Chatbots have been a trend for as long as this old writer can recall.
Remember in the early 2000s when everyone was using Cleverbot to kill some time?
Ever tried thinking of the most obscure character or concept in existence to try stumping the AI game Akinator?
Artifical intelligence is fun (and a little terrifying) but it can be used for so much more than just entertainment. AI, specifically AI chatbots and apps, can also be used to learn a new language.
While sitting in a physical classroom with trained teachers and a group of peers to practice with is definitely still one of the best ways to learn Mandarin Chinese, language software and applications that teach the language are becoming more and more advanced and helpful.
AI chatbots are just one of many ways you can use tech to boost new language skills, but for reasons we’ll get into below, you may want to put them towards the top of your resource list.
We put together a list of four super useful AI chatbot apps that any learner at any level can use to practice their Mandarin Chinese.
But first, how do these apps actually help learners improve their Mandarin language skills?
How Can Chatbots Help Me Learn Chinese?
- Some chatbots have AI specially designed to teach Mandarin. It may seem a bit strange communicating with an AI chatbot, but many chatbot apps are crafted specifically to improve your language skills. And even those that aren’t intended for learners can be helpful, especially for advanced learners.
- Whether or not a chatbot is designed to teach Mandarin, you can easily use it as a supplement to a main learning program like FluentU. FluentU is a more complete, entirely customizable way of applying a tech-based approach to your Chinese skills.
- It’s like having a Mandarin tutor without the need to actually hire a living tutor. Think of it as having a Mandarin teacher or possibly a native Mandarin-speaking friend available at all times to teach you Chinese, with no scheduling conflicts. Sure, an AI chatbot won’t have the personality and experience that a living breathing tutor can provide, but they’re a very useful alternative if you don’t want to rearrange your schedule to meet with a teacher.
- Many of these chatbots are lesson-based, meaning you’ll do much more than just chat with AI in Mandarin. Some of these apps are simply chat-based, meaning you communicate with an AI chatbot in something similar to an SMS setting. However, many of them are lesson-based or offer Mandarin lessons as part of the app.
4 Mandarin-teaching Chatbots to Help You Learn Chinese
We’ll go over all the deets about these great chatbots, including their cost, how they work and what makes each of them uniquely useful for improving one’s Mandarin skills.
一海科技 (yī hǎi kē jì) Chatbot
一海科技 (yī hǎi kē jì — One Sea Technology) offers a chatbot in the form of a basic AI chatting app for Mandarin learning. It may be basic, but it’s still very useful. This 100% free app is perfect for all levels of Mandarin, as you can control the conversation and keep it at the level of fluency you’re comfortable with.
It’s simple to use: Either type out a message in Chinese (or English if you’re a beginner) or use the voice recording function to chat with the bot. The conversation is surprisingly fluid for such a simple AI system and it’s super practical for practicing conversational Chinese in your free time. You can even select from over a dozen different chatbot voices and dialects and adjust speaking speed.
The 一海科技 Chatbot is available for Android devices.
小冰 (xiǎo bīng)
微软小冰 (wēi ruǎn xiǎo bīng — Microsoft Little Ice), a.k.a. Xiaoice, is a Microsoft-designed artificial intelligence chatbot initially designed to market to Chinese users of the social media service Weibo. While it wasn’t designed specifically for teaching Chinese to native English speakers, this app is extremely useful for advanced Mandarin learners.
This chatbot has the most basic chatbot features possible. It’s entirely text-based, and only 汉字 (hàn zì — Chinese characters) can be used to “talk” to Microsoft Little Ice. The chatbot will learn about the person conversing with it and will be able to have more fluid, natural conversations over time.
This chatbot is a wonderful source for advanced learners who want to improve their hanzi skills as well as their general reading skills. If you want to be able to actually text someone in Mandarin, this app is worth trying.
Xiaoice is free to use and available on multiple platforms, including Weibo and Youku.
We’ve written about Mondly a few times here at FluentU, and for good reason. This language learning app is half-chatbot, half-videogame.
The app is loaded with features, one being the obvious chat-with-AI function to improve fluency. Mondly also provides daily lessons, an online dictionary, speech recognition technology, an Augmented Reality feature and much more. The more you “play” the game on Mondly by doing lessons and practicing with the AI chatbot, the further you progress through the app and gain advancements.
If you tend to find language learning apps boring and need something with a bit more entertainment value, you should definitely give Mondly a shot.
All levels of learners can benefit from using Mondly, as one can easily set their current learning level before trying the app out.
Mondly is available in the iTunes App store and Google Play store. It’s free to use, but premium features are available.
Eggbun is an app promoted as “an automated language tutor in your pocket!” This language learning chatbot can teach learners Korean, Japanese and Mandarin Chinese.
Not only is the interface of this app super adorable, but it’s packed with features as well. For no cost, you can enjoy Eggbun’s word quiz features, listen to native speaker audio clips to help with listening skills and learn about different Chinese cultural facts. The main feature, of course, is the chatbot feature.
This chatbot is set up in a typical SMS chat setting, where you can answer the chatbot’s questions in English, 拼音 (pīn yīn — Chinese romanized characters) or hanzi. It’s somewhat lesson-based in that the chatbot will start off with easier pinyin-based phrases in the conversation and work up towards more advanced phrases.
Eggbun may not be the best software to use as your only means for learning Chinese, but it is an excellent (and fun) supplementary learning resource. And if you want an app that’s more aesthetically pleasing, Eggbun is a great one to try.
This chatbot is ideal for beginner and intermediate learners, as advanced learners may be a bit disappointed by the lack of advanced conversation.
Eggbun for Chinese is currently available on iPhone devices.
Chinese chatbots are a great way to practice your Mandarin outside of traditional learning methods.
We’re sure you’ll find at least one awesome chatbot on this list that you’ll use for much of your Mandarin learning journey!
And One More Thing...
If you want to continue learning Chinese with interactive and authentic Chinese content, then you'll love FluentU.
FluentU naturally eases you into learning Chinese language. Native Chinese content comes within reach, and you'll learn Chinese as it's spoken in real life.
FluentU has a wide range of contemporary videos—like dramas, TV shows, commercials and music 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.
FluentU's Learn Mode turns 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 vocabulary. It customizes quizzes to focus on areas that need attention and reminds you when it’s time to review what you’ve learned. You have a 100% personalized experience.
Start using FluentU on the website with your computer or tablet or, better yet, download the FluentU app from the iTunes or Google Play store.
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.