I’ve noticed a common theme in my FluentU blog posts: More often than not, I’m a sucker for learning Mandarin through incredibly easy means.
Who doesn’t love entertainment paired with education?
From reading books to watching television shows to browsing social media, absorbing Chinese media is a great way to brush up on your Mandarin reading and listening skills.
While those are all great “lazy” ways to learn Chinese, they can get a little boring after a while. Where’s the interaction?
Enter the Chinese video game: a fun, interactive and entertaining way to improve one’s Chinese.
But can playing Mandarin-language video games substantially help one actually learn the language? You might be surprised at their effectiveness!
How Can Video Games Help Me Learn Chinese?
- Like with any Chinese media, listening to and reading Chinese can help with listening skills and fluency. Learning Mandarin through classes and online courses is great, but you might find yourself stuck once you have an actual conversation with a Chinese native. This is because fluency is much more than just memorizing vocabulary words and tones. It’s also about using your listening skills and the knowing what Mandarin actually sounds like. Chinese video games with dialogue can help with this.
- Learning a language while having fun is always more effective. Like we mentioned above, learning a language can get boring. Practicing listening and comprehension skills through more entertaining means can help one get past the hump of seeing language education as a chore. Learning can (and should) be fun, trust me!
- Chinese video games can provide insight into Chinese culture and technology. I always make it a point to remind learners that studying the language of a culture isn’t just about vocabulary, pronunciation and eloquence. It’s also about learning slang and colloquialisms and about the culture that birthed the language as well. Chinese video games can definitely provide insight into Chinese culture.
- They act as great reinforcement for any other method of learning. Use games to find new vocabulary and grammar concepts, then reinforce your learning by using other study resources. One fantastic resource for learning Mandarin Chinese alongside video games is FluentU.
Learn Chinese with 10 Killer Video Games
1. “Games Learn Chinese” (PC/Flash)
“Games Learn Chinese” is a great game to play if you don’t have a gaming console and enjoy using flashcards for learning.
Some of the flashcard “levels” available are premium only, meaning you’ll have to pay a fee to access them. Most have demos or free versions, though, so you can dip your toes before you decide to purchase.
The beauty of this game is that you can select your learning level from HSK1 through HSK 6, so beginner, intermediate and advanced learners can enjoy this game.
To play, simply register for an account. All players will automatically get a free 10-day trial period as a premium user. Each game will present you with 拼音 (pīn yīn) — Chinese romanization and 汉字 (hàn zì) — Chinese characters and quiz you on their English translations.
Price and availability: Free in your browser.
2. “Mindsnacks Chinese” (App)
If you’re a fan of apps or smartphone games, MindSnack’s Chinese app is a great game to try.
This super entertaining game feature eight special mini-games and over 1,000 different words and phrases to learn. This game is especially unique in that it features Chinese lessons designed by Ivy League language professors, so you know you’ll get a decent (and entertaining) education.
Gameplay is fairly simple throughout the different in-app games. Most of them associate graphics and animations with specific translations. It’s ideal for beginners, particularly children who are learning Mandarin.
Price and availability: “MindSnacks Chinese” is available for iPhone and iPad. The game is free with in-app purchases.
3. “Influent Chinese” (PC)
This interactive PC game takes Chinese learning into the real world… sort of. In “Influent Chinese,” you play a character living his life and learning new words all around him. Think “The Sims” but for learning a new language.
Simply explore your character’s home and click on different objects around you. A pop-up screen provides the Chinese and English translation of each particular object. You can collect different vocabulary words and make your own study lists with them. Learn words and challenge yourself with an airplane flying minigame in which you’re tasked with finding and shooting an item written in Chinese.
This game is ideal for learners who want to be able to choose what they learn and not adhere to a strict curriculum. It’s also an excellent starter game for learning the names of everyday objects.
Price and availability: You can download “Influent Chinese” for $9.99 from the game’s website via Steam, a PC gaming one-stop-shop and program.
4. 在这苍穹展翅 (Zài Zhè Cāng Qióng Zhǎn Chì) — “If My Heart Had Wings” (PC)
A light novel is a Japanese anime-style interactive game. There are rarely animations in light novels, but the gameplay involves selecting dialogue and making choices to get different story endings.
If you aren’t a huge gamer, light novels are a good start. Just keep in mind that many are designed for adults, not children, and may contain some mature material.
“If My Heart Had Wings” is a light novel in which you can choose either English or Chinese dialogue with English or Chinese subtitles. Expect more casual teen-centered Mandarin with lots of slang in this game.
In this game, a coming-of-age tale is spun about the innocence and difficult aspects of being young. A young man finds himself torn between different girls whom he develops feelings for, all while trying to revive his school’s glider-flying club. It’s a romantic comedy, so if that isn’t your thing, you might not find much entertainment value in this game. If you’re a sucker for rom-coms, though, check this one out.
Price and availability: “If My Heart Had Wings” is available on Steam for free.
5. 新仙剑奇侠传 (Xīn Xiān Jiàn Qí Xiá Chuán) — “Chinese Paladin: Sword and Fairy” (PC)
“Chinese Paladin: Sword and Fairy” is one of the most beloved RPG games in mainland China. In this simple PC game, you explore an alternate ancient China rife with gods, demons and humans with supernatural abilities. If you’re not a huge gamer, you can lower the game’s difficulty.
This game is very dialogue-heavy and a lot of the Chinese spoken is formal. In addition, it’s available only in Mandarin with no English subtitles, making it a great choice for advanced learners.
Price and availability: You can purchase “Chinese Paladin: Sword and Fairy” for $4.99 via Steam.
6. 信長の野望･大志 (Nobunaga no Yabō: Taishi) — “Nobunaga’s Ambition: Taishi” (PC/PS4)
Unfortunately, one cannot just purchase any Chinese video game and expect it to work on an American computer or game console. Regional restrictions apply most of the time. Luckily, this game works on all PC and PS4 consoles worldwide.
This Chinese version of the Japanese classic is a historical simulation turn-based strategy game. If you’re a fan of puzzles, history and strategy challenges, “Nobunaga’s Ambition: Taishi” is a great choice.
There isn’t too much dialogue in the game, but the Chinese spoken is very formal to match the historically accurate content. Intermediate and advanced learners would benefit the most from this game, as there are no English subtitles either.
Price and availability: You can purchase this game for PC or PS4 at varying prices (most of which are around the $62 range) in online stores like eBay or Asian game retailers like YesAsia. Unfortunately, it isn’t that widely available so you may need to do a bit of browsing to find the best price!
7. “Sword Art Online: Hollow Realization” (PC)
This is another Chinese version of an awesome Japanese game. You can experience the incredibly creative fantasy world of “Sword Art Online,” based on the hit anime by the same name. Explore the game-within-a-game with your beautiful companions, strengthen your relationships as you level up and uncover the secrets of the game in this gorgeous J-RPG.
This game only features Mandarin dialogue and traditional Chinese subtitles. Advanced learners will definitely improve their listening and reading skills from playing this game. There’s quite a bit of modern slang as well as plenty of conversational and friendly dialogue between characters for some real-world language learning.
Price and availability: Available for $49.99 on YesAsia, a reputable online retailer of Asian goods and games.
8. “Bullet Girls Phantasia” (PS Vita)
PlayStation Vita owners can enjoy a Chinese-language action game as well: “Bullet Girls Phantasia.” The art style in this game is super cute and there are varying difficulties if you find yourself getting stuck. The game focuses on attacking hordes of fantasy enemies as they come your way. Be aware of the incredibly suggestive content in the form of “interrogations”—this is definitely not one for the kiddos.
“Bullet Girls Phantasia” is a multi-language game, so you can select Chinese or English audio or subtitles. All levels of learners can enjoy this fun action-packed game, though the use of teen slang may throw off beginners a bit. If you want a challenge, this is a great game to try!
Price and availability: “Bullet Girls Phantasia” is currently up for pre-order for $55.99 from Play Asia, a long-standing e-commerce site that specializes in international games with a worldwide delivery system.
9. “Xenoblade 2” (Nintendo Switch)
Nintendo Switch is super popular right now, so of course, we had to include a Switch game! “Xenoblade 2” is an adventure RPG of epic proportions in which the player can explore mystical new worlds and engage in battle against giants and fantasy creatures.
This game has Japanese audio and Chinese subtitles, which may throw off some learners. If you really want to focus on Chinese reading, though, “Xenoblade 2” may be the challenge you’re looking for. The language includes some made up fantasy words and names, but it also has a healthy dose of conversational and action words as the characters explore and learn more about the world and each other.
Price and availability: “Xenoblade 2” is currently available for $74.99 via Play Asia.
10. “Sir Eatsalot” (PS Vita)
This adorable platform game is a multi-language release that includes traditional Chinese. In “Sir Eatsalot,” it’s your responsibility to travel the kingdom of Gluttington and save its inhabitants from the evil witch Hysteria.
This is definitely a puzzle game that will prove to be quite a challenge. However, the minimal dialogue makes it great for beginners. There is no voice-acting in this one, but the dialogue is presented in speech bubbles while information on monsters and the world around you is kept in a book-like menu, so you’ll need to really hone your Chinese reading skills to make sense of this one.
Price and availability: This Play Asia exclusive is available for pre-order for $34.99 and only 2,000 copies are available, so jump on this one quick!
Now that you’ve built up a hefty library of Chinese video games to play, you can effectively start working on improving your Mandarin fluency. We suggest having a notebook and pen or possibly a note-taking app handy so that you can write down words and phrases you encounter that you’re unfamiliar with for further study. Video games are fun, but you still need to do a little bit of work when it comes to playing them for language education.
Have fun and try not to 愤怒退出 (fèn nù tuì chū) — rage quit!
Em Casalena is a published author, freelance writer and music columnist. They write about a lot of stuff, from music to films to language.
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.
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn Chinese with real-world videos.