When learning Chinese, stay ‘appy (sorry)

Made by Cat using Phoster App
Made by Cat using Phoster App

I was two years into learning Chinese before discovering my first app to help me along the way. Not being the most affluent student meant that I had no smart phone or tablet. However, this all changed after I had finally drunk enough milk-less tea, consolidated by Saturday-job bounty, and gathered together enough money to splurge on my first real high-end purchase: an iPad.

From then on, my learning experience was completely revolutionised. I did away with the reams of paper and notebooks that I had (sometimes wrongly) scribbled characters and phrases into. While my fellow students had tapped away on their devices looking for definitions, I could finally join them in nodding and murmuring in understanding, instead of breaking into a cold sweat and desperately attempting to ascertain meaning from a context I also didn’t grasp.

I’m proud to acknowledge that despite these 21st century first-world limitations, my grades remained high, and I am thankful for learning the skills of deduction, confidence to ask for help, and ability to not melt-down if my phone battery blinks into red. With that being said, my opportunities to learn Mandarin would be few were it not for the wonderful apps that I feel a little bit blessed to have come across. All of apps were downloaded using either the Apple App Store or the Android Play Store.

  • Pleco

Pleco was the first app I came across during my year abroad, and it has been a firm favourite of mine ever since. Pleco is an extensive offline Chinese dictionary in both simplified and traditional characters (quick salute of respect to those who can write in traditional!) Pleco allows you to search for words using pinyin, English, or hanzi, invaluable for quickly checking meanings in class, or even during conversations if the answer is not so urgent. There are even numerous example sentences with pinyin and translation which also helps to ascertain word usage, as well as a flashcard system with HSK vocabulary lists. Although I’m not a great fan of flashcards, I can’t deny that many a long, arduous train journey has passed with me brushing up on my exam vocab. I’ve never forgotten how to say ‘rocket’.

  • Skritter

I remember coming across Skritter because I can vividly recall leaping across the study table in the library to see what magic my friend held in his palms. As he explained, Skritter is a Chinese vocabulary app designed to help you build up your inner dictionary, recognise characters, and most impressively, become adept at writing Chinese hanzi. Skritter’s system takes your scores into account using a traffic-light symbolism of red, amber and green. ‘Red’ characters will only stop cropping up once the system is confident you have learnt them to ‘green’ standard, and that includes the correct stroke order! I was most delighted with Skritter’s user-made database of textbook vocabulary. The list is not all-reaching, but there is the opportunity to create your own if you have the patience. Skritter’s app is sadly not free, nor is it at the cheaper end of the App Store, however when I was in the throes of weekly vocabulary tests, I did not regret the payment in the slightest.

  • Amanda App

A relatively new app, I tried out Amanda like an excited child uncovering hidden Christmas presents in the wardrobe. The app takes bite-size news articles (perfect size for regular studying without succumbing to fatigue) and translates them seamlessly between Chinese and English. For new learners, the occasional word is translated, so readers only need dip their toes into the world of putong hua. But for those looking for more immersion, pressing each word will reveal its corresponding definition in both characters and pinyin pronunciation. What’s more, recordings are available of each article, allowing you to also develop your listening skills (something I personally struggle with). Past finding its feet, I’m excited to see what other shoes Amanda will fill in the future.

Coming soon: My favourite websites for Chinese study. Happy learning and 好好学习!

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