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Four amazing apps for learning Chinese

Head back to school with these useful apps

Flickr/Ian Lamont
Whether you're new in town (in which case, hi!) or an old hand at this Beijing lark, the optimism of a new school year means you probably want to brush up on your Chinese language skills. These apps mean that you can cram 15 minutes of practice in whenever, wherever, and should hopefully mean that before you know it you'll have swapped 'wo ting bu dong' for full conversations and mad cred from all your Chinese-speaking friends.

Pleco
Free to download, add-ons cost extra. Available on Android and iOS

pleco
Screenshot from app.

Okay, so Pleco being the first app on this list is something that you could have predicted just from clicking on it, but it's an essential part of every non-native speaker's Chinese language arsenal. This handy translation app has stacks of free features, including an instant English-to-Chinese dictionary with accurate results in both hanzi and pinyin, and although some of the handiest add-ons are a little pricey, users can pick and choose them as needed.

We particularly like the free handwriting recognition system that comes free with a standard download, which translates scrawled-in characters quickly and with a pretty high rate of success. There's also a flashcard feature, that allows users to make and save vocabulary flash cards to test themselves with.


FluentU
10USD (approx 65RMB) per month for the basic version. Currently iOS only, although they are planning to release an Android version

fluentu
Screenshot from app.

FluentU, which lets you translate along to real Chinese video content via interactive captions, is insanely fun; somewhere around the third and fourth rendition of Frozen's 'Let it Go', we had the epiphany that not only is this way of practising spoken language skills great for pronunciation, it also helps to mimic real-world scenarios as the videos used are mostly pulled from Chinese pop-culture with a selection that includes TV shows, music videos and adverts.

It's a real giggle for all levels of learner, including kids and beginners, and the range of material on offer allows you to adjust the app's difficulty to suit your pace of progress. FluentU: basically like KTV, but educational.


Memrise
Basic version free, pro version 10USD (approx 65RMB). Available on Android and iOS

memrise
Screenshot from app.

If you're looking to expand your vocabulary, Memrise is perfect; it uses an intuitive process incorporating visual and mnemonic cues to help new words stick and even works in adaptive learning technology so that the app adapts itself to individual learning styles and rates of progress. It also feels a lot like a video game, with challenges and leaderboards worked in throughout the app, which is another obvious plus.

We particularly liked the competition feature, which allows users to challenge their friends. The audio pronunciation guides are pretty spot on in terms of the tones and stress patterns used, and the graphics throughout the app are classy.


Skritter
14.99USD (approx 98RMB) per month. Available on Android and iOS

skritter
Screenshot from app.

Learning to write hanzi is hard, especially without the gentle nudge of a kind teacher to guide the pen. Skritter, one of the most popular handwriting apps on the market, not only instructs the user how to accurately and neatly form characters but also informs them when they've messed it up, with real-time grading and guidance.

It's got a fun and logical interface which makes it a doddle to use, and puts a real emphasis on many of the subtleties of writing in Chinese that a beginner might neglect, such as the placement of characters on the page and stroke order. We particularly liked their way of linking pinyin, written characters and tones, with the relationship between all aspects of the Chinese language being consistently emphasised. It's admittedly expensive, but as a non-threatening language learning tool it's hard to beat.

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