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ChineseSkill Review – A Duolingo Style App for learning Chinese

Quick Review

Summary

ChineseSkill is one of the most popular apps for people getting started learning Chinese. There are 45 lessons based on a variety of topics. It’s not the most comprehensive course and it won’t be the only tool you need. But, if you’re a beginner and want a free introduction to Mandarin, it’s worth trying. However, I personally think that HelloChinese is a better overall app.

Quality

The app is really well designed and can be a fun way to begin learning Chinese.

Thoroughness

It’s freemium, so it’s not really fair to expect it to cover everything you need to know.

Value

It’s freemium and works well.

Price

Freemium, with premium subscription plans from $12.99/month or lifetime access for a one-off fee of $399.99.

I used ChineseSkill when I started learning Chinese

The ChineseSkill app helped me a lot on my first steps in learning Chinese. When I moved to China I still wasn’t sure if I would put in the effort to learn Chinese or just try to get by without it. After all, I had spent a few years in Spanish speaking countries and it took me much longer than I expected to learn Spanish. So, I thought, if learning Spanish was so hard for me, do I really have a chance to learn Chinese? I knew I had to learn the basics but wasn’t sure if I wanted to put in the effort to actually become fluent.

That’s where ChineseSkill came into my life.

It’s a great resource to gently ease beginner-level students into learning Mandarin. It’s free, fairly entertaining, and easy to get started using.

I think it’s one of the better resources available for those who aren’t sure about studying Chinese and want an introduction to the language before spending any money. I still prefer HelloChinese, but the apps are fairly similar. You also don’t have to choose one or the other, they can be used in tandem.

For those who are certain that they are going to study Chinese and want to make progress as quickly and efficiently as possible, there are likely better options available. I’ll give recommendations for these students at the end of this review.

And if you’re studying Mandarin alongside other languages, you might want to look at LingoDeer, which actually evolved out of ChineseSkill. Between LingoDeer and its companion app DeerPlus, it contains nearly all the same material but also includes material for learning several other languages.

We’ll look at the differences between LingoDeer and DeerPlus later on in this review. However, for now, let’s focus on ChineseSkill.

Lessons

ChineseSkill was created following the mold that Duolingo set before they had released a Chinese version. Unlike Duolingo, you’ve got a lot of study options available to you – which, depending on your learning style, may be a good or bad thing.

You get to choose between the recommended options, which include Main Course, Arcade, and Speak Up; the Old Course; and something called Panda’s Toolbox. Let’s look at them one by one.

Main Course

The Main Course is what ChineseSkill calls “a structured path to HSK4 fluency”. It contains 75 different units, which can be further divided into Class Notes, which explain the target language and grammar; a few short-and-sweet lessons; dialogue practice; and speaking practice.

The lessons are pretty fun. There’s a variety of activities, and a panda cheers you along, congratulating you when you do well.

They also generally build on each other. Not only do they introduce you to new words but also grammar and sentence structure,  characters, and speaking practice .

Screenshot of ChineseSkill app teaching Mandarin with audio files and kanjiChineseSkill does a good job of reinforcing vocabulary. You’ll be given different versions of the same question: matching Chinese to English, English to Chinese, Chinese to a picture, writing.

It’s pretty good for grammar, too: you’ll practice building sentences, spotting the extraneous word, changing out words to create new sentences, and more. And as you progress, the example sentences become more difficult, and you gain exposure to new words, grammar, and sentence structures.

Arcade

The Arcade contains 10 different games to help you drill what you’ve already learned. They won’t teach you Chinese, but they will give you a chance to test your memory, especially when removed from the context of the vocabulary and grammar you were drilling in the lesson.

For example, in Grammar Tunes, you have to spot the grammatical mistakes in the sentences. In Dialogues, you have to answer listening comprehension questions. Listen and Match and Spelling Bee test your vocabulary.

It’s important to stress that the games don’t correspond directly to the lessons in the Main Course, and some require more Mandarin knowledge than others. They can feel less structured than the Main Course – but they are a great way to drill material and add some more variety to your Chinese studies.

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Screenshot of Mandarin vocabulary games in the ChineseSkill arcade appSpeak Up

This section focuses on natural, everyday conversations. First, you’ll listen to the dialogue line-by-line, while seeing it written in hanzi and pinyin on the screen, along with a translation. You can click on individual words to check their meaning and listen to them once again. After listening to it once, you can then listen to it at a faster speed or word-by-word.

Next, you can record yourself saying the dialogue (Listen and Learn) or hear the dialogue and practice selecting the right hanzi (Writing Exercise). There’s also a Key Points section that will briefly explain part of the text.

Screenshot of the Speak Up Mandarin dialogues in Chinese SkillOld Course

The Old Course is an alternative to the Main Course. It contains two levels – Chinese I and Chinese II – with a combined total of 94 units. These units are actually structured in a fairly similar way to that of the Main Course: each one contains a few lessons, a story that combines listening comprehension and speaking practice, and Class Notes that explain the vocabulary and grammar. The teaching style in the lessons is extremely similar. In fact, the main difference between the Old Course and the Main Course seems to be quite simply the order of the units.

Screenshot of the Old Course in Chinese SkillThere’s also a Travel Phrasebook, which contains phrases and audio recordings on 12 topics, and Immersion. Immersion is essentially the same as Speak Up, but each “lesson” also comes with a vocabulary list.

Panda’s Toolbox

It’s a shame Panda’s Toolbox is the last item on the list, because it’s probably the best place to start. It contains three different courses: Pinyin Drill, Character Drill, and HSK Drill.

Screenshot of hanzi Mandarin drills in ChineseSkillPinyin Drill and Character Drill are essential for understanding Chinese pronunciation and being able to read or write in Mandarin. The Main Course will teach you how to write a very limited number of characters, but you’ll learn extremely slowly – and you won’t get taught about pinyin at all.

Meanwhile, HSK Drill claims you will build vocabulary up to HSK 6 by using it. There are two options: SRS flashcards, which operate like Anki, or a multiple-choice game where you’re shown the character and have to select the right definition. HSK Drill won’t teach you the vocabulary, but it will help you out with some pre-exam reviews.

Screenshot of HSK hanzi revision with Chinese SkillChineseSkill makes it very easy to try out Chinese. You can start learning Mandarin without investing much time or any money. They pack so much value into a freemium app that it’s hard to complain about it. But I will do that anyway…

Things I dislike about ChineseSkill

Chinese is a tonal language, so learning the tones straight away will make your studies much easier. However, the pinyin course is hidden away in the Panda’s Toolbox rather than in the recommend courses, as if it were a useful add-on rather than integral to the language. The same goes for the character drills.

Screenshot of pinyin drills in ChineseSkillLearning a language around topics is also a pretty inefficient way to do things. Depending on the course you pick, you could end up learning some unimportant vocabulary before you learn other essential things. An example would be learning how to say “star” or “triangle” before learning how to ask “what?”

ChineseSkill vs LingoDeer: What’s The Difference?

On initial glance, it might seem like the biggest difference between ChineseSkill and LingoDeer is whether you’re cheered on by a panda or a deer. However, the two apps vary in quite a few ways.

ChineseSkill is the original version of LingoDeer. When LingoDeer was first launched, the main difference was that it offered additional languages. This is still a big plus for LingoDeer: if you’re looking to learn Spanish and Mandarin at the same, for example, then LingoDeer will likely be a better option for you.

LingoDeer uses ChineseSkill’s Old Course with a few small tweaks. The main one is that the Pinyin Drill is the first lesson of level one (although you can skip it, if you wish). It also has Fluent Chinese, which is the same as Immersion/Speak Up on Chinese Skill; Travel Phrasebook; and Character Drill.

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Screenshot of LingoDeer that is almost identical to ChineseSkillThe Arcade, meanwhile, has moved to a companion app – DeerPlus. If you were a big fan of the Arcade games, this could be annoying for you and tip the scales in ChineseSkill’s favor.

Neither LingoDeer nor DeerPlus, however, have the Main Course or the HSK Drills.

To sum up: you can find everything on LingoDeer and DeerPlus on ChineseSkill (minus the other languages, of course!). If you opt for LingoDeer and DeerPlus, meanwhile, you won’t have access to the HSK Drills. And if you just use LingoDeer, you won’t get the HSK Drills or the Arcade games.

Moreover, if you have a preference for the new Main Course over the Old Course, you’ll need to stick to ChineseSkill.

On top of that, there are some pricing differences. Currently, ChineseSkill’s premium subscription fee is more expensive than LingoDeer’s but cheaper than the combined subscription for LingoDeer and DeerPlus. Since there are frequent price drops, however, it’s worth comparing all the apps at the time of purchase.

Is ChineseSkill (Or LingoDeer) right for you?

Possibly. ChineseSkill is best for those who just want an introduction to Mandarin or have no money to spend. It’s great if you aren’t sure if you’re really willing to put the time into learning Chinese but want to get started easily and try it out.

However, if you’re reading this, then you’re probably trying to figure out the best resources to utilize your limited time and wondering if ChineseSkill is one of them. If you’re really trying to build that solid foundation that you can later build upon, I’d have to suggest using other resources to get you started.

What are the alternatives to ChineseSkill?

As well as LingoDeer, there are plenty of other options for learning Mandarin.

HelloChinese would be the obvious alternative. Both apps are quite similar, but I prefer HelloChinese. In my opinion, they do most things a bit better than ChineseSkill.

Skritter is the best option for learning to write Chinese characters that I’ve seen.

ChinesePod is one of the best resources out there, especially for listening comprehension.

Yoyo Chinese is also a good alternative to ChineseSkill but for different reasons than ChinesePod. It’s not as cheap, but the lessons progress in a very clear and well-structured manner. Grammar is explained very clearly. They also have a good free video pinyin guide.

ChineseForUs has an incredibly thorough online Chinese course for beginners. It’s not too expensive and is really good.

If you’re interested in practicing reading Chinese, I’d suggest either Du Chinese or The Chairman’s Bao. They’re both excellent apps that provide practice reading materials for various levels of Chinese.

Final Thoughts

One person’s best resource might leave another person disappointed. After all, we all have different motivations, free time, and learning styles. If you’re serious about learning Mandarin, and looking for something that will help you ace HSK exams or move to Beijing, ChineseSkill might not be the best option for you.

However, if you’re a beginner looking for something fun, ChineseSkill is a good free app that will introduce you to the basics of Mandarin Chinese.

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