SDE International - Shenzhen

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One of the most daunting issues to overcome when living in China is the dreaded language barrier. Sometimes, trying to express the simplest of things can be exhausting if both parties can barely squeak out a basic sentence in each other’s mother tongues.

But now, there’s hope! Modern technology has greatly enhanced our opportunities to learn new skills, and learning Mandarin Chinese has never been easier. There are hundreds of helpful apps out there that you can download on your phone to study Chinese on the go. Your half-hour commute on the metro will not only be educational, but it will also fly by as you have fun mastering what you thought was impossible to learn just a few months ago.

Though there are many apps to choose from, these are a few of the ones I have found to be most effective for quickly improving your Chinese. Better yet, they’re free!


The gold-standard when it comes to English-Chinese dictionary apps, Pleco is one of the most complete and versatile apps for Chinese learners at all stages. Pleco can work offline, so you’ll be able to make yourself understood in even the most remote, wifi-less locations.

A great feature of the app is the Optical Character Recognizer, which you can purchase as an add-on. It provides instant translations simply by pointing your phone camera at a set of Chinese characters. In addition, the app allows you to hand-write characters in case you don’t know the correct pinyin.

Du Chinese

A great app for Chinese reading, Du Chinese is packed with convenient features to maximize your reading ability. It updates frequently with new short stories, and with six levels ranging from Newbie to Master, you’ll never run out of topics that pique your interest.

Open a story and you’ll quickly notice the many cool features included. Use your thumb to scroll over the words and get an instant translation at the top. You can even play a voiceover of the story and adjust the speed to match your listening ability, or turn the pinyin on or off to test what you know.

To improve your vocabulary, you can simply long press on an unfamiliar word to save it to a word bank. Later, you can open the word bank to take a vocabulary test that uses spaced-repetition to reinforce your memory. As of today, this app is currently only available on iOS.


Memrise is one of the first apps I used when I began studying Chinese three years ago, and I still rely on it today. It has managed to build a supportive community of like-minded people who create hundreds of courses with topics they think will be useful for their fellow language learners. Courses include simple topics like verbs, animals, how to read a menu in Chinese, and more complex ones like HSK exam preparation.

The main focus of Memrise is (you guessed it!) memorization. This app pioneered the spaced-repetition learning method which involves reviewing words between increasing intervals of time to better retain information. Using this method, I was able to learn a huge amount of words in just a short period of time. Plus, it’s actually kind of fun!


Quizlet is essentially your very own quiz creator. The great thing about Quizlet is that you can customize your quizzes to learn exactly what you want to learn. Want to learn the names of exotic Chinese foods (凤爪 – chicken feet!)? Or perhaps you’ve got a big exam coming up and need to cram 57 new vocabulary words? Make your own quiz for it.

Once you input the words and phrases you want to memorize into your customized quiz, Quizlet will transfer them into several methods for study, including flash cards, writing practice, and a matching game. It’s a college student’s dream app!

And always remember, the key to achieving anything is persistence. Keep at it and you’ll go from Newbie to Master in no time. So what are you waiting for? Download these apps and get studying!


SDE International - Shenzhen

New teaching jobs in China interviewing now, apply today!

About the Author:

Ivan Berezowski
Ivan is part teacher, part writer, part cultural scavenger, and full-time amateur financial expert. When he isn’t busy finding new ways to save money, he can often be found behind a spectacular plate of exotic cuisine or a laptop screen with either a Word document open or that day’s NBA scores. He has lived in China for 3 years and has travelled to 12 countries, including most of East Asia and randomly Guatemala. Check out his blog, for travel tips, China life and more.
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