The Du Chinese app is quite possibly the best designed Chinese learning app around. I don’t know if it’s the best app overall to learn Chinese but the developers really did an outstanding job. In this review, I’ll tell you more about Du Chinese and help you decide whether or not it’s worth the subscription cost.
First off, I just have to reiterate how smooth and well made this app is. It’s about as sexy as a Chinese learning app can be. It packs all of the features I would want into a clean interface that can be customized to fit your preferences.
Across the top of the screen is the English translation of the currently highlighted sentence. I love that you can tap it to show or hide the translation. If it always showed the English, I’d likely feel it was a crutch and use it too much. However, without it, there would be instances where I’m not certain I understood the sentence correctly. I like hiding the English and then using it to check comprehension later if I’m confused about something.
Another awesome feature is that you can show pinyin over the characters. Again, this isn’t something I like using often as my brain will take the path of least resistance and ignore the characters. However, much like the English translations, it’s nice to have and can occasionally be helpful. Additionally, if you click the HSK button, it will underline words in different colors corresponding to their HSK level. It’s not exceptionally useful but pretty cool nonetheless and doesn’t get in the way.
By clicking the play button, you’ll hear the text read by a native speaker at a slightly slower than natural pace. The speed does seem to pick up a bit as you move into the Upper Intermediate level and beyond. Also, there is the option to speed up the audio to 1.5x or slow it down to .5x. While it sounds pretty weird, it’s another useful feature that not many competitors have. As the audio plays, that section of the text will be highlighted with the current characters shown in blue and perfectly synchronized to the audio. When you click on a word, the audio will pause and you’ll see the translation, pinyin, HSK level and have the option to save the word. The design here is nearly perfect.
The lessons are quite short. At the intermediate level, they generally last around 1:30 if you just let the audio play. More advanced levels have longer lessons and lower levels are shorter. The lesson topics are actually pretty interesting to listen to. They often focus on different aspects of Chinese culture, current events and life in China. You’ll learn about more than just the Chinese language with Du Chinese. They have a decent sized library now with six levels – newbie, elementary, intermediate, upper intermediate, advanced and master. At the time of writing, there seem to be around 84 lessons in each of the newbie through intermediate levels. The content dies off a bit for higher levels. There are 58 advanced level lessons and only 17 master level lessons. Fortunately, the higher level lessons tend to be a bit longer.
Over the previous few months, new lessons have been added at a rate of 5 or 6 per week, but this includes all levels. If you want to stick to only one level you’ll only get 4 or 5 new lessons per month. And remember, these lessons are quite short. It would be pretty easy to work through several of them in a single afternoon. A plus side is that the lessons age well. What I mean is that even things posted ten months ago will still be interesting to use as study material. Also, there’s nothing wrong with jumping up or down a level as it can either be a nice challenge or easier practice.
They support both Traditional and Simplified characters. You can also take the words you saved while reading through the lessons and review them later with their SRS flashcards. Not surprisingly, this is also well done. You’ll be shown a character and can tap to show the meaning and pinyin. Below that you can tap to show the sentence that this word was saved from. Pretty cool, but it get’s better still. If you click the word info button you’ll find more information. This also includes links to export the word to Pleco, LINE dictionary and Bing. You can find additional definitions and the meanings of the individual characters.
Subscriptions and Final Thoughts
Du Chinese is an exceptionally well-made product. The biggest weakness is that there just isn’t that much new content being added. However, because of the nature of the topics they chose to write about, this isn’t a major problem. An article written one year ago will usually be just as relevant as one written this week.
If a lack of new content being added is a deal breaker for you, you should consider The Chairman’s Bao. However, I’d still recommend trying Du Chinese. They have free lessons and you can decide for yourself if it’s worth the subscription cost. The one month plan costs $11.99, six months is $54.99 and one year is $89.99.