What a time to be alive.
It’s never been easier to find quality tools to help you learn Chinese. This is clearly shown by the three apps that will be the focus of this post – Du Chinese, The Chairman’s Bao and Decipher Chinese.
All three of these apps provide interesting articles written at varying levels of difficulty. You’ll be able to listen to the text, get instant translations and save words to study later.
These three apps are very similar but their subtle differences make each one the best choice for different people.
We’re going to look at them based on three factors – content, functionality, and price.
The Chairman’s Bao (TCB) and Decipher Chinese are very similar in that they both use simplified news stories for learning Chinese. While the content isn’t breaking news, it’s current enough for pretty much anyone learning Chinese. Du Chinese does have some stories based on current events but most center around Chinese culture. I haven’t found the writing to be any better or worse on any of the apps.
As far as quantity, The Chairman’s Bao is the clear winner here. They release several articles per day and around 5-6 new articles per HSK level each week. You can easily find an article about something interesting to you. Du Chinese and Decipher have much less content, with only one new article each day. This means you may only get 4 or 5 new articles at your desired difficulty level in a month.
TCB has the biggest library of content as well. They release so much new material that you’ll likely never think about reading through old articles. Decipher and Du Chinese both have libraries of a few hundred articles. However, because the articles on Du Chinese aren’t focused on current events, I find they have a longer shelf-life. I enjoy reading old articles on Du Chinese just as much as the new ones. I’m not sure that I’d feel the same about reading old articles on either of the other apps.
While TCB is the clear winner for content. Du Chinese wins the measure of functionality by an equally large margin.
Let’s first look at Decipher. Admittedly, I’ve used this app far less than the other two so it’s possible I’m overlooking some things. But, for the life of me, I can’t figure out how to play the complete text all at once. You can play every sentence individually but I’ve clicked everywhere I can think of and can’t find a way to play the entire thing. The app is quick and easy enough to navigate. You can look up and save words, see pinyin and HSK level. Unlike the other two apps, you can see user comments on the articles. The screen feels a lot more crowded than the other apps without any improvement in usability.
The biggest weakness of TCB is on the technical side. It can be quite slow and laggy. When you try loading more stories or filtering them based on HSK level, it can take a long time to load. Like the other two apps, you can look up and save words easily. You can play the article as a whole and fast-forward and rewind in five-second intervals. They also have a feature that shows character strokes which you can practice tracing with your finger. They are currently planning to upgrade their website and app. Hopefully, their tech issues will be resolved soon.
Du Chinese provides an incredible user experience. The design is perfect. It’s the only app that has English translations of the articles. One sentence will be shaded and the translation will be shown at the top of the screen. But, this doesn’t get in the way and you can tap to hide it if you prefer. You can also hide or show pinyin and HSK level for every word. The audio is perfectly synced with the text. As you’re listening, the character being spoken will be highlighted. If you tap a character, the audio will begin in that spot exactly. The app is fast. When you open an article once, it’ll be saved and you can read and listen to it offline. You can also speed up and slow down the audio. It’s hard to appreciate how good the design of Du Chinese is without actually trying it.
If it weren’t for its low cost, Decipher wouldn’t be worth considering. But, at $4.99/month, it’s by far the cheapest monthly subscription. There doesn’t seem to be longer than monthly plans available. If you subscribed for twelve consecutive months, this would add up to $59.88.
TCB costs $10/month, $25/three months, $45/six months or $80/year. You can also get an extra 20% off by using the promo code “tcbalr20″. Using this coupon code, the yearly plan would cost $64 or $5.33 per month.
Du Chinese costs $11.99/mo, $54.99/six months or $89.99/year. You can get 10% off any plan by using the promo code “ALLLANGUAGERESOURCES”. Using this coupon code, the yearly plan would cost $80.99 or $6.75 per month.
If you look at these three apps from the perspective of an annual plan, the price difference isn’t significant between any of them. Unless you’re on a very tight budget, it makes more sense to make your decision based on either the content or usability of the app.
Which app is right for me?
I can’t end this article by saying “You should subscribe to ____ app.” It depends more on the learner than the app itself. Any one of them could be the best option for you. It depends on your situation.
If you’re a casual learner, both Decipher and Du Chinese have some free content. This may be enough material for those who only want to read the occasional article.
If you’re on a tight budget or can only pay for one month at a time, then Decipher might be the best choice. But, once you start looking at annual plans, this benefit shrinks significantly.
If you’re planning to read many articles per day, then The Chairman’s Bao will be your best option. None of the other apps will have enough content for you.
If you’re at a beginner to elementary level, then Du Chinese is probably best. At that low of a level, having English translations to reference is essential. Without them, you’ll misunderstand a fair amount of the text when you only have translations for one word at a time.
I paid for an annual subscription to TCB about nine or ten months ago. The decision wasn’t a close one for me. Du Chinese was still quite new and had far less content than they do now. I’m completely happy with the purchase. For me, it has provided far more value than the price I paid.
Recently I received a free subscription to Du Chinese. So, now I have Premium versions of both on my phone. Lately, whenever I want some reading practice, I open Du Chinese. I find the app much more enjoyable to use.
You can’t go wrong with either of these. The fact that it’s a decision worth thinking about is a testament to what a great time it is to be learning Chinese. The tools we have available to us now are awesome.
Whatever you decide to do, the most important thing is that you put in the time practicing.
You can try out all three apps before subscribing and you should. Figure out which one is the best fit for you.