What is the best free app to learn Chinese?

In recent years, learning Chinese as a second language has become increasingly popular around the world. According to a report by the China National Office for Teaching Chinese as a Foreign Language (Hanban), over 100 million people were learning Chinese in 2020, reflecting a huge growth in interest compared to just 40 million learners in 2004.

There are many benefits and reasons why learning Chinese has become so important today. Firstly, China has the largest population in the world, so Chinese is the most spoken language globally with over 1.2 billion native speakers. As China’s economic and political influence continues to grow, there are more opportunities to use Chinese for business, trade, and travel.

In addition, research has shown cognitive, social and cultural benefits of learning Chinese. According to psychologists, the visual nature and tones of Chinese characters and pronunciation have been linked to improving memory, focus and listening abilities in children and adults (source). Learning Chinese also opens up doors to understanding unique cultural traditions, philosophies, arts and history.

Given the global rise of China and the personal growth opportunities, it’s clear why Chinese is considered one of the most valuable languages to learn in the world today.

Criteria for Evaluating Chinese Learning Apps

There are several key factors to consider when evaluating apps for learning Chinese:

User friendliness – The app should have an intuitive, easy-to-navigate interface that is accessible to users of all levels.

Range of vocabulary/lessons – Look for apps that cover basic conversational topics and vocabulary as well as more advanced reading, writing, and grammar.

Audio quality – Clear native speaker audio is essential for mimicking pronunciation. Make sure the voices are natural and easy to understand.

Customizability/personalization – The best apps allow you to set goals, test out of lessons, and tailor the curriculum to your needs.

Adaptive learning – Apps that dynamically adapt based on your strengths, weaknesses, and progress can accelerate learning.

Gamification and rewards – Features like points, levels, challenges, and rewards can boost engagement and motivation.

#1 Recommendation – HelloChinese

HelloChinese is often considered the best free Chinese learning app available. It offers a fun, game-like interface that makes studying engaging. Some key features of HelloChinese include:

Lessons that combine reading, writing, speaking, and listening. The lessons are short but pack in a lot of variety to help cement new vocabulary and grammar concepts. Audio is provided by native speakers.

An intelligent flashcard SRS system that spaces out review of new words based on your memory strength. This avoids overwhelming users with too many flashcards while optimizing memorization.

Customizable quiz questions and writing challenges to reinforce lessons. You can test yourself on the vocabulary and characters you’ve learned.

A built-in dictionary/phrasebook to quickly look up words and sample sentences.

Clean, intuitive design that’s easy to navigate. The app avoids clutter and excess notifications.

According to reviews on Reddit (https://www.reddit.com/r/languagelearning/comments/3dshoa/hellochinese_app_review_japanese_cantonese/), HelloChinese strikes a great balance between fun and educational value. Users mention that the content is well-paced and comprehensive for beginners. The only drawback noted is that advanced students may run out of material.

Overall, HelloChinese is a top choice for those starting out with Chinese. It makes picking up vocabulary and grammar basics enjoyable, not a chore.

Other Top Recommendations

Here are two other excellent apps for learning Chinese that are worth considering:

Best for Vocabulary Building – Duolingo

Duolingo is one of the most popular language learning apps with over 300 million users. It uses fun, gamified lessons to help you build vocabulary and grammar skills. Duolingo offers bite-sized lessons that you can do for just 5-10 minutes a day. It tracks your progress and gives encouraging reminders if you miss a lesson.

Pros: Huge library of vocabulary, easy to use, motivational style. Cons: Focuses more on individual words than full sentences or conversations.

Best AI-Powered App – Yoyo Chinese

Yoyo Chinese utilizes artificial intelligence to create customized lessons based on your needs. It analyzes your speech patterns and weak areas to design targeted lessons. Yoyo Chinese also has extensive explanations of grammar, culture tips, and an online student community.

Pros: Adaptive learning technology, detailed grammar instruction. Cons: Paid plans can get expensive, heavy focus on speaking/listening over reading/writing.

Best for Beginners – ChineseSkill

ChineseSkill is an excellent free app for absolute beginners looking to learn Mandarin Chinese. With its comprehensive curriculum and engaging lessons, it provides everything a new learner needs to build a strong foundation in the language.

One of the key reasons ChineseSkill is ideal for beginners is that it teaches words and phrases in context, with plenty of images, audio recordings, and example sentences. This helps new learners grasp the meaning and usage naturally, without having to memorize vocabulary lists.

Some standout features of ChineseSkill for beginners include:

  • Step-by-step lessons covering greetings, introductions, numbers, colors, time, food, shopping, and more daily conversational topics.
  • Fun quizzes and exercises to reinforce lessons.
  • An SRS flashcard system to practice writing Chinese characters.
  • Audio recordings by native speakers for accurate pronunciation.

The app excels at breaking the language down into digestible chunks. With bite-sized lessons of just 5-10 minutes, it allows complete beginners to build knowledge over time without getting overwhelmed. The clean, intuitive interface also makes it easy for new learners to navigate.

Overall, ChineseSkill hits the mark for those starting from scratch. With its structured curriculum and engaging content, it provides the perfect launch pad for beginners to gain confidence in their ability to learn Mandarin.[1]

Best for Vocabulary Building – Duolingo

Duolingo is one of the most popular language learning apps, with over 300 million users worldwide. For learning Chinese vocabulary specifically, Duolingo offers some great features.

Duolingo uses spaced repetition and matching games to help reinforce vocabulary. As you progress, the app will repeat new words at optimal intervals to boost retention. There are also fun mini-games for practicing vocab, like matching Pinyin sounds to characters.

One major advantage of Duolingo is that it teaches simplified and traditional Chinese characters. You can choose to learn one or both script types. This flexibility helps build a strong vocab foundation.

Duolingo also utilizes AI to customize vocabulary lessons to you. The app analyzes your previous responses and focuses on strengthening weak vocab areas. This adaptive learning ensures you master the vocab most relevant to your needs.

While Duolingo has received some criticism for its Chinese course, many users agree it excels at vocabulary building. With spaced repetition, engaging games, character support, and AI-customization, Duolingo can be a great supplement for Chinese vocabulary practice.


Duolingo Chinese Review – Free, But Still Not Worth Using

Best AI-Powered App – Yoyo Chinese

Yoyo Chinese stands out for its use of artificial intelligence technology to adapt lessons and vocabulary practice to each learner’s needs. The app uses advanced algorithms to analyze a user’s strengths, weaknesses, and learning habits in order to create a personalized curriculum.

After completing new lessons or practice exercises, Yoyo Chinese evaluates a learner’s performance to identify areas of difficulty. It then generates customized review sessions and quiz questions focused on the topics or characters that require further study. Over time, the app builds up an in-depth learner profile that allows it to fine-tune activities, examples, and explanations to optimize each individual’s learning experience.

According to reviews, Yoyo Chinese’s AI-based personalization is exceptionally effective at reinforcing material until it sticks (cite: https://www.alllanguageresources.com/yoyo-chinese/). Learners appreciate how the smart review and quiz features help shore up vocabulary weaknesses and grammar gaps without requiring hours of rote memorization.

Best for Grammar Lessons – ChinesePod

ChinesePod focuses specifically on helping learners master Chinese grammar. It provides over 500 audio lessons that cover all aspects of Chinese grammar from beginner to advanced. Lessons start with an explanation of a grammar pattern, followed by example sentences using the pattern. This allows learners to hear the grammar used in context. After the explanation, there are comprehension questions to check understanding. Transcripts of the lessons are also provided.

One reason ChinesePod is great for learning grammar is because of the lesson structure. By hearing the grammar concept explained and then applied in example sentences, it reinforces how the grammar works. The comprehension questions also help learners self-assess if they grasped the lesson content. Additionally, ChinesePod’s lessons are organized by CEFR skill level so you can easily find lessons for your proficiency.

ChinesePod also has specialty lesson series like their Grammar Wiki lessons that provide in-depth explanations and usage tips for tricky grammar concepts like classifiers, aspect particles, and prepositions. These lessons include grammar charts, plenty of example sentences, cultural notes and comprehension activities (Source).

Best Free Trial – Rosetta Stone

Rosetta Stone offers one of the most generous free trials for learning Mandarin Chinese. You can access all of Rosetta Stone’s core lessons and features for their Mandarin Chinese course through a 3-day free trial.

The free trial includes access to Rosetta Stone’s full curriculum of interactive lessons that use images, text, and speech recognition to teach reading, writing, speaking, and listening. You’ll be able to complete the first two units of the course, covering introductory phrases and vocabulary. The trial also unlocks all of Rosetta Stone’s proprietary speech recognition features to get feedback on your Chinese pronunciation. Additionally, you can access built-in tutors, stories, and games to supplement the core lessons.

After the 3-day free trial ends, you’ll have the option to purchase a subscription plan to continue your lessons. But the free trial gives you a comprehensive glimpse into the Rosetta Stone learning method and content.


After reviewing some of the top free apps for learning Chinese, HelloChinese stands out as the best overall option. With its fun gamified lessons, smart SRS flashcard system, and comprehensive beginner-to-intermediate content, HelloChinese excels at keeping new learners engaged and progressing.

When selecting a Chinese learning app, key factors to consider are your current level, whether you want structured lessons or more flexible practice, accessibility of features in the free version, and whether you respond better to traditional methods or a more modern gamified approach. Beginners tend to benefit most from apps like ChineseSkill and HelloChinese, while intermediate learners may appreciate apps focused on vocabulary building, grammar lessons or immersive conversations like Duolingo, ChinesePod and Yoyo Chinese.

While HelloChinese is a great starting point, it can also be beneficial to use a combination of apps based on your learning goals. But the apps covered here should provide a solid foundation for anyone looking to master Chinese for free.

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