There are a lot of aspects to learning Chinese language that makes it difficult. From tone sounds to characters to endless homophones! The best strategy for overall learning Chinese is a multifaceted approach – and that means one Chinese language learning app won’t be all you need. 

If you want to work on all aspects of Chinese – writing, reading, speaking, listening – you’ll need to use apps that focus on honing different skills. Here are my favorite Chinese learning  apps for everything from overall skill strengthening to conversation practice to character writing!

Some of the apps I recommend are paid, but overall cost way less than a normal tutor would. I’ve listed free alternatives where I could find them, so you can find the right option for you. 

Chinese calligraphy

Overall Language and Grammar app: Duolingo

I’ll admit, Duolingo isn’t perfect, but I’ve found it’s the easiest place to start for absolute beginners and can grow with you for quite a while. They mix pinyin and Chinese characters from the start, so you get adjusted to reading that way. Some apps start you with just pinyin, which I find lulls you into a false sense of security when you realize you literally can’t read anything at all!

[Things only students who attended exchange in China will understand]

Duolingo will help you with grammar, sentence structure, and vocab, but don’t count on it for speaking or comprehensive listening. You’ll get familiar with the sounds, but the sentences put together sound robotic, which can make it tougher to apply to real conversation. 

Bonus: Duolingo is  free! Most of the features you could possibly want are the free version, so you can easily keep learning Chinese indefinitely without feeling the need to pay up.

Download Duolingo here.

Listening: ChinesePod

ChinesePod is a staple in the mandarin learning community. There are lots of video and audio podcasts available for everything from basic tones to full conversations. This means you can dig deep into the meaning of a certain character, or just listen to people speaking casually and comfortably in Chinese. You can save any vocab you want to personal study card decks, and review flashcards all within the app. While I recommend the paid version, the free version has a lot to offer. But rather than getting comprehensive units and progressions, like Duolingo, you can only really jump around to different videos at different levels. Plus, they have a YouTube channel where you can check out even more for free. 

[Apps you absolutely need if you study abroad in China]

The biggest reason you should consider ChinesePod is that it allows you to always have Chinese in your ears! Especially if you haven’t left for China yet, you will want to immerse yourself in the sounds of the language as much as possible, as this is key in your ability to communicate.

Find out more about ChinesePod here.

Writing apps: Skritter, Tofu Learn

Some say Chinese writing is the hardest part – and I agree! My reading has improved immensely over time, but recall is only one part of character learning, stroke order is another! Skritter is a paid app, while Tofu Learn is a free app, but both will work wonders in getting your muscle memory used to creating characters. 

Find more about Skitter here.

Download Tofu Learn here.

Research/ Dictionary: Pleco

I love Pleco for when I’m really curious about the etymology of a word, or the origin of a character. It’s easy to draw characters to look them up, or use pinyin. You can learn about the origin, the different radicals and pieces of the character, and all for free! 

[8 things to take a note before going for a study exchange in China]

There are more paid features, and as you learn Chinese more you may want to add them on, but I think starting off with the free version will give you a great tool to really get you engaged in understanding the language, not just learning it.

Download Pleco for Android here.

Download Pleco for IOS here.

Conversation: italki, Tandem

italki and Tandem both allow you to connect with native speakers and practice using your Chinese in real conversations! With Tandem, there is a free, language exchange option where the goal is for you to help someone learn English, while they heap you with Chinese. But both apps also give you the option to pay a tutor to speak Chinese with you, cheaper than you’d find anywhere in person! 

An online tutor is a pricier piece to the puzzle, but the more you speak with a native Chinese speaker, the better your Chinese becomes! 

Download italki for Android, for IOS here.

Once your phone is filled with Chinese language apps, you’ll have all the tools you need to start your journey to fluency! 

Reading: The Chairman’s Bao

The Chairman’s Bao is for when all language learning dialogs that are supposed to re-enact real life situations feel super unrealistic and plastic. If you are aching to get some real content that you will enjoy the Chairman’s Bao is something you should definitely check out. It’s a news platform that offers real life stories sorted by Chinese language proficiency. They offer graded texts from HSK 1 to HSK 6 and beyond.

Reading should be an important part of your Chinese language routine. It gives you greater control of your learning process as you can read at your own pace. It’s also crucial for when you are working on building up your vocabulary.

Download The Chairman’s Bao here.

Once your phone is filled with Chinese language apps, you’ll have all the tools you need to start your journey to fluency! 

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