We compile a list of 5 smartphone apps to help non-Chinese speakers learn the language in anticipation of Chinese New Year.

Published 2018-02-01 11:26:09

It’s already difficult enough being a ‘banana’ (Chinese person who can’t understand Chinese) in Malaysia, what with your friends sometimes forgetting your linguistic handicap and rambling off in Cantonese about the final episode of My Unfair Lady, or looking at you funny when you fail to properly order shuit cha during dinner at the hawker centre.

To those who can relate, it’s very likely that at some point you wished that you could converse in Mandarin, Cantonese, or whatever dialect, just to be able to feel included in extended family discussions.

To that end, we’ve compiled a list of 5 great language learning apps to help you on your way to becoming a competent Chinese conversationalist.

While we do not guarantee that you’ll be able to tell your jiu jius from your shu shus this CNY, we can at least hope that what you’ll learn will help you not appear completely clueless at the reunion dinner.

1. Fluent U

Using the unconventional method of teaching language to learners via real-world media content, Fluent U allows users to pick up over 10 different languages, including Mandarin, Spanish, and Russian.

The Fluent U platform take real media content from around the web such as YouTube videos, commercials, and news bites and turns them into personalised lessons with all phrases and captions translated.

All translations are also provided context to allow the learner to understand how words and phrases are used in the real-world, making the experience fun and effective. Imagine learning Mandarin through the Chinese version of Disney’s Frozen.

There are also features such as quizzes and flashcards to help with memory retention and recall.

Available on iOS as a paid app, with prices beginning at US$10 per month.

2. Cantonese By Nemo

Cantonese By Nemo aims to help absolute beginners learn and get to grips with the Cantonese dialect through audio learning, with features such as Speech Studio to help learners compare their own speech patterns against that of a native speaker’s, and audio phrases stored on the phone to allow for easy access at a moment’s notice.

Image Credit: Cantonese By Nemo

The app allows users to customise content to suit their learning needs and to choose what they would like to learn instead of being forced to follow a set course. Other features include a Review Mode to help learners to refresh past lessons, and a system to help learners commit what they’ve learned to long term memory.

Also, you can now join your buddies as they sing along to that Eason Chan banger during the next sing-k session.

Available on iOS and Android for free, with extra content and features are available through in-app purchases.

3. Memrise

Memrise is another app that teaches a multitude of languages including Mandarin, French, and Japanese. It boasts over 15 million users worldwide, and aims to make sure that the experience of learning a new language is made as fun as possible, using games, chatbots, and native speaker videos as tools to help even absolute novices master a new language.

Image Credit: Memrise

With courses crafted by expert native speakers and an extensive library to help users learn to read, write, converse, and differentiate between accents all for free, Memrise is a good place for beginners looking to get their feet wet.

Available on iOS and Android for free, with the option to upgrade to a paid premium version to expedite learning also available.

4. Simply Learn Hokkien

All those hell bent on being able to say anything more than wa kah li kong or boh lui should definitely consider this app. With Hokkien phrases and vocabulary presented in phonetic audio bites and text, learners will be able to quickly grasp and master the skill of understanding and conversing in Hokkien.

All audio bites are recorded by a native Taiwanese speaker, and the app focuses on helping travelers with common touristy Hokkien phrases and words, especially if they’re visiting Taiwan. Not that you have to be visiting Taiwan to find this app useful—you’ll find it being equally handy for helping you find your way around the Hokkien speaking locales of Klang and Penang.

Available on iOS and Android for free, with extra content and features are available through in-app purchases.

5. Du Chinese

If learning to read and write in Chinese is your goal, definitely have a look at this app. Du Chinese aims to help learners improve their vocabulary and grammar by frequently adding new articles in Mandarin, and then supplementing them with definitions, diction, and context.

Users will be able to easily look up the meaning of any word, and can save them for review at a later time, making learning the language a flexible process.

Image Credit: Du Chinese

Available on iOS and Android for free, with extra content and features are available through in-app purchases.


The 15th of February approaches quickly, but it isn’t yet too late to pick up a few useful phrases to throw around when you next meet the whole family. Also, wouldn’t it be fun to be able to chat with grandma (or nai nai) when she gets around to asking why you’re still not married yet?

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