Many people have the idea that the real work of learning a language takes place in a classroom, and/or with a teacher or conversation partner. In fact, this is only part of the picture. To learn Chinese most efficiently, a lot of progress can and should be made through independent study. This is especially important when it comes to memorizing Chinese words. If you’re an independent learner looking to grow your Chinese vocabulary fast, apps to learn Chinese are an excellent solution.
Since the different learning Chinese apps focus on different skill areas, it makes sense to use several apps simultaneously for best results. In this article we’re going to delve into three of the best apps to learn Chinese – The Chairman’s Bao, Skritter, and Hack Chinese – each of which offers unique features and benefits. We’ll explain how to use them in combination to level-up your Chinese learning, and you’ll discover how to memorize Chinese characters faster, with greater efficacy and less effort. Does that sound good? Then read on…
How to Memorize Chinese Words using The Chairman’s Bao, Skritter, and Hack Chinese
Have you ever worried that you won’t achieve your Chinese learning goals because you have a hard time memorizing vocabulary? Do Chinese characters look confusing and impenetrable to you? Have your efforts to communicate in Chinese been hampered because you forgot a key word that you thought you should remember? You aren’t alone – every Chinese learner will relate to these experiences to some degree.
Thankfully there is hope for everyone aspiring to learn Chinese: the key to successful memorization of characters and vocabulary is repetition, repetition, repetition. Using apps makes repetition more like a fun adventure and less of a chore. We can’t say how long it will take, as your mileage may vary, but the important thing is that you’ll be making progress every day and you will accrue cumulative benefits. You too can master Chinese characters and vocabulary through a multi-pronged approach which includes reading, listening, writing, and reviewing.
Practice reading and listening (comprehensible input)
Comprehensible input means reading and listening to Chinese material at a suitable level for you. This is where a graded reading app like The Chairman’s Bao is ideal. The aim is to listen/read just a little beyond your current level, so it is neither too easy nor excessively challenging.
Sometimes you might be in the frame of mind to tackle something more challenging that requires greater concentration; at other times, you might opt for easier material with a very high level of comprehensibility, depending on your mood and goals for that day. As long as you don’t consistently aim too high or too low, you will benefit from Chinese reading and listening practice.
The Chairman’s Bao articles are graded by HSK level, so finding suitable material is convenient and straightforward. You can set your preferences by turning pinyin on or off, and choosing simplified or traditional Chinese characters. During your reading and listening practice, you are advised to save new Chinese words for later review; that’s where flashcard apps become an essential addition to your toolkit.
By using a smart vocabulary review system such as Hack Chinese, you will practice new words and phrases repeatedly until they stick in your long-term memory. This is important for a language like Chinese, which has a negligible amount of words in common with English. And it’s especially useful for learning low-frequency vocabulary that you encounter less often during your reading and listening.
If you aspire to become fluent and/or attain a native-like level in Chinese, you face the daunting task of acquiring a huge amount of vocabulary, including low-frequency vocabulary. Amazingly, using a platform like Hack Chinese for just 10-20 minutes a day can help you to learn thousands of Chinese words within a year.
Note that using comprehensible input and flashcards together is key to success. If you focus too heavily on flashcards without the reading and listening practice, you may become a pro at flashcard tests, but your real-world communication skills may lag behind. Conversely, if you get lots of reading and listening practice without using flashcards, you are likely to forget much of the new vocabulary that you encounter. The latter is not a deal-breaker, as those forgotten words will crop up again as you continue getting exposure to the language, yet your memorization will be slower and less efficient.
Reading Chinese articles and reviewing flashcards can take you a long way. However, there’s a difference between being able to recognize a Chinese character (passive memorization), and being able to write a character by hand (active memorization). Learning to write characters is useful not only for the sake of being able to write, but also because it makes you a better reader. And it is particularly helpful when it comes to distinguishing between similar characters which may only differ by a few strokes.
Skritter is for sure one of the best apps to learn Chinese characters. While guiding you through writing each character stroke by stroke, it simultaneously teaches you other essential info about the character, including the meaning, tone, and pronunciation.
Learn the building blocks
Chinese characters aren’t just random strokes, they contain clues to their meaning and pronunciation: for example, radicals, which are often located on the left side of the character. Here’s a quick example that illustrates how radicals can help to distinguish between similar characters:
- 情 qíng meaning “feeling / sentiment” (contains the heart radical 忄)
- 晴 qíng meaning “clear / fine (weather)” (contains the sun radical 日 )
- 请 qǐng meaning “ask / invite” (contains the speech radical 讠)
The Skritter app has a free course in 100 Common Chinese Radicals which is a perfect way to dive deeper into this essential topic.
The Benefits of Using Apps to Learn Chinese
We’ve explored how to memorize Chinese characters effectively, aided by apps like The Chairman’s Bao, Skritter and Hack Chinese. Meanwhile, here are some additional advantages of using apps to learn Chinese…
Compared to typical language courses and materials such as textbooks, Chinese learning apps allow for greater personalization and exploration of your own interests. The Chairman’s Bao, for example, has thousands of graded Chinese news articles about a wide variety of topics, so you can choose something that is both appropriate for your language level and also relevant to your interests. Meanwhile apps like Skritter and Hack Chinese use algorithms to provide a personalized experience: they learn from your mistakes and show you the content that you need to review at exactly the right time.
When you use apps consistently, you can get helpful insights into your progress by delving into your learning data. These are available in your progress dashboard on TCB, Skritter, and Hack Chinese. From there, you’ll be able to track stats such as vocabulary growth, flashcard scores, quiz results, study streak, and more.
Language classes have limitations, such as a fixed timetable. Apps, such as the newly launched TCB app, make it easy to study Chinese on your mobile device at any time while on the move. Whenever you get a burst of motivation, you can open the app and fit some essential Chinese practice into your day.
Paying for Chinese courses, 1:1 tuition, or immersion programs can be very costly, and study time is limited to certain hours. Apps make daily Chinese immersion more accessible for all, and many apps provide a range of free features as well as reasonably priced subscriptions. Using them daily/regularly ensures that you get your money’s worth and maximize your progress.
Some of the best apps to learn Chinese offer additional value and convenience by allowing users to transfer learning material from one app to another. For example, words in your TCB vocabulary bank can be imported into Skritter or Hack Chinese for review. This makes the Chinese learning experience more seamless and integrated.
3 of the Best Apps to Learn Chinese
Let’s take a closer look at the features and benefits of The Chairman’s Bao, Skritter, and Hack Chinese.
Enjoy reading in Chinese with The Chairman’s Bao
The Chairman’s Bao is one of the leading sources of Chinese reading and listening material, used by Chinese learners and educators around the world. Our graded news articles cater to a diverse range of interests, from international affairs to pop culture to technology. TCB makes reading in Chinese accessible and enjoyable no matter your language level.
The TCB app is first and foremost a Chinese reading app. As such, it offers a range of personalization options so the user can tailor the reading experience to suit their needs and preferences. Pinyin, traditional and simplified Chinese scripts are available, as well as different font styles and sizes for reader comfort. The interactive interface makes it convenient to look up new words and save them to your personal vocabulary bank.
As well as a quality reading and listening experience, other standout features of the TCB app include writing tools to practice Chinese stroke order; native-speaker audio recordings with every article; reading and listening comprehension quizzes; Chinese grammar guides; and flashcard reviews.
Master writing Chinese characters with Skritter
To discover how to memorize Chinese characters with less pain and more gain, check out Skritter for mobile and desktop. Its smart features will help you learn Chinese pronunciation, tones, stroke order, and meaning. Skritter’s simple and intuitive system sets learners up for success, even if they’ve failed at learning Chinese characters using other methods.
Using the Skritter app is like having a Chinese teacher in your pocket. The different courses are well structured, with vocabulary decks and instructional videos throughout. When practicing characters you’ll get instant feedback on your stroke order, and your progress is tracked so you’ll be tested more frequently on characters that you find difficult.
Compared to typical flashcard tests, Skritter goes the extra mile to help you master key skills for the long-term. The action of writing characters and drawing tones makes them stick in your memory. The first few hundred basic Chinese characters are not that difficult, as they tend to be easily distinguished from other characters and are comprised of only a few strokes. As you keep growing your vocabulary however, characters become increasingly complex, and you may find it hard to differentiate between similar-looking characters. Here, Skritter will prove truly invaluable in helping you sustain your progress to more advanced levels.
The Skritter app is not only powerful and effective when used by itself, but it also has integrations with other learning Chinese apps, including The Chairman’s Bao. Syncing your Skritter and TCB accounts will ensure that any new vocabulary that you save in TCB is added to a custom Skritter deck for later review.
Memorize Chinese words the smart way with Hack Chinese
Hack Chinese is frequently recommended as a must-have app for learning Chinese vocabulary, and it’s not difficult to see why, when you discover how powerful it is. The platform has an intelligent flashcard review system driven by spaced-repetition, so you are tested on words at optimal intervals, right before you are likely to forget them.
Hack Chinese is packed with ready-to-use flashcard sets across different categories (HSK levels are just one of the categories available), as well as an array of options to fine-tune the algorithm to your preferences. The Hack Chinese interface is also pleasingly minimalist and easy on the eye.
One of the best things that sets Hack Chinese apart from other flashcard systems is its inclusion of example sentences for each vocabulary item. Learning Chinese words in isolation is less efficient, as it overlooks the importance of context and understanding how Chinese native speakers express themselves. Thanks to the example sentences provided in Hack Chinese, the time and effort that you spend on studying Chinese words will actually help you adjust to “thinking in Chinese”, which is key to becoming an effective communicator in the language.
Like Skritter, Hack Chinese supports integration with The Chairman’s Bao. When the integration is enabled in your settings, any new words saved while reading in TCB will be synced with your Hack Chinese account to study during your vocabulary reviews.
Extra Resources for Learning Chinese
Pleco Chinese dictionary
Pleco allows users to look up Chinese words through various input methods: search by radical or pinyin; write the character by hand, or capture it using your phone camera; or speak into the microphone. Pleco users can purchase optional add-ons such as Chinese short stories and graded reading bundles.
Chinese podcasts are a fantastic resource, providing an inexhaustible amount of Chinese listening material, much of it for free. Some Chinese podcasts include additional resources for learners, such as transcripts and vocabulary lists. A few of our favorite learner-friendly podcasts are Chillchat, Maomi Chinese, Learn Chinese Through Stories, and Teatime Chinese. A special mention goes to One Chinese Word a Day, which does exactly what it says in the title – you will learn a new Chinese character and how to use it in phrases and sentences, in less than 5 minutes a day.
We’ve explained how to memorize Chinese words quickly and painlessly using the combined power of The Chairman’s Bao, Skritter, and Hack Chinese. Using two or three of the aforementioned apps will add a big boost to your Chinese learning, and together they are a winning combination that ensures all of your independent study needs are covered. Let’s quickly recap the benefits of using these apps to learn Chinese:
- Reading and listening practice for HSK levels 1-6+ (TCB)
- Sophisticated writing practice tools (Skritter)
- Powerful SRS vocabulary review system (Hack Chinese)
- User-friendly and quality-assured
- A range of personalization options
- Integration across platforms
- Aligned to exam standards, such as HSK
- Study on your mobile/desktop anytime and anywhere
- Free features available, along with reasonably priced subscription plans
With so many apps out there, we Chinese learners have plenty of great options to choose from. It pays to choose tools that you find convenient and enjoy using, as those are the ones you’ll feel motivated to return to for regular study sessions. Good luck with your learning, and have fun!
Daisy Ward is an experienced online English teacher, writer and content creator with a passion for foreign languages and cultures. Her expertise in effective language-learning strategies is derived from many years in language classrooms, both as a teacher and as a student. Fluent in French and competent in Mandarin Chinese, she attributes much of her success in learning languages to the use of apps and other online tools.