Learning Chinese alphabets: 6 best apps to become fluent in Chinese

best apps to learn Chinese
Always on the go and struggling to find time to learn Chinese? These apps can help you to master writing the language quickly. Source: AFP

Try, try, and try again.

Learning a new language can be a life-changing journey, especially when picking up one of the hardest languages in the world.

As an English speaker studying Chinese, you know the challenge — the grammar is different, the vocabulary sounds “extremely foreign,” and there seems to be an infinite list of tricky nuances.

You might even have Googled the best apps to learn Chinese on top of the lessons you’re attending and YouTube videos you’re watching.

It’s a struggle that Arieh Smith (who goes by the name “Xiaomanyc” on YouTube) understands well. 

“I found the Chinese language so beautiful but so frustrating — why did 了 work like that? What the heck was the little square next to 吗? And how do you just say “bring me that pencil” already?!,” he wrote on his website

Why Mandarin Chinese is considered one of the hardest languages to learn

Did you know that Chinese isn’t really a language? 

It’s more of a “group of languages,” specifically a variation of Sino-Tibetan languages. 

The most popular is Mandarin Chinese, also known as Mandarin or Putonghua, which houses many of the popular Chinese words that we’ve come to know. 

Officially, China has 10 varieties of dialects (which linguists classify as separate languages) spread across its vast country, spanning the equivalent of five time zones and bordering 14 countries by land:

  • Mandarin in the northern, central, and western parts of China
  • Wu; Northern and Southern Min; Gan (Kan); Hakka (Kejia); and Xiang; and Cantonese (Yue) in the southeastern part of the country 

What adds an extra challenge is that many words sound exactly the same except for an added tonal change which alters the meaning entirely.

The written form is equally harsh. You would first have to recognise the characters.

The Chinese written script, called 汉字 (hànzì) in Chinese, is based on the use of “logograms” — single characters that can represent an entire word.

In fact, a newly published research even showed that the Chinese script has evolved towards greater visual complexity over the course of its 3,600 year history. 

best apps to learn Chinese

Know the best apps to learn Chinese and you’ll ease your travels to the world’s biggest economy. Source: AFP

Why it’s not too late to learn Chinese alphabets this year 

It’s never too late to pick up a new language — and the same applies to Mandarin Chinese.

China is one of the fastest-growing economies in the world. By learning the Chinese alphabet, you’ll indirectly attach yourself to this broad economy which can open an array of job opportunities. 

Imagine working for Tencent, Baidu, Alibaba, and more — in some of the fastest-growing cities in the world.

Tencent, for example, is a Chinese multinational technology and entertainment conglomerate based in Shenzhen. It is one of the highest-grossing multimedia companies in the world.

Being multilingual also lets you appreciate Chinese culture (which goes back 5,000 years), connect with other Mandarin speakers (as many as 1.2 billion speakers), and be eligible to study in Chinese universities.

Some institutions, like Tsinghua University and Peking University, are Asia’s best and in the world’s top 100

best apps to learn Chinese

Most of the best apps to learn Chinese are free. Source: AFP

Why should you use an app to learn Chinese alphabets?

The ultimate benefit of using an app to learn the Chinese alphabet is convenience. You can study at your own pace whenever you’d like, whether it’s in a cafe, library, or from the comfort of your home. 

Most of these writing apps are free — and a long-term or premium subscription is still affordable for students. 

You can take advantage of the spaced repetition software featured in these apps — allowing you to remember more quickly.

This is because with spaced repetition, you review words you learned after a few days. By skipping a word for a few days, you’ll remember it in the long run.

Some of these apps contain pre-made word lists, such as vocabulary from textbooks. There’s the option to make your custom word list too.

best apps to learn Chinese

If you’re busy and need something quick to learn on the go, consider downloading Chinese Calligraphy and Color, one of the best apps to learn Chinese. Source: AFP

Best apps to learn Chinese: 6 popular options to consider 

1. Chinese Calligraphy and Color

Say you’re on a budget and can’t afford to pay for a subscription to learn the Chinese alphabet. 

If that’s the case, try Chinese Calligraphy and Color.

It lets you select some of the most common Chinese characters and practise writing them. 

The downside? The app only contains 25 characters — far lesser than other apps on our list. 

It’s also only available on Andriod. 

Still, it’s a free app that offers convenience. It’s excellent for those who have just started learning Chinese and want to practise writing the Chinese alphabet. 

2. ChineseSkill

ChineseSkill is one of the best apps to learn Chinese for those who started learning the language.

It is an “all-in-one” app that more or less covers all aspects of learning in one app. There are graphics and games that make learning the language more interesting.

This app was created following the mould that Duolingo set before they released a Chinese version. 

You get to choose between the recommended options, including:

  • Main Course: It contains 75 units that are further divided into Class Notes that explain the target language and grammar, short lessons, dialogue practice, and speaking practice. 
  • Arcade: It contains 1- games that help you remember what you’ve learned. 
  • Speak Up: This section focuses on natural, everyday conversations. 
  • Old Course: It contains two levels — Chinese One and Chinese Two — with a total of 94 units that are structured similarly to the Main Course. 
  • Panda’s Toolbox: It contains three courses — Pinyin Drill, Character Drill, and HSK Drill — that train you on your Chinese pronunciation and ability to read or write in Mandarin. 

While the app is free, the premium version unlocks ChineseSkill’s full potential. 

It’ll cost US$14.99 for a monthly subscription, US$79.99 for an annual subscription, and US$159.99 for a lifetime subscription. 

All plans include unlimited access to all content and features in ChineseSkill, use on multiple devices and download for offline use. 

best apps to learn Chinese

Pleco, one of the best apps to learn Chinese, has a comprehensive Chinese dictionary. Source: AFP

3. Pleco

Pleco features several useful functions, such as a comprehensive Chinese dictionary, a flashcard function, an optical character recognition text reader that converts an image of text into a machine-readable text format, a document reader, and many more. 

Here’s an essential guide on how to use this app:

  • Firstly, you start a test session in the flashcard app
  • At the top of the card, you’ll see “字”
  • Press “字” to write the character instead of just recognising it 

Plece is free for the basic use of its dictionary, but it has an extensive list of other individual add-ons that you can find here

The basic bundle — which costs US$29.99 — includes all of Pleco’s most popular features, such as full-screen handwriting, OCR, flashcards, stroke order diagrams, and many more. 

4. HSK Locker

HSK Locker is a free app for anyone who wants a quick review before taking an official HSK (short for Hanyu Shuiping Kaoshi) exam. 

The HSK exam refers to the international standardised Chinese Proficiency Test that assesses non-native Chinese speakers’ abilities in using the Chinese language in their daily, academic and professional lives.

The app is based on test-type questions from the official HSK vocabulary list and has a good spaced repetition software algorithm. 

What’s not so great is that the vocabulary is slowly unlocked, starting with HSK1-level words. This means it can be a hassle to go over all of the basic vocabulary if you’re starting from a higher level. 

best apps to learn Chinese

Hello Chinese offers courses built according to the Hanyu Shuiping Kaoshi (HSK), an international standardised test to assess the Chinese-language proficiency of non-native speakers. Source: AFP

5. Hello Chinese

Hello Chinese is an acclaimed and easy-to-use app with lots of positive reviews. The app has a rating of almost 5/5 on Google Play and Apple’s App Store. 

What sets Hello Chinese apart from other apps is that it provides game-based learning —making the learning process fun and interactive. 

This app is useful for those who want to learn basic Chinese, offering up to 1,000 words and 350 characters. 

Hello Chinese offers courses built according to the HSK exam too.

While the app is free, it also comes with different in-app purchases as follows:

  • HelloChinese Premium: US$8.99
  • HelloChinese Premium+: US$19.99
best apps to learn Chinese

One of the best apps to learn Chinese, specifically writing Chinese alphabets, is Skritter. Source: AFP

6. Skritter

For anyone serious about mastering writing Chinese alphabets, Skritter is one of the best apps to use — and one of the more expensive investments you’ll make.

The stroke order feature not only helps you learn how to write a specific Chinese alphabet but also teaches you to write the characters in the correct order. 

When writing the Chinese alphabet on Skritter, the app highlights your mistakes so you’ll instantly know when to make the necessary corrections. 

Skritter offers a seven-day free trial to get a feel for the app before making any long-term purchase. 

A monthly subscription costs US$14.99 and an annual subscription costs US$99.99.