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20 April is Chinese Language Day, established by UNESCO in 2010 with the aim of celebrating ‘multilingualism and cultural diversity, as well as to promote the equal use of all six of its official working languages’. And what better way to celebrate this occasion by taking the time to learn a new language? Nowadays, learning a new language is as simple as downloading an app to your smartphone. But before you take the plunge and download any old app, there are a couple of things to keep in mind.
The features of a good language-learning app
- Active learning: A good app should involve active learning. This means that the app should ask you questions and force you to remember the correct answer.
- Customised product: A good app should allow you the flexibility to choose the settings according to your needs. For instance, you should have the opportunity to choose to study the lessons or the vocabulary that match your interests and proficiency level. The best way to keep your motivation up is to study only things you are interested in and you can use on your daily life.
- Learn from your mistakes: A good app will learn from your mistakes – by recording them – and force you to review what you forgot, while skipping the parts you already know.
- Specific need: A good app is going to be helpful to review your lessons or learn new vocabulary; however to master a new language you’ll need more than that. Never trust a developer that claims his app is the only tool you need to learn the Chinese language.
With those points in mind, let's take a look at some of the best language learning apps available to download.
Hello Chinese is a game-based learning app where you accumulate points while you make your way through the different challenges. Each lesson is broken up into a handful of stages based around pronunciation, giving you a number of examples before setting a challenge to complete. Successful completion of all the stages allows you to progress to the next lesson. You learn vocabulary with the aid of pictures, matching different images to phrases and sentences, while the app teaches grammar by giving you a couple of basic sentences before building more complex structures on top of them. The app also gives you pronunciation stages so you can practice out loud - just don’t be shy about it.
You can also get reminder notifications to practise every day. Learn pinyin (that's the system used to transcribe Chinese characters into our Roman alphabet), grammar and vocabulary. And Hello Chinese's best feature is that the app is completely free, and has no in-app purchases or constant ad breaks while you're learning to worry about.
The popular Memrise app has a staggering 88 languages on offer, so apart from Mandarin you can brush up on your French, German, Spanish and even Afrikaans. The app is based on the Memrise learning website and offers numerous lists that you can include in your study programme, such as: the complete list of radicals (words that don't obey the normal rules), vocabulary lists, the lessons from Chinese Grammar Wiki, and vocabulary from popular textbooks, among others.
However, the strong point of Memrise is not its lists but rather its mnemonic rules and its community, which are all integrated into the app. This means that the software is designed to help you remember words by using visual or conceptual mnemonic rules that are created and tested both by the developers and the enormous community of students that it has. So by using Memrise, you are given access to a worldwide community of teachers and students, all of whom have worked with and tested the language tools on offer. The basic (free) version of the app comes with all the software you could want, while the paid-for Pro version offers more options for customisation, such as difficulty levels and video learning.
TutorMandarin is a premium Chinese app which offers you a personalised learning platform with one-on-one native tutors. The app comes with built-in courses that are designed around HSK (Hanyu Shuiping Kaoshi) standards, the standard tests that measure Chinese language proficiency.
The app's best features are the Learn Chinese videos, articles about Chinese culture, and flash cards which they update constantly and are available for free. These contents are quite useful for those of us who want to learn Mandarin for professional use and career development. If you are looking for an app that lets you learn Chinese professionally with your own tutor and also gives you more insight into China's rich culture and history, then TutorMandarin is the perfect app for you.