Radically improve your Chinese ability with this significant list of 25 essential Chinese learning tools designed to enhance and add fun to your Mandarin Chinese study program. The list is composed of 25 free and cheap (or free if you borrow from a generous friend or the library) Chinese learning tools I have used and continue to use in support of my own Chinese studies from complete beginner to competent speaker, and I hope that they will offer you the same value in your Mandarin Chinese learning program.
I aim to introduce you to many handy and enjoyable resources for practicing all aspects of learning Chinese including; listening to Chinese rock music, practicing your Zhùyin Fúhào (注音符號) typing skills, watching hilarious bilingual comedy movies, meeting new friends for a Chinese language exchange, and reading innovative interactive comics.
For those studying Chinese, the tools described here will be vital to your success in completing the entire course effectively. I have tried to organize the list starting with 6 tools to use throughout your learning and then the list increases in difficulty from learning Chinese for complete beginners and finish with tools more suited to advanced Mandarin speakers. Number 1 on the list is the most important of all and is almost certainly the biggest reason why you are learning Mandarin Chinese.
1. Native Chinese Speakers
Interacting with native Chinese speakers face to face is probably why you’re learning Chinese. It’s fun, it’s free, and it opens up a whole new world of opportunities for travel, business, and entertainment.
No matter what stage of learning you’re at, opening your mouth and talking to people not only improves your Chinese speaking but also builds confidence. With this new-found confidence, you may even start chatting to a future boyfriend/girlfriend.
Well, China and Taiwan of course! Ok, so besides traveling all the way to a Chinese-speaking country to chew the fat, there are millions of Chinese and Taiwanese people living in countries all over the world eager to spend time with a new friend.
2. Bilingual Ang Lee Movies
In the early 90s, Ang Lee made what is called his "Father Knows Best" trilogy of comedy dramas, which depict the older Taiwanese generation struggling to get to grips with the modern world.
The first two movies, Pushing Hands (推手: Tuīshǒu) and The Wedding Banquet (喜宴: Xǐyàn), are set in America and include both English and Mandarin dialogue. The English parts make the stories easy to follow for beginners while more advanced students can laugh along to all the jokes. The third movie, Eat Drink Man Woman (飲食男女: Yǐnshí nánnǚ), is set in Taiwan and shot entirely in Mandarin. I dare confident speakers to challenge themselves and watch the movie without subtitles.
All three movies in the series are currently available on DVD on Amazon.
3. Hanping Chinese Dictionary App
Dictionaries and language learning (and English teaching) go hand in hand. When you are studying or walking around and need to look up a word, a dictionary comes in very handy indeed. This app lets you look up words quickly and even offers the choice of Simplified or Traditional characters.
This app is amazing because you can search in English, Pinyin, Zhuyin, and Chinese characters and get the desired results instantly (ever tried looking up Chinese words in a dictionary?). The app can also be set up according to study methods you are familiar with. For example, if you studied the Michel Thomas Mandarin course then you have assigned 4 colors to the 4 tones. By selecting ‘thomas’ in the app, all Chinese entries will now follow this color rule so you know the correct tone if you can’t read Pinyin or prefer to disable it.
The Hanping Chinese Dictionary app is available on Android and can be installed from Google Play (Hanping Chinese Dictionary on Google Play) for free. I haven’t bought the Pro version but it costs around $6. The main advantage I can see from the Pro version is the sound feature that speaks dictionary entries you select.
4. Tealit Classifieds Website
Tealit stands for Teaching English and Living in Taiwan and offers teaching resources, job and apartment listings, goods for sales, personals, and lots of other useful info for those who wish to teach and live in Taiwan.
Foreign language exchanges are excellent ways to meet new people and improve your Chinese while having fun. This website lets you contact like-minded people eager to practice English and offer you their knowledge of Chinese in return. Most people use face to face language exchange conversations to meet people but there are lots of Taiwanese looking for a language exchange partner via Skype as well as email pen pals. Similar to talking to people (number 1 above), you might even find a future boyfriend/girlfriend.
The Tealit website address is www.tealit.com and requires registration in order to contact other members.
5. Omnipotent Youth Society
Omnipotent Youth Society (万能青年旅店: Wànnéng qīngnián lǚdiàn) is a Chinese folk rock band from Shíjiāzhuāng (石家庄), the capital of Hebei province south of Beijing. Their self-titled debut album contains 9 beautiful rock melodies that offer respite from the throng of pop stars saturating the Asian music industry.