mini-review

Vocly Mini-Review: Expand Your Vocabulary in Less Common Languages

Vocly – 3 

Vocly is a vocabulary learning app that uses a couple of different techniques to reinforce new words (although it’s unclear whether or not the app uses an SRS system). Each word comes with audio pronunciation by native speakers and a toggle to either reveal or hide the romanization of the word. As with most of Simya Solution’s apps, Vocly is best for languages with fewer available resources.

Instead of using English translations in the flashcard activities, the app will prompt you to associate the new word with a small picture. On one hand, this will help you make fewer translations into your native language. On the other hand, the pictures can be ambiguous and you may forget what they symbolize.

The flashcard activities include matching activities, identifying new words that fit under a specific category, matching the sound of a word to an image, and asking you to spell the word in the language’s script.

Unfortunately, the free version only allows 7 minutes of learning per day, which can feel rushed. Ling is a more comprehensive option for learning multiple facets of a language, but if your goal is to expand your vocabulary, Vocly has over 1600 words. The paid version is quite expensive for what it offers compared to other resources, but for less common languages it is a fun and interactive option.

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The current rating is our best estimate. We haven’t had the opportunity yet to more thoroughly evaluate this resource, as we do for our full reviews.

Cooljugator Mini-Review: Conjugations For Uncommon Languages

cooljugator – 4 

Cooljugator is a free online verb conjugation dictionary for over 40 languages, with special attention to languages without existing free resources. Besides conjugated forms, the website also provides examples, English translations, pronunciation hints, related verbs, and more. On each page, you can also read the translation for your chosen verb into every other language available on the site. Unfortunately, there are no audio files to help you with pronunciation, but maybe that will change in the future.

You can directly search for conjugations, or if you’re looking for inspiration, every language has a list of the most common verbs to choose from. On that same page, you can read some facts and a brief overview of what verb conjugation looks like in your chosen language.

Although Cooljugator is 100% free, you can purchase the creator’s other project, Interlinear Books, to learn languages through stories.

If you would like to practice verb conjugations for some common languages, check out Conjuguemos, another free resource with verb conjugation games. Also, SpanishDict is probably more appropriate for Spanish learners because of the extensive resources and activities that accompany their sections on verb conjugation. 

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The current rating is our best estimate. We haven’t had the opportunity yet to more thoroughly evaluate this resource, as we do for our full reviews.

Simply Learn Mini-Review: Spaced Repetition Phrases For Travelers

Simply Learn – 3 

In Simply Learn, by Simya Solutions, you can search for and review over 1000 phrases in over 30 categories. It takes the typical phrasebook app one step further by allowing you to add your favorite phrases to SRS flashcards. Given that its developers also developed Ling, an additional, more comprehensive resource that supports language learning, it seems that Simply Learn is a supplementary app for individuals who need to learn basic phrases for traveling abroad. 

The creators don’t seem to have intended for people to use this app to learn a language in its entirety, but rather to support them in memorizing basic phrases for travel. As with Simya Solutions’ other apps, Simply Learn is most helpful for less commonly learned languages, such as Hokkien and Khmer.

Beginners can access the basic cards for free, but the advanced traveler will have to make a one-time purchase to access all the content. If what you truly want is to have a set of phrases under your belt, Simply Learn’s SRS flashcards and native-speaker audio can support you. However, if you are studying a less commonly learned language and want to understand the basic sentence patterns and writing system, check out Ling.

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The current rating is our best estimate. We haven’t had the opportunity yet to more thoroughly evaluate this resource, as we do for our full reviews.

Hanping Chinese Dictionary Mini-Review: Good, But it’s No Pleco

Hanping Dictionary – 3.8 

Hanping Dictionary is a Chinese dictionary app for Cantonese and Mandarin. It is somewhat comparable to Pleco‘s functionality, with a few moderate differences.

Although Pleco has a larger database of example sentences, even for rarely used words, the curated examples that Hanping includes seem more relevant to everyday life. Unfortunately, you have to pay for Hanping’s English translations of the example sentences.

Hanping uses tags that you can easily add to any word. It also has an exceptional feature that allows you to sort characters by tone pairs. Do you want to practice the 4-3 tone combination, or 3-3? Search the tone-pair tag and you will receive a list of words that follow your specifications — some or all with which you can make a special pronunciation deck in AnkiDroid. There is also the free Soundboard that provides pronunciation for every Pinyin initial and final syllable combination available — an excellent tool for anyone working on pronunciation.

If it wasn’t for the fact that most of Hanping’s basic functions require an additional purchase, it could be a moderate competitor for Pleco. As it is, Pleco is still the best free option and offers more features and add-ons overall.

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The current rating is our best estimate. We haven’t had the opportunity yet to more thoroughly evaluate this resource, as we do for our full reviews.

innerFrench Mini-Review: Gain Confidence in Your Listening Skills

innerFrench – 4.6 

In his podcasts and videos, innerFrench’s founder, Hugo, articulates clearly and speaks at a slightly slower than natural speed to ensure maximum comprehension and learning. He also speaks exclusively in French, including when he introduces new words, so that viewers can have the full immersion experience.

His material addresses a variety of topics that focus on French culture and sometimes dabble in relationships and health. He films high-quality videos for intermediate learners and includes funny interactions, personal insights, and supporting videos and images. The podcasts are about half an hour long, and if you sign up for a free account, you can read the full transcription on his website.

Hugo’s online course, Build a Strong Core, will help you overcome the intermediate plateau with a detailed roadmap of daily lessons. Every lesson of the 30-day series contains a series of activities that highlight specific skills. You will listen to stories, address common grammar mistakes, and learn to differentiate between formal and informal French. Hugo designed the course to bring you closer to the advanced (B2) level, so you will find that it goes more in-depth than the free content.

If you are at a B1/B2 level, you can also check out the Raconte Ton Histoire course, which will train you to tell your own story. There are interviews with French speakers conversing at a natural speed, with quizzes and exercises to help you answer the same questions posed in the interviews.

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The current rating is our best estimate. We haven’t had the opportunity yet to more thoroughly evaluate this resource, as we do for our full reviews.

Integrated Chinese Textbook Mini-Review: Colourful and Practical

Integrated Chinese textbook – 4 

The Integrated Chinese textbook series is very colourful. The first ten pages of the first book put some emphasis on understanding and practicing pronunciation. Then, you dive into the lives of five friends living in America and their everyday experiences speaking Chinese.

Each chapter contains two dialogues between the friends and focuses on a specific topic, such as family, hobbies, or school life. The authors have ensured that vocabulary words reflect modern student life, with lots of content relevant to modern-day communication, such as text messaging and communicating on websites. There are language notes that annotate the dialogues, and grammar points are highlighted and numbered to help you identify them once you reach the grammar section of the chapter.

There are also sections for interactive language practice that will train your oral communication skills and additional vocabulary sections for keen learners. The textbook identifies lower frequency words so you can concentrate on more practical Chinese, and after every five lessons, you will review the functional expressions that Chinese speakers often use.

If you want a textbook to guide your studies, Integrated Chinese is well-organized for beginners. However, it is quite expensive compared to another popular textbook, the New Practical Chinese Reader.

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The current rating is our best estimate. We haven’t had the opportunity yet to more thoroughly evaluate this resource, as we do for our full reviews.

New Practical Chinese Reader Mini-Review: Great Value

New Practical Chinese Reader – 4.3 

Through the six volumes of this series, the authors reinforce language structure and function, integrating lessons with dialogues and cultural information. Students will follow the lives of nine main characters, initially learning basic sentence patterns through reading their dialogues, and then advancing to more complex material.

The New Practical Chinese Reader does not have as flashy of a textbook design as the Integrated Chinese textbook series. However, it is significantly cheaper and has several other advantages — including having been published by the Beijing Language and Culture University Press. Unlike in the Integrated Chinese textbook series, the focus on character writing extends beyond what is contained in the dialogues. Before attacking more complex characters, you will learn the fundamental rules of Chinese characters and break down character components. There is also a 34-page introduction to pronunciation with drills to reinforce your understanding throughout the early chapters. For the beginner levels, you will notice tone marks indicated above each character so you can get accustomed to proper tone use.

Overall, the New Practical Chinese Reader has a stronger focus on writing and pronunciation than Integrated Chinese, but the grammar explanations may not be as strong. Luckily, Chinese Grammar Wiki can be used to supplement your understanding if you do end up using this textbook.

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The current rating is our best estimate. We haven’t had the opportunity yet to more thoroughly evaluate this resource, as we do for our full reviews.

Practical Audio-Visual Chinese Mini-Review: Learn From Taiwan

Practical Audio-Visual Chinese – 4.3 

Taiwanese language schools have been using the Practical Audio-Visual Chinese series for decades. You may find that the earlier versions use some slightly out-of-date vocabulary words, as they were originally written in the time of CD-ROMs and VCRs. However, the series recently underwent a makeover that seems to have brought the content up to speed with modern technology.

Unlike many textbooks that contain short dialogues that students can use to practice speaking, some of the dialogues in this series extend up to five pages long. However, the idioms, phrases, and content of these dialogues are true to Taiwanese culture and everyday conversation. Listening or reading the text feels more like entering a movie scene than it does reading a university textbook.

Each chapter has an extensive vocabulary section that focuses on new words and words with similar characters. There are additional exercises in the grammar section, speaking activities, comics, and material straight from newspaper articles or magazines. You will also find a section that compiles the grammar and vocabulary words from the chapter into a short essay written both by hand and on the computer.

Overall, Practical Audio-Visual Chinese is a practical resource for anyone learning traditional Chinese characters.

If you purchase these textbooks in Taiwan, they are only about $35 USD. Online, however, the prices vary. Make sure you differentiate between purchasing the full textbook or the accompanying workbook!

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The current rating is our best estimate. We haven’t had the opportunity yet to more thoroughly evaluate this resource, as we do for our full reviews.

Modern Mandarin Chinese Grammar Mini-Review: Extremely Thorough

Modern Mandarin Chinese Grammar – 4.5 

Modern Mandarin Chinese Grammar divides into two parts; Part A focuses on the major features of Mandarin grammar and is intended to be a reference guide for forms or structures. Part B shows you how to use the language — sections are organized by the function of the grammar point, such as “expressing additional information” or “expressing speaker attitudes and perspectives.” These two parts cross-reference each other, giving you a broader perspective of the different sentence patterns. Each grammar point is accompanied by both simplified and traditional characters, plus examples that can be applied to modern communication.

The first few sections elaborate on basic concepts, such as pronunciation, two-syllable words, common suffixes, and word-specific tone changes. They briefly explore the Chinese writing system and then dive into structural topics like phrase order and modal verbs. Later sections in Part B become a fun reference for the question “what do I want to express now?” With the accompanying workbook (purchased separately), you can expand your range of self-expression one section at a time.

You may want to get the hard-copy version, as some reviewers have complained that it has not yet been formatted for e-book form. If you’re not ready to invest in a textbook, you can check out Chinese Grammar Wiki for a free guide to Chinese grammar.

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The current rating is our best estimate. We haven’t had the opportunity yet to more thoroughly evaluate this resource, as we do for our full reviews.

Hanzi Grids Mini-Review: Customizable and Simple to Use

Hanzi Grids – 4.5 

With Hanzi Grids you can create your own Chinese character worksheets to download as PDFs, print, and practice writing. Gone are the days of buying Chinese character books that dedicate the same amount of space to practicing ”了“ as “健康”!

The customization features on this site allow you to change the background guides, headers, row spacing, character size, column spacing, and grid colours. Although the free version is usable on its own, for a one-time fee of about $7 USD, you can also access multiple fonts and automatically convert between simplified and traditional characters.

As long as you have access to a printer, Hanzi Grids is an excellent resource to improve your character writing skills.

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The current rating is our best estimate. We haven’t had the opportunity yet to more thoroughly evaluate this resource, as we do for our full reviews.