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Become Not-So Fluent in Mandarin With HelloChinese

Published by Chris Carr in Education
20 May 2017

We native English-speaking many are notoriously bad at learning foreign languages. There’s no doubt that one of the main reasons is English being one of the most widely spoken and historically-important languages in the world (and perhaps the arrogance which comes with that notion), but things are changing on a huge scale. The shifting superpowers mean that languages from all across the world, not just Europe and the Americas, are becoming more and more powerful, and none symbolizes this change in the way Chinese does.

HelloChinese is a Chinese Mandarin learning app aiming to teach beginner students. It consists of over 40 topics, each with several unique lessons. Initially the topics are fairly simple, aiming to teach students pronunciation and basic nouns, but the difficulty increases with each session until you eventually learn how to express relationships, feelings, health and the like. Most individual lessons have a similar structure no matter what the difficulty, though, and include of a variety of different questions that you’ll need to answer correctly in order to progress. One may require you to speak into the microphone and pronounce a sentence correctly; the next to fill in the missing space with the relevant word; another could ask you to practice writing the word physically on the screen. Once a lesson is complete you’ll unlock the following one; as soon as all lessons in a topic are complete you’ll have access to the next.

Outside of the classroom you have the option to train in mini-games, which include word recognition, listening comprehension, grammar, and word spelling. The latter three all require the upgraded version of the game, but Word Recognition involves selecting the correct word written in the Latin alphabet from what you see written in Mandarin. As soon as break’s over, before you go back into proper lessons you can check to see your achievements hitherto. By completing lessons you’re awarded with gold coins, and you can see your collection compared to your daily goal in your account, as well as total days spent on the app, total time spoken on it, and the number of characters, words, and grammatical constructions you’ve learned. Of course, by the time you’ve checked this over the bell will be ringing, so it’s back to school.

It becomes obvious in using HelloChinese that learning Mandarin is going to be extremely difficult – but the developers of the app know this.

It becomes obvious in using HelloChinese that learning Mandarin is going to be extremely difficult – but the developers of the app know this. It’s marketed for beginners, and at no point does it start throwing random terms at you that you’ll never understand. It teaches you slowly and methodically, allowing you to hear what was said over and over again should you wish, look up the meaning of each new word, and even get questions wrong. The latter feature is an important one, because no one learns just from hearing that their answer is wrong; HelloChinese takes you to another question before making you answer the one you got wrong again, until eventually you work it out. It teaches you to learn from your mistakes.

This promotion of slow learning also has another benefit: it feels as much a game as a classroom. Having to get each question right before you move on to the next, then finish the whole lesson, and complete the general topic itself before you can swap to another makes it feel like you’re unlocking a new level: a secret location with different information. It makes the whole process of learning that much more enjoyable, which is essential when you’re learning a language that uses a completely different alphabet.

This is supposed to be the part where I show off my Chinese, but after two and a half hours of learning I know about as much as you. HelloChinese doesn’t promise to make you fluent, though, but teach you the bare basics, the essentials, and that’s exactly what it’s good at.