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Top 10 Apps for Studying Chinese (iOS/Android)

Learning Chinese through smartphone or tablet? Here are 10 recommended apps to study Mandarin.

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One of the easiest ways to start learning Chinese or improve language skills is to use apps. What’s on Weibo has listed 10 recommended apps that are helpful to any learner of Mandarin.

One of the most-asked questions by people who want to learn Mandarin is: where do I start? Do you begin by learning characters, do you start out with tones, or just focus on the pinyin? For more advanced learners, there is another challenge. How do you make sure you do not lose the knowledge you already have and to how to keep on improving your language skills?

Although learners should always work with whatever methods are most effective for them, the most productive way of studying Mandarin is to study its different components at the same time. Studying new words on paper without learning their tones is not recommended, neither is focusing on pinyin without learning the characters. Instead, it’s better to get a grasp on all the different aspects of this rich language.

Some of the 10 apps in this list are Chinese apps meant for a Chinese audience, and not necessarily meant for Chinese language learners – but they are nevertheless excellent learning tools.

Here are some What’s on Weibo favorites for Android, iPhone or iPad, from beginners to advanced levels of Mandarin.

 

1. Pleco Software Dictionary

A confession from the editor: Pleco has been my best friend ever since I started studying Chinese. At the time, I once invested an amount that seemed like a huge sum of money as I was working side jobs as a beginning student to purchase the app’s professional package. I used a hand-me-down Palm handheld (!) at the time, but since then, the Pleco support team has never failed me as I transferred the dictionaries to my first iPhone, my first Samsung, and even my first iPad. The fact that many years had passed since my first investment was never an issue.

Although Pleco’s service is praiseworthy, it is all about the app itself in the end. Pleco calls itself “The #1 Chinese dictionary app for iOS and Android” and it is hard to argue with that. It is suitable for anyone studying Chinese on an elementary, intermediate, or advanced level. What is good about Pleco is that it has a great range of dictionaries and has an easy handwriting recognizer; even if your handwriting in Chinese is not that great, it will still get the character you need.

The major plus for Pleco is that it is much more than a dictionary alone. It has an add-on optical character recognizer that will help you read offline texts, and the “clip reader” function is super handy to copy Chinese texts on smartphone/table – just copy the text and navigate to Pleco to find the text and tap words and characters for their meanings.

Outlier Linguistics has also partnered up with Pleco, adding its excellent Chinese character dictionary to the add-ons. The Essential edition contains all the essential info about each Chinese character, while the Expert Edition is for those who want to dive deep into the history and etymology of Chinese characters.

Another tip: with Pleco, you can train your Chinese vocabulary through flashcards: add any words you do not know to a category (for example: ‘My Chinese Business Vocabulary’, or ‘Dirty Words in Chinese’), and then quiz yourself through Pleco’s ‘test’ function. It will repeat all the words you got wrong until you have a 100% score.

The free version is ok, but for learners who are serious about learning Chinese (especially when you’re dealing with Chinese for your studies) the professional package is recommended and you’ll be able to take it along with you, even when you switch from the ancient Palm to the latest iPhone.

Price: free (elementary),  US $29.99 for basic package (bundles through Android), US $99.99 (professional package) + rich selection of optional add-ons.

Compatibility: iPhone/iPad & Android

Where to get:
iPhone: Pleco Chinese Dictionary – Pleco Inc.
iPad: Pleco Chinese Dictionary – Pleco Inc.
Android: Pleco Chinese Dictionary

 

2. Chinese Class 101 (by Innovative Language)

Whether you are on the road or at home, online or offline, Chinese Class 101 offers Mandarin comprehensive learning courses that you can easily integrate into your everyday life. The lesson-per-lesson audio system makes it easy to listen and practice to bite-sized conversations and fragments (which can all be downloaded) while you’re driving to work or cooking dinner.

The app offers lessons from the absolute beginner’s level to the very advanced level. Every lesson consists of an audio class of ±10 minutes that usually features a conversation, an audio review of vocabulary, a line-by-line display of the conversation (in English, pinyin, simplified & traditional Chinese), and lesson notes. Note: the overviews and transcripts only come with the premium subscription – if you only want to do audio, you’ll be fine with basic, but to get a complete overview of the texts and words you’d have to go for the premium one ($10/month).

Chinese Class 101 also provides the option to have 1-on-1 interaction with a personal teacher through the app, which only comes with the more expensive premium plus subscription.

If you are not learning Chinese through a school or university, this program is a very effective way of learning Mandarin. One of the key things of this course is the way it repeats the things you’ve learned to really make it stick in your head. (Also, their Korean programme is very good if you’re considering to take on an extra language…).

Price: This app works with a subscription system. It is free to try for a week,  US $5/month for the basic package (access to all audio archives), US $10/month for the premium package (includes wordlists and transcripts) and $23/month for the premium plus (includes option for 1-on-1 teaching).

Compatibility: iPhone/iPad & Android and desktop

Where to get:
www.chineseclass101.com

 

3. Pera Pera Pop Up Dictionary

Ok, ok, this is not technically an app – it is a plugin. But it needs to be high up in this list for anyone learning Chinese. Pera Pera is a pop-up dictionary add-on for Chrome or Firefox. It gives the English definition for Chinese texts, making it infinitely easier for those struggling with characters to read Chinese online. Pro’s: easy to install, easy to use, and translations for many modern names or slang words. Downside: if you use Pera Pera too often, you will get lazy and won’t actually learn the characters. Try to only activate this add-on when you really do not know the character.

A major plus of Perapera is that it often gives the translation for relatively new ‘internet slang’ words or typically online words, making it an effective tool for the modern-day learner of Chinese who scrolls through Chinese texts.

If you are looking for a similar feature for your Android smartphone, Pleco (number 1 in this list) has a ‘screen reader’ feature for that.

We’ve been told that in the lastest Firefox version, Pera Pera does not work – in that case we recommend the Zhongwen Popup Dictionary add-on for Firefox.

Price: free

Compatibility: Firefox and Chrome

Where to get:
Chrome Web Store
Firefox Addons

 

4. Yuntu TV (云图直播)

Immersing yourself in the language is the best way to learn Chinese. If you’re not in an environment where you are naturally surrounded by the language on a daily basis, you’ll have to create that environment for yourself. Luckily, there are many live TV & radio apps that stream countless channels for you to enjoy.

Yuntu TV is a Chinese live streaming app where you can see all the CCTV channels and many other Chinese channels such as Zhejiang TV, Hunan TV, or Shenzhen TV.

If you would like to listen to Chinese language through TV dramas, Viki Rakuten has a great selection (free, availability depends on region).

Price: free

Compatibility: Android, iPhone, iPad

Where to get:
iPhone: 云图手机电视NEW-在线高清电视综艺体育直播
iPad: 云图手机电视NEW-高清电视直播视频播放器
Official Site: http://www.yuntutv.net/

 

5. Baobei Ting Ting (宝贝听听)Bedtime Stories

If you think Chinese news programmes are still too difficult, and you prefer to something that is a bit easier to digest, why not practice your Mandarin listening skills by checking out the stories Chinese kids like to listen to? ‘Baby Ting’ or ‘Baobei Ting Ting’ (宝贝听听)is a popular storytelling app by Tencent QQ that has thousands of stories to choose from in different categories; starting from the 0-3 age group, 4-6 age group, 7+ age group, to the national classics, modern fairy tales, etc.

The variety of stories that this app provides makes it a perfect tool for non-native speakers who study Chinese. Those at the intermediate level can start with the stories for the young kids and try to train their way up.

Mind you; like the Yuntu TV app, this is an app that is Chinese and has no English. It is, therefore, better if you already can read some Chinese characters when using this app. This app can be linked to your WeChat account, and offers in-app purchases.

Price: free

Compatibility: Android, iPhone, iPad

Where to get:
iPhone:宝贝听听-睡前儿童故事儿歌大全 – 北京企鹅童话科技有限公司
iPad: 宝贝听听-睡前儿童故事儿歌大全 – 北京企鹅童话科技有限公司 or 宝贝童话 – 北京企鹅童话科技有限公司
Android: 宝贝听听-睡前儿童故事儿歌大全 – 北京企鹅童话科技有限公司 (not on Google play store).

 

6. ChinesePod

Chinesepod is a well-known educational platform providing audiovisual lessons for people learning Chinese – from newbie to advanced level. It promotes an “alternative way of learning Chinese” and focuses on teaching spoken Chinese through video lessons.

All the material on the Chinesepod platforms can be somewhat overwhelming, but don’t worry, you do not actually need to do all the lessons one by one; just pick whatever lessons you find interesting within your level of proficiency and start from there.

Price: Chinesepod has various subscription options. The basic option ($14/month) offers access to the complete lesson library and offers the printable lesson notes, whereas the premium ($29/month) option also offers grammatical explanations, custom vocabulary lists, and the full Android + iOS apps.

Where to get:
chinesepod.com

 

7. Talking Chinese–English–Chinese Phrasebook

Many apps promoting ‘Mandarin phrases’ are often disappointing because of their limited range of topics and phrases. This app by Paiboon and Word in the Hand, however, is worth your time – although it is somewhat pricey. It is suitable for travelers to China who want to be able to communicate their basic needs, as well as for those studying Chinese to grasp basic sentences and practice tones.

The phrasebook offers more than 15,000 words and ready-to-use phrases in over 250 practical categories, from all the basics to situations relating to, for example, legal cases, superstitions, or romance (the ‘swearing’ category is quite amusing, providing different ways to insult someone.) All sentences and words are displayed together with audio, characters, and pinyin.

Price: $14.99

Compatibility: iPhone/iPad

Where to get:
iPad/iPhone: Talking Chinese–English–Chinese Phrasebook

 

8. Feed Me (Mandarin)! by Pencilbot

What?! Are we seriously recommending a purple dragon that eats trains and mice as a Chinese learning language tool? Yes, we are. Because if it works for kids, it works for you. This purple dragon needs to be fed. A very clear voiceover will give you instructions in Chinese on what to feed him. You’ll find out soon enough if you’ve fed him the wrong stuff: he’ll be displeased and will show it.

This is an app designed by Pencilbot, which also provides the “Feed Me!” app in Korean, Japanese, Arabic, and many other languages. Although the app is targeted at kids around the age of 5-6, it is also useful for adults to feed the dragon the red apples, blue birds, or yellow squares. Not just because the the Mandarin is beautifully pronounced, but also because the little dragon cheers you on in the cutest way when you get it right. If you tickle his belly he will start giggling. After playing this, you will know how to pronounce colors, shapes, numbers, animals, fruits, and more in Mandarin. If you don’t like it, your kid will.

Price: $1.99

Compatibility: iPhone/iPod/iPad and Android

Where to get:
iPhone: Feed Me! Chinese – Edutainment Resources, Inc.
iPad: Feed Me! Chinese – Edutainment Resources, Inc.
Android: Feed Me! Chinese – Edutainment Resources, Inc.

 

9. Hanzi Writer

Because learning Chinese means learning to listen, speak, read and write, this list wouldn’t be complete without an app that focuses on teaching how to properly write characters. This is what Hanzi Writer does very well.

Users can type in the pinyin of a character (for example, ‘ai’ for love), and select the character they want to see. Hanzi Writer shows the stroke order and how to write, and then gives you the opportunity to try for yourself. Learning to properly write characters is all about repeating repeating repeating, and this app is perfect for that.

Price: free version for Android with ads and $5.99 for iOs

Where to get:

iPhone – Hanzi Writer – Ali Lim
iPad – Hanzi Writer – Ali Lim
Android – Hanzi Writer – Ali Lim

 

10. Laokang Tone Test

Recognizing and pronouncing tones the right way is essential for your everyday use of Mandarin. Understanding or saying the wrong tones can lead to awkward situations. That is why this Laokang Tone Test is a must-have app if you are in the early stages of learning Chinese. The app is very simple and basic: it will train both your hearing of tones and your pronunciation. The layout of the app is not very pretty, but it works like a charm.

Price: free

Compatibility: iPhone/iPad

Where to get:
iTunes store

 

This list can still change and does not include all of the apps mentioned by our readers on Twitter or Facebook. Some of you enjoy Memrise to study Chinese, while others dislike its latest changes (what do you think?). If you want to add your favorite app, please let us know in the comments below.

– By Manya Koetse

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us.

©2017 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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Manya Koetse is the editor-in-chief of www.whatsonweibo.com. She is a writer and consultant (Sinologist, MPhil) on social trends in China, with a focus on social media and digital developments, popular culture, and gender issues. Contact at manya@whatsonweibo.com, or follow on Twitter.

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China Marketing & Advertising

Bulgari’s Noteworthy New China Marketing Campaign on a Happy ‘Jew’ Year of the Pig (Zhu)

Bulgari’s wordplay is multidimensional, but did it consider Jewish people?

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A new marketing campaign by Italian luxury brand introduces “JEW” as a supposed ‘buzzword’ for the Year of the Pig (Zhu in Mandarin.

On January 4th, the Italian jewelry company Bulgari launched a remarkable campaign on WeChat and Weibo to promote its luxury goods for the New Year, which for China, will be the Year of the Pig.

The campaign was first spotted by Nathan Baker (@NateyBakes) who wondered on Twitter: “So Bulgari’s WeChat account just put out an article that spells the Chinese word for pig in a special way. Wonder if they consulted with any Jewish people first.”

The campaign on Weibo is introduced as follows (loose translation): “At the beginning of the new year, let your charm stand out. The Bulgari special Lunar New Year collection is launched. In the new year, you’re the ‘pearl’ (‘JEW’) in the palm [‘beloved one’]” [“新年伊始,你的魅力已展露锋芒. 宝格丽农历新年特别款作品全新上市. 新的一年,要你做掌上明JEW.”]

The campaign uses a few posters that show their new jewelry collection together with pigs.

The word ‘JEW’ is multidimensional in its Chinese use here by Bulgari.

(1) Firstly, it is a wordplay on the Mandarin pronunciation for ‘pig’ (猪) zhū, which, when pronounced, sounds similar to the English ‘Jew’ (listen here).

(2) Second, the use of ‘Jew’ in English could also be seen as an abbreviation for ‘jewelry.’

(3) Third, the campaign uses various Chinese idioms starting or ending with a character that is pronounced as ‘zhu‘ in Mandarin, where ‘Jew’ is used as a substitute. It is a play on words, as it could mean either ‘pig,’ ‘jewelry,’ as well as still conveying the meaning of the original idiom.

The Chinese idiom “pearl in the palm” or “beloved daughter” (掌上明珠, zhǎngshàngmíngzhū), for example, is written as “掌上明JEW”: it sounds the same, but the last character is replaced with the English ‘Jew,’* which then also changes the meaning of the idiom to something along the lines of “having a jewel in the hand” – which is used to promote a Bulgari watch.

The Chinese idiom 胸有成竹 (xiōngyǒuchéngzhú), meaning to have a well-thought-out plan, is used in combination with ‘Jew’ here, which also gives it a double meaning since it could then literally be translated as “your chest turns into jew[elery],” which is used to promote the necklace in the first picture.

Another idiom used in the campaign is 诸事顺利 (zhūshìshùnlì), which means that everything is going smoothly, and in which the first ‘zhu‘, again, is replaced by ‘JEW,’ which brings about a wordplay that the Bulgari jewelry is supposedly smooth, as well as the [year of the] pig.

All in all, one could argue that Bulgari’s marketing team has created a new marketing campaign that mixes up Chinese characters, English, and idioms in such a way that thinks of Chinese tradition and promotes their own luxury products.

However, as Nathan Baker notes, there is a sensitive problem in this campaign regarding the use of the word ‘Jew,’ especially when framed together with the images of a pig, which will surely raise more than a few eyebrows and, marketing-wise, is probably not a smart move for the Italian luxury brand.

Update: Wow, that was fast. The campaign already seems to have been deleted from Wechat as well as from Weibo.

By Manya Koetse

*Thanks to Annelous Stiggelbout for clarification

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us.

©2019 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com

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China Media

China’s Top Ten Buzz Words & Phrases of 2018

According to Chinese (state) media, these are the top buzzwords of the year.

Crystal Fan

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Earlier this month, chief editor Huang Anjing of the magazine Yǎowén Jiáozì (咬文嚼字) announced the “top ten buzzwords” in China of the past year. Yǎowén Jiáozì, which literally means “to pay excessive attention to wording,” is a monthly publication focused on Chinese language and common language mistakes made by authors or people in the media.

Chinese (state) media have been widely propagating the magazine’s selection of the top words and terms of the past year in newspapers and on Chinese social media.

The ten terms have also become a topic of discussion on Weibo this month. We’ve listed them for you here:

 

1. “Community with a Shared Future” 命运共同体 (Mìngyùn Gòngtóngtǐ)

“Community with a Shared Future” (命运共同体) is a political term which is widely used in the domains of foreign relations and national security, and which has often been used by President Xi Jinping since the 18th National Congress. The concept stresses the idea of China’s peaceful development and its role in the international community. It’s been used both in national as in international contexts.

 

2. “Koi fish” 锦鲤 (Jǐnlǐ)

Koi fish, which come in a variety of colors such as red, yellow, or orange, are a common symbol in Chinese culture. Chinese netizens like to forward the images of Koi fish to bring luck to themselves or their friends and family members.

This year’s ‘koi fish’ hype started with a lucky draw activity initiated by Alipay during China’s National Day. The winner, who was named ‘China’s Koi Fish’ (中国锦鲤), was drawn from millions of netizens who forwarded this post. Afterward, Chinese netizens continued to use the colorful fish to wish others “good luck,” and the term also started to be used for those people who win without really trying, thanks to sheer luck.

 

3. “Waiter” 店小二 (Diànxiǎo’èr)

The original meaning of “Diànxiǎo’èr” is “waiter” or the staff working in hotels, restaurants or shops. The term was commonly used in the past before the term “Fúwùyuán” (服务员) became more common.

According to the news outlet The Paper, a government official from Zhejiang added a new meaning to “Diànxiǎo’èr” in 2013. The official interpretation emphasized that all Chinese government officials and leaders basically need to ‘serve.’ Following this trend, more and more local governments allegedly started to re-think their role in society and their working relations with the public. According to The Paper, the term since started to appear in government reports and papers, to send off the signal that government bodies are willing to show their ‘service-focused’ attitude. Nowadays, a wide range of service people, such as employees of Taobao (Alibaba) also call themselves diànxiǎo’èr.

 

4. “Textbook style” or “Textbook case” 教科书式 (Jiàokēshū shì)

In May of this year, one online video got particularly popular on Chinese social media. In this video, a police officer is handling a suspect completely according to working procedure, clearly giving all orders and informing the suspect why he is being handled the way he is. According to many media sources and netizens, the officer was a ‘textbook example’ of handling criminals, which is why this became known as “textbook-style law enforcement” (教科书式执法). Now, you can find all kinds of ‘textbook styles,’ such as ‘textbook style performance,’ ‘textbook style design,’ etc. It can also be used in a negative way, talking about ‘textbook style scam,’ ‘textbook style debt collector,’ etc.

 

5. “Official announcement” 官宣 (Guānxuān)

Actress Zhao Liying and actor Feng Shaofeng posted the happy news of their marriage on October 16th of this year, only writing “official announcement” on their post. Thousands of fans then forwarded their announcement, leading to the term “official announcement” becoming a buzzword within a few days. The term uses the character ‘official’ as in ‘official website’ (官网), ‘official Weibo’ (官微). Usually, this full term is only used for formal official government announcements – the fact that it was used for a personal announcement made it special. Now, more and more people have started to announce personal or unofficial news by using the words “official announcement.”

 

6. “Confirmed by one’s eyes” 确认过眼神 (Quèrènguò yǎnshén)

This term comes from a Chinese pop song of which the lyrics say “My eyes have confirmed, you are the right person for me” (“确认过眼神,我遇上对的人”). According to Sohu, this phrase first appeared in a netizen’s Weibo post around Chinese New Year. The person posted a photo of a red envelope with just one yuan in it, saying: “My eyes have confirmed, you are from Guangdong.” This netizen used the phrase to make fun of people from Guangdong, who are often mocked for their stinginess. The running joke is now used in all kinds of ways, as explained by Inkstone, to confirm that something is ‘definitely true’: “I confirmed with my eyes that you are a jerk.”

 

7. “Leaving a group” 退群 (Tuì qún)

‘Tuì’ (退) means to leave, retreat, or withdraw. ‘Qún’ (群) here means group or organization. Apps such as WeChat often have groups of people communicating and exchanging information within a specific interest or work field. At some point, some people will inevitably exit such groups. Nowadays, netizens have extended its meaning to leaving an organization or workgroup in ‘real life’ too. After Trump became president, America withdrew from a few international organizations and agreements. In China, these actions are also informally addressed as ‘Tuì qún’ (退群) now.

 

8. “Buddha-like” 佛系 (Fúxì)

This word comes from Japanese. In 2014, a Japanese magazine described a certain type of men as ‘Buddha-like’; they prefer to be alone and focus on their own interests and generally dislike spending time on dating women. The term also started being used in popular media in China some years later to describe young people who are searching for peaceful lives and do not want to compete. Now, you can find many different kinds of ‘Buddha styles,’ for example ‘Buddha-style parents,’ ‘Buddha-like shopping,’ ‘Buddha-style relationship,’ etc. to describe the kinds of people who prefer to take things slow and calm. It also signals some negativity, describing a passive life attitude of people who are not very interested to improve their current status.

 

9. “Grown-up baby” 巨婴 (Jùyīng)

‘Big baby’ in English conveys the meaning of this word, literally describing abnormally large babies, but now meaning adults who act like a baby, are quick to lose their temper, and behave irrationally in certain situations. Over the past year, some incidents receiving massive public attention, such as the infamous ‘Train Tyrants‘ misbehaving on public transport, were labeled as being part of the ‘Grown-up baby phenomenon.’

 

10. “Internet trolls” 杠精 (Gāngjīng)

The Chinese character “杠” literally means “thick stick” and is used in the word “抬杠” (táigàng), which means ‘to argue for the sake of arguing.’ The second character of this buzzword “精” also has the meaning of ‘spirit’ or ‘goblin.’ The combination of the two characters is used to describe ‘trolls’ who enjoy arguing with people for the sake of it, not really caring about the truth or outcome, very much in the same way the term ‘internet troll’ is used in English.

Although the list with these ten terms has been making its rounds on Chinese social media, and has been shared many times by state media, not all Weibo users agree that these are the words that were actually ‘hottest’ in 2018. “They have a strong ‘official’ flavor,” some said: “we actually use different terms in everyday life.”

“We’ll forget about them soon, and new words will come,” others said.

One popular new term that became popular among netizens in late 2018 was the newly invented character ‘qiou,’ meaning “dirt-poor and ugly” – a term many Weibo users seemingly identify with more than the buzzwords selected by Chinese state media.

By Crystal Fan

edited for clarity by Manya Koetse

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us.

©2018 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com

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What’s on Weibo provides social, cultural & historical insights into an ever-changing China. What’s on Weibo sheds light on China’s digital media landscape and brings the story behind the hashtag. This independent news site is managed by sinologist Manya Koetse. Contact info@whatsonweibo.com. ©2014-2018

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