Waichinese is one of the buggiest, most problematic apps I’ve used but I still highly recommend it. Learning to speak Mandarin with good pronunciation is something you can’t ignore or hope for it to come naturally. The sooner you begin improving your pronunciation, the better off you’ll be. If you’re a beginner student, it may seem like learning pronunciation can wait, but correcting pronunciation mistakes gets harder the longer you’ve been making them.
Click here to read about learning pronunciation as a beginner at Hacking Chinese. (While you’re there, bookmark the page and read everything you can.)
It’s amazing how many resources I’ve come across that encourage you to simply repeat after the speaker as if this alone is enough for you to learn to pronounce things correctly in mandarin. You need feedback from a native speaker but nearly everyone overlooks this. Waichinese is awesome because you get this feedback in a very efficient way. Way too many apps try to do too many things and end up doing nothing well. Waichinese will help you improve your pronunciation, that’s all.
Voice Recognition Software and Native Speaker Corrections
You can choose from a list of audio to practice. Some are single words, word pairs, chengyu or sample sentences. For each practice phrase, you’ll be shown the simplified characters, pinyin and can click to see the definition. Below that will be a visualization of the native speakers recording. So, you’ll be able to see the fall of a fourth tone or the high flattening of a first tone. This isn’t perfect but it’s better than I’ve seen anywhere else.
Then, you will record yourself saying the same phrase. WaiChinese use voice recognition software that actually works pretty well. You’ll see the visualization of your own speech and be able to play it back. It can be kind of painful to hear yourself and see the visualization of your speech when you first begin. If your pronunciation is bad, this can be the wakeup call you need. You can record and re-record as many times as you feel is necessary before submitting to an instructor.
They’ll then listen to your recordings and give you a score from 1 to 5 along with a comment. If you made a mistake they’ll tell you what you did wrong. For example, ‘your 次 sounds like “si”‘ or they’ll tell you if your tones are off. Getting this feedback is incredibly valuable. They’ll also give you suggestions on which exercises you should try next.
Too Many Bugs
Waichinese isn’t perfect though. The app needs some serious improvements. Sometimes the audio will be delayed significantly. It’s been so bad that I’ve actually opened Pleco to review flashcards while waiting for the audio to play. Unfortunately, this wasn’t a particularly rare occurrence.
The bugs are fairly common. I remember when I first used the app eight months ago, after paying I had waited a few days and still wasn’t able to submit my lessons. I ended up sending an email and they were quick to respond and get my account activated.
The grading scale is from 1-5. Despite having submitted hundreds of recordings, I’ve only ever received the score 2 or 5. It’s not a problem, having the audio graded on a correct/incorrect scale is fine and doesn’t really change things. It’s just worth mentioning and they should consider moving away from the 5 point rating scale in the future.
Free – You can use the voice recognition software, record and replay your voice, and compare it to the native speaker.
Demo ($10/mo) – You’ll have access to 900 lessons. Each month you’ll be able to submit 50 to be corrected by a teacher and will have results within 48 hours.
Beginner ($25/mo) – You’ll have access to 15k lessons. Each month you’ll be able to submit 150 to be corrected by a teacher and will have results within 24 hours. You’ll also receive pronunciation evaluations and 3 “just for you” lessons.
Advanced ($50/mo) – You’ll have access to the same 15k lessons, pronunciation evaluations and still receive feedback within 24 hours. In addition, you’ll be able to submit 300 lessons per month and receive 5 “just for you” lessons.
I think pretty much everybody learning Chinese will struggle with pronunciation and will need help improving their own. Given how important this skill is, it’s shocking to find so few resources available to help you improve your own pronunciation. So many apps, websites, and courses only teach pronunciation by having you repeat the speaker. This isn’t enough. In order to improve your Chinese pronunciation, you need more help. Your options likely include bothering a friend, hiring a tutor on italki or recording yourself and comparing it to the native speaker. I think WaiChinese is cheaper and more efficient than those alternatives. While WaiChinese is far from perfect, it’s the best resource I’ve encountered to improve your pronunciation.