using just one! You can always download more than one app so you can switch things up when you feel like your learning has stalled or if you find yourself getting bored with using the same program over and over.
One last thing to remember is that not all the apps available for download or purchase are worth your time (or precious phone storage space). How can you find the best apps for Chinese flashcard learning? Easy! Just read on to see our picks.
And if you do install an app and you don’t like it? No worries! Most of these apps are free. Just uninstall it and try the next one on the list.
Enough warm-ups; let’s get to the real brain-busting workout with our top 10 flashcard app picks!
10 Chinese Flashcard Apps to Build Your Mandarin Muscle
FluentU (Android | iOS)
Want to try authentic Chinese content but don’t feel confident enough in your skills? FluentU can help.
The learner-centric program makes authentic content approachable to learners no matter what level they are!
FluentU’s flashcards are a big aspect of the program. Flashcards show the word, definition, an associated image, example sentence and even other videos where you can find the word for even more context.
Discover new words as you watch videos thanks to the interactive subtitles and transcripts that come with each video. Then, use FluentU’s quizzes to asses how well you’ve learned each word. Best of all, the algorithm will keep track of your learning history and suggest activities and videos based on your progress.
It’s a 100% personalized experience!
Anki (Android | iOS)
Anki has made waves around the language-learning community. It’s certainly understandable why! The program is a learning giant, built specifically for studying with flashcards.
Although the iOS version will set you back a hefty sum, the Android and web versions of Anki are completely free.
Anki allows you to create your own flashcards and build decks with as much or as little detail as you’d like. It supports different languages, images and even audio.
Anki uses the concept of Spaced Repetition (SRS) to show you vocabulary words at the perfect intervals, reinforcing words you find challenging and showing mastered words only frequently enough to keep them in the forefront of your memory. It’s the perfect tool for crafting the ideal deck for your study needs.
If you’re not inclined to make your own flashcards, don’t worry: The community’s got your back. There are plenty of useful user-made Chinese flashcard decks, many of them massive in size, scope and content.
Not sure where to start? Try the “Chinese Beginner Sentences (Traditional and Simplified),” “Mandarin Chinese HSK 1-5 Vocabulary with Audio” or “Developing Chinese Fluency—Advanced Chinese Vocab” decks, depending on your current level.
Pleco (Android | iOS)
Pleco merges the concepts of a flashcard app and an English-Chinese dictionary. If you’re looking for a streamlined app that can provide easy lookup functions for language emergencies as well as flashcard decks for when you have free time, this is it.
The dictionary portion of the app lets you look up words through a powerful search engine that allows for pinyin, character and wildcard searches. You can also use the app’s photo and handwriting recognition software to check unknown words or even use the app to translate content on other apps on your phone.
You can even see stroke order diagrams for hanzi and a number of other goodies.
Pleco’s flashcard component is just as thorough, allowing you to import your own vocabulary lists and test yourself using SRS and exercises like fill-in-the-blank.
The free version of the app is severely limited but the full version is well worth the price.
TrainChinese (Android | iOS)
TrainChinese has a unique algorithm specifically geared toward learners, which takes intent into consideration.
For instance, imagine searching for “Chinese food” in Google. The search engine knows you’re probably looking for a quick meal in your neighborhood, not the history of Chinese food or a restaurant in a country you’ve never even been to.
Similarly, TrainChinese will take into consideration what you’re most likely trying to learn and show you results based on this information. Also like Google, the TrainChinese search engine will start showing results as soon as you start typing and suggest corrections if you make a spelling mistake, to ensure that you always find what you’re looking for.
The flashcard system on TrainChinese is also oriented toward learners. It uses SRS to ensure effective memorization, includes character animations and audio and allows you to organize cards into decks and even make study notes on them.
Switch between modes to prioritize character or vocab learning by displaying cards in Chinese, pinyin or English. Want to practice your writing, as well? Compare your character writing to the TrainChinese animation!
Best of all, your progress, decks and notes are saved to your device and synced to the website, so you can always continue learning from where you left off, no matter where you are.
Quizlet (Android | iOS)
Quizlet is a fantastic tool that can be used for so much more than just learning Mandarin Chinese. Need to memorize some key terms for a test at school? Want to learn the names and positions of the constellations? Quizlet is the perfect choice for basically anything that can be learned with flashcards.
Like Anki, you can access hundreds of user-made decks for various things, including Chinese. And like Anki, you can also just make your own personalized flashcards to review. If you’re a bit overwhelmed by Anki’s size and potential functions, Quizlet is the more user-friendly option.
Quizlet has different modes for learners, from the typical flashcard format, to writing, matching and audio exercises.
For a fee, you can purchase official Chinese learning decks or even collections of sets, like the Numbers & Animals Vocabulary collection, which features simplified Chinese, diagrams and text-to-speech functionality.
Memrise (Android | iOS)
Memrise started as a flashcard-based app, but it’s grown to be so much more. It’s designed to teach languages to people through the incentive of challenges and games with other users. The program still sticks to its roots, though, with a robust SRS-based flashcard functionality.
Use native speaker audio to learn each word or phrase, then get tested on your ability to write it from memory based on its definition or record and compare it to the native audio with the speech-recognition function.
Memrise also has user-made flashcard decks but these are currently in the process of being migrated to their own website and launching a dedicated Decks app. You can read more about the move and when to expect the new app on the Memrise website.
Learn Chinese Mandarin Words (Android | iOS)
If you’re a sucker for excellent aesthetically-pleasing design, you may want to check this flashcard option out.
This app is essentially one large deck that starts you out from absolute basics to advanced or complex characters. This compact app will teach you over 5,000 Mandarin words with their accompanying hanzi and pinyin. You can also access audio files from native speakers for each word.
If you make a mistake, the app will make note of the characters you struggled with and periodically review them with you.
The app breaks down characters in memorable ways and uses mini-games, targeted lessons and various test modes to help users learn the language effectively.
Learn Chinese Mandarin Words used to be completely free with no ads but now has several microtransactions an requires a fee to unlock the full product.
HSK 1-6 Flashcards (Android | iOS)
Rather than a single app, this collection is a series of programs. These Chinese flashcard apps from Handtechnics are divided up into six different Chinese Proficiency Test (HSK) levels. If you’re trying to study for the proficiency test, or you simply want a collection of vocabulary organized by difficulty, give these apps a spin.
The way it works is simple: A flashcard shows you a Chinese character, you try to remember its meaning, then you click on “reveal” to see if you got it right. Easy!
Each app includes more and more vocabulary words. Starting at 100 with HSK 1, you can progress through the levels to master over 4,800 words by HSK 6.
Simply select the developer’s name to see all the other levels available in this app series.
Don’t want to download six different apps? No problem. Learn Chinese Flashcards HSK (for Android and iOS), by the same developer, includes all six levels of the HSK for one price (plus, no ads!).
Mandarin Flash Cards (iOS)
Sometimes, it helps to go back to your roots. This Baby Cortex app does just that—the visuals and text of each card in this app deck are reminiscent of traditional elementary school flashcards that you likely used to learn English or your native language.
The functionality is brilliantly simple, showing nothing but the bare essentials. With each card, you get traditional and simplified Chinese, pinyin and English, as well as an audio pronunciation of the term.
The app also splits the words into different categories by theme, like food and animals.
Each pack requires a purchase and there’s no ability to make your own flashcards, so usage on this one is limited, but it’s a great starter app for learners who are complete beginners to the language.
Mandarin Flashcards for Kids (Android | iOS)
If you’re learning Mandarin and need a flashcard app that’s more visual and entertaining, this freebie is a great start.
Learn 450 words, split up into themed categories. The app comes with fun extras, like appropriate sound-effects for various cards (like a roar for a lion), as well as professionally recorded audio voice-overs. You can turn either on or off as you need.
Since it’s so kid-friendly and simple, this Chinese flashcard app is also best for complete beginners.
Whew! Take some deep breaths and drink some water—that was an intense brain workout session.
Hopefully, you’ve found at least one Chinese flashcard app that’ll live on your phone and help you sneak in some mind exercise whenever you have a moment.
Em Casalena is a published author, freelance writer and music columnist. They write about a lot of stuff, from music to films to language. (This post was co-written with Yuliya Geikhman.)
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn Chinese with real-world videos.