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Best Apps for Learning Mandarin Chinese: We’ve Tried Them All

There are a ridiculous number of apps out there for learning Chinese, and, while having plenty of options is certainly a good thing, finding the ones that are best for you can seem daunting.

Hopefully, we can help with that. We’ve tested dozens of them, and have included the standout performers in this list. These are apps that will help you improve a number of language skills, and we’ve categorized them based on whether they’re best for speaking, listening, reading, or writing.

The major benefits afforded by language apps are that they’re convenient and inexpensive, often free. Since this post focuses on apps, it will leave out some great resources that simply aren’t available as apps.

General Courses Available as Apps

Best Communication Skills App: Pimsleur

Best Interactive App: HelloChinese

Best Gamified Course: Ninchanese

Best HSK Test Prep App: HSKOnline

Apps for Learning Vocabulary and Grammar

Best Dictionary App: Pleco

Best Easy-to-Use Way to Learn Vocabulary: Memrise

Best for Learning Words in Context: Clozemaster

Best Customizable Study Tool: Anki

Best for Grammar Practice: Chinese Grammar

Apps for Reading and Listening Practice

Best for Learning Chinese Characters: Outlier Linguistics

Best for Reading About Current Events: The Chairman’s Bao

Best Reading Practice for Beginners and Up: Du Chinese

Best Interactive Reading Practice: WordSwing and M Mandarin

Best Audio Lessons in a Podcast Format: ChinesePod

Apps for Speaking and Writing Practice

Best for Learning to Write Chinese Characters: Skritter and TOFU Learn

Best for Writing Feedback: italki

Best for Pronunciation Feedback: Speechling

Apps for Tutors and Language Exchange

Best for Finding an Affordable Tutor: italki

Best for Structured Lessons: TutorMing

Best for Language Exchange: HelloTalk and Tandem

Best Q&A App: HiNative

General Courses Available as Apps

Learning a new language requires practicing a number of different skills, and most apps excel (or try to excel) at helping you improve one of them. Others take a more comprehensive approach to language instruction, and those are the apps that we’ve included in this category.

Since they cover several aspects of Chinese, they can make better options for learners that are just starting out with the language.

Best Communication Skills App

Pimsleur

The Pimsleur course has been around for a very long time, but its app is refreshingly user-friendly and visually appealing. In addition to the nice design, this course is good for the amount of speaking and listening practice it offers.

The 30-minute audio lessons in the Mandarin course are designed to get you thinking and participating in Chinese right away. You’ll get lots of practice repeating dialogue and answering questions aloud. Immediate speaking practice this in-depth isn’t something you’ll see in a lot of other apps, and it’s what makes this one stand out. Review.

Visit Pimsleur

Best Interactive App

HelloChinese

HelloChinese is my favorite of the free apps for learning Chinese. The lessons are organized similarly to apps like ChineseSkill and LingoDeer, but they go into a bit more detail with everything. There are also lots of speaking exercises which I really like, as they force you to take an active role in your learning. This one is really well put together and provides a ton of content.

There are also Premium and Premium+ plans that unlock a bunch of extra features. The Premium plan has lots of mini-games that can help you to practice what you’ve learned in the free lessons. The Premium+ plan is similar to a podcast in many ways, but with some additional exercises. Review.

Visit HelloChinese

Best Gamified Course

Ninchanese

Ninchanese is a Chinese-teaching game that can be used as an app or online. There are different worlds that represent different Chinese levels and various challenges to complete. It’s story-based, engaging, and has characters that you’ll get to know along the way.

What makes this app truly useful is that it’s not just a fun game — it’s a super extensive resource with a staggering amount of content. You’ll improve all areas of your Chinese by learning new characters and words while improving your listening, speaking, typing, and grammar skills

Use the coupon code “ALR15OFF” to get 15% off any subscription to Ninchanese. Review.

Visit Ninchanese

Best HSK Test Prep App

HSKOnline

The HSKOnline app is a seriously useful tool for anyone preparing for the HSK tests. Its rating of 4.8 stars on the Google Play store is no mistake, either — there are over 4000 reviews.

The app helps learners prepare for the tests through lots of example questions, mock tests, and even the chance to upload writing to have it graded. It does a great job of balancing easy convenience and the thoroughness required for quality test prep.

While there are some free features, most users would want to upgrade to the paid plan. Fortunately, it’s pretty affordable, with a lifetime plan costing less than $28 or a single month costing $5.99. You can also save 15% with the coupon code ‘alr15’.

Visit HSKOnline

Other Options

Here are some more options that are commonly recommended, but aren’t quite our favorites. Some of them could make good options for some learners.

Super Chinese

Like some other apps, Super Chinese offers gamified lessons available on your smartphone. It’s an affordable and enjoyable way to get started with Chinese. Save 15% with the coupon code ‘alr15’. Review.

Lingodeer

Providing topical lessons and a light gamification element, Lingodeer is one of the better options in its class. It’s a great way to start out with a number of languages, including Chinese. Review.

ChineseSkill

Another gamified app offering convenient practice, ChineseSkill is free and offers solid introductory material. It’s quite similar to both Lingodeer and HelloChinese. Review.

Duolingo

Similar to Lingodeer, Duolingo uses short activities and gamification to make language learning incredibly accessible. It’s free and super popular, but it doesn’t do Asian languages very well. Review.

Rocket Chinese

Despite audio lessons that offer good explanations and chances to engage, Rocket Chinese just isn’t that good. The exercises quickly become repetitive, and some of the lessons aren’t very well planned out. Review.

Fluenz

The Fluenz course is pretty good for some languages, but it falls short with Chinese. It completely ignores Chinese characters and has a price tag. Review.

Busuu

Busuu is one of the more popular courses out there, but its Chinese course is riddled with errors and not very well done. Review.

Rosetta Stone

This program has been around for a really long time and is very popular. Unfortunately, its complete lack of explanations and mind-numbingly repetitive exercises mean it isn’t worth the price. Review.

Transparent Language

You’ll probably want to stay away from this one. It has users memorize words and phrases in isolation and has a weak teaching methodology. Review.

Coursera and EdX

Both of these online platforms offer access to university courses for free. There are Chinese language courses and courses on other subjects taught in Chinese. They offer certification upon completion for those that are willing to pay.

Udemy

Anyone can create a course and sell it on Udemy. This means there is a huge variety of courses, both for beginners and higher levels. Quality may vary, but keep your eye out for sales (they’re frequent) if you see a course that interests you.

Apps for Learning Vocabulary and Grammar

Best Dictionary App

Pleco

This might be the most popular app amongst learners of Chinese, and it’s more than just a dictionary.

It’s a great dictionary, sure, but there are also loads of extra features. Learn character stroke orders, see example sentences, use the handwriting recognition tool, and listen to audio recordings of over 34,000 words by two native Mandarin speakers. There’s a reason this app is recommended so frequently.

If you choose to only download one app – make it this one.

Visit Pleco

Best Easy-to-Use Way to Learn Vocabulary

Memrise

Memrise is a resource with a massive amount of learning content. The app uses spaced repetition (SRS) flashcards, meaning super-efficient practice, and features tons of free user-created courses.

The official Memrise courses have the added bonus of reliable quality audio, some videos, and pictures. Some user-created courses also have these features, but it can be hit or miss.

As an additional bonus, the app is particularly well designed and fun to use. The short activities also make it one of the more convenient practice options out there. Of course, you won’t get extensive or deep language practice for free, but it’s a solid option for vocabulary practice. Review.

Visit Memrise

Best for Learning Words in Context

Clozemaster

Clozemaster is a popular app that is excellent for getting exposure to lots of different sentences and vocabulary. This app uses fill-in-the-blank exercises in which you can type in your answer or choose from multiple choices.

You can filter sentences based on HSK level and you’ll earn points for answering questions correctly. This plays into the app’s arcade-like theme, making it all feel somewhat like a game. Although there is a pro version that requires a subscription, most people will find the free version to offer plenty of value. Review.

Visit Clozemaster

Best Customizable Study Tool

Anki

Anki is the best memorization tool out there when it comes to customization. It’s a simple yet powerful tool that uses an SRS algorithm to help users memorize whatever they want.

Customization options include the ability to add images, audio, sentences, explanations, tags, and more. There is a bit of a learning curve when first getting started, but those that don’t want to spend the time creating their own materials can check out the pre-made Chinese decks. The app is free on Android, $25 in the Apple App Store.

Visit Anki

Best for Grammar Practice

Chinese Grammar

This app comes from the makers of Ninchanese and is purpose-built to teach grammar. It features over 130 grammar lessons, which can be sorted from HSK1 to HSK5. Each lesson comes with very detailed explanations and lots of examples.

It’s free to use, and the only ads you’ll see are unobtrusive and for their course. It’s definitely the best app for Chinese grammar that I’ve seen.

Visit Chinese Grammar

Other Options

Hanping Chinese

Hanping is an Android-only dictionary that’s comparable to Pleco. It’s got a lot of the same features as well as some extras. I also really like their popup dictionary that you can use within other apps.

Apps for Reading and Listening Practice

Best for Learning Chinese Characters

Outlier Linguistics

Outlier Linguistics is amazing if you want to really geek out about Chinese characters and learn everything you can about them — their components, origins, evolution, and more. These dictionaries are available as an add-on in the Pleco app and available in both Simplified or Traditional characters.

Aside from the fact that this stuff is downright interesting, learning more about how characters are constructed and how they’ve changed over time can make them more meaningful, and therefore, easier to remember.

Save 20% by using the coupon code ‘ALR20

Visit Outlier Linguistics

Best for Reading Content

The Chairman’s Bao

The Chairman’s Bao has an incredible amount of reading content and is one of my favorites. It’s an online graded newspaper with new articles covering current events published daily. It also boasts video lessons for lower-level learners and lessons on historical folk tales and legends.

Reading news stories on TCB feels less like studying and more like something I would do for fun. With so much of the content being China-centric, you’ll learn a ton about the culture as well. For additional practice, there are reading and listening comprehension exercises with each article.

You can get 10% off all individual subscriptions by using the coupon code “alr10”. Review.

Visit The Chairman’s Bao

Best Reading Experience

Du Chinese

Du Chinese is a fantastic resource for improving your reading skills. Its interface is wonderfully designed, making for a great user experience, and the content is interesting.

You’ll also have the chance to improve your listening skills with this app by listening to the material read aloud. The articles are relevant and interesting, the app is super easy to use, the only downside is that new content isn’t added as frequently as for The Chairman’s Bao. However, it’s a little better for beginner level learners.

You can save 10% on a subscription by using the coupon code “alr10dc”. Review.

Visit Du Chinese

Best Interactive Reading Practice

WordSwing and M Mandarin

Both of these apps are unique Mandarin readers. M Mandarin uses engaging comics to teach the language, making reading and listening to Chinese more fun. There are a number of other features as well, such as grammar and cultural explanations.

Wordswing is a mixture between a graded reader and a choose your own adventure game. As you read through the stories, you’ll have to make choices that will affect how the story unfolds. It’s one of the only resources that really forces you to actively use the language while reading, which is cool.

They mainly target intermediate and higher-level students who are advanced beyond most graded readers but not quite ready for native materials. There are several different stories that you can try out for free, and more are being added. WordSwing Review.

Visit WordSwing            Visit M Mandarin

Best Lessons in a Podcast Format

ChinesePodImprove your Chinese listening comprehension with ChinesePod

ChinesePod is one of the biggest names in the industry, recommended by nearly everyone, and remaining a solid option for over a decade. They have a massive library of lessons across all difficulty levels that make for a great way to improve your listening skills.

Material at higher levels is taught entirely in Chinese, and an appropriate amount of English is used at the lower levels. Though this scales well, the lessons don’t necessarily build on each other intentionally. Following along with a textbook or another course will help make sure you don’t end up with gaps in your knowledge.

You can get $50 off an annual Premium subscription to ChinesePod by using the coupon code “ALLLANG50”. Review.

Visit ChinesePod

Other Options

LingQ

This app makes reading in another language easier by making it easy to look up words as you go. While it’s okay for other languages, there are better options for learners of Chinese. Review.

Beelinguapp

This reading app provides a translation of the text you’re reading right next to the Chinese version. It’s helpful for easy cross-referencing and makes sure you understand the material.

Zizzle

This app uses mnemonics to help you remember how characters are formed, their tone, and pronunciation. The ridiculous images it uses may seem unnecessary, but the technique works.

Use the coupon code “ALLLANGUAGERESOURCES” to get 15% off all three month and annual subscriptions, as well as packs. Review.

Chineasy Cards

Similar to Zizzle, this app uses illustrations to help learners memorize new characters. Limited use of the app is free, a paid subscription unlocks all of the content. It currently only supports traditional characters.

Apps for Speaking and Writing Practice

Best for Learning to Write Chinese Characters

Skritter and TOFU Learn

Skritter is perfect for those who are serious about learning to write Chinese characters. It teaches by having you write characters with your finger on your phone’s touch screen. The app uses this technique along with a combination of SRS flashcards and stroke recognition to help you remember how to write each character. Review.

It’s convenient to use and really is effective, but it’s also on the more expensive side of things.

For those who feel like Skritter isn’t worth the cost, TOFU Learn may be just what you’re looking for. It’s free and could make a suitable alternative for improving your vocabulary and helping you learn to write Chinese characters.

Visit Skritter              Visit TOFU Learn

Best for Writing Feedback

italki

It can be hard to find good places to get feedback on your writing. Most apps don’t offer any chance for feedback, and those that do frankly don’t often do a very good job.

italki, better-known as a place to find an online language tutor, has a community feature called Exercise that makes a great solution for getting writing feedback. The feature allows users to publish a piece of writing in their target language on any subject they wish. Other users can then freely offer corrections and feedback. This tool is free to use! You can also help other users out by providing feedback on writing done in your native language. Review.

Visit italki

Best for Pronunciation Feedback

Speechling

Speechling is a great way to get lots of practice mimicking native speakers. This can do wonders in helping you improve your speaking cadence, confidence, and pronunciation. It involves hearing a recording and then recording yourself saying the same sentence.

Hearing yourself alongside a native speaker is an effective way to point out the differences and room for improvement. It’s also one of the only resources that allows you to choose between hearing a male or female voice. You can do all of this for free!

Subscribers will be able to submit an unlimited number of recordings to be graded by a native speaker, helping you to identify pronunciation mistakes.

You can get 10% off a subscription to Speechling by using the promo code “ALR123”. Review.

Visit Speechling

Other Options

langCorrect

This is a platform with even better mechanics for getting human feedback on your writing than you’ll get with italki, but it doesn’t have such a robust community. It is totally free to use.

Apps for Tutors and Language Exchange

Best for Finding an Affordable Tutor

italki

italki is the most affordable and convenient place to find an online Chinese teacher — or any other language for that matter. There are a huge number of options to choose from, making it easy to find someone who fits your schedule, goals, learning style, and budget. You may be surprised by just how many good tutors are available for less than $10/hour.

While italki is predominantly made for tutoring, you can also use it to easily find a language exchange partner to talk with for free or get writing feedback with the Exercise feature on the app. Review.

Visit italki

Best for Structured Lessons

TutorMing

For those looking for online classes, I’d highly recommend TutorMing. I personally bought the program’s 80 lesson package and have been extremely happy with it. It’s definitely not the cheapest option, but their lessons are excellent. Their curriculum is very interesting and the teachers are wonderful.

Scheduling lessons is also super convenient. Students have the option to schedule classes at any hour of the day and only need to give 12 hours notice. Review.

Visit TutorMing

Best for Language Exchange

HelloTalk and TandemFind language exchange partners for free on HelloTalk.

Practicing with native Chinese speakers is certainly one of the fastest ways to make serious progress in the language, and both of these apps make it super easy to find language partners.

The apps are social in nature, connecting users with tons of potential language partners and allowing them to chat, send voice messages, or even have phone conversations. They also include built-in language tools to make communication easier. You can use the in-app translation tool and the correction tool to make the language exchange experience much more efficient.

Both apps offer a limited number of translations for free each day, and their biggest differences are aesthetic. HelloTalk is a little bit more lighthearted and cartoony, Tandem is sleeker and more refined. HelloTalk review. Tandem review.

Visit HelloTalk            Visit Tandem

Best Q&A App

HiNative

HiNative is a resource that connects language learners with native speakers of their target language. It’s perfect for getting answers to quick questions that you may not be able to look up in a book or search the internet for.

It works by allowing users to post questions for native speakers to answer. There are pre-made question forms to help you formulate your question, and receiving an answer usually happens very quickly. You can pay it forward by answering questions of those learning your native language. Basic functionality is free, some additional features require a subscription. Review.

Visit HiNative

Other Options

Lingbe

This language exchange app is unique for how quickly it can get you speaking with someone. Simply hit the call button and you’ll be connected with a randomly selected native speaker in no time.

Speaky

This app is similar to HelloTalk and Tandem. It pairs language learners together and uses built-in language tools to make communication smoother, but the community isn’t as good as other options. Review.

Verbling

Verbling is similar to italki in that it’s a good place to find quality online language tutors. The requirements for teachers here are a little bit more strict, which means fewer teachers and slightly higher prices. Review.

Preply

Another online tutor directory, Preply as a huge library of tutors teaching all kinds of subjects. Prices are quite low, but consider that teachers make small commissions and aren’t paid for teaching trial lessons. Review.

Final Thoughts

As you can see, there are apps to teach you just about every aspect of learning Chinese. These apps can actually take you pretty far, but they’re often best used in conjunction with other study methods.

To find more great resources for learning Chinese, check out our list of best online Chinese courses, the best podcasts for learning Chinese, and our list of Mandarin Chinese Youtube channels.

Considering there are so many, there are probably some quality apps that I don’t know about or forgot to mention here. If you have any suggestions for something I missed, let me know!

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Comments (8)

You mentioned all of the good ones. The only one I would add is Qing Ting FM (蜻蜓FM). It’s not a learning app but a radio app geared towards native speakers. Once you get to a certain level, you can get a lot of benefit out listening to children’s 儿童 shows, and I use it everyday to listen to Peppa Pig (which is a nice compliment to the bona fide Peppa Pig episodes on YouTube.)

There are also some text-heavy games that have been translated into Mandarin, such as To The Moon, the Lifeline series, and I think some of the Final Fantasies.

Awesome. Thanks for sharing. I’ll have to check that out. I’ve used ximalaya FM (喜马拉雅 FM) in the past and found it to be really good. Though, I really haven’t spent as much time exploring the different features and sections of it as I should. There’s just so much content to choose from. I’ll have to update this list to include both of these and a couple other apps I realised I’d forgotten about.

Chineasy for learning characters?

Thanks for the suggestion. I wasn’t a big fan of the book but haven’t tried the app yet.

Lang-8 is a great platform for original written material in any language, where you give and get feedback and corrections.

Yea, Lang-8 was great but for some reason, they stopped accepting new user registrations.

SuperChinese is a good app for learning. They have structured lessons, each lesson includes four sections – Vocabulary, Grammar, Text and Test. The words and grammar learnt in first two sections is used in Story/essay based text and then there is a timed test. I am using this app to learn Mandarin and love it!

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