Just in time for summer vacation: iPhone apps to learn Chinese

Two years ago when I got my iPhone, I searched for decent educational apps that could support my kids’ Chinese learning. They were few and far between, and mostly developed by Westerners for non-Chinese speakers to teach basic vocabulary. In recent months, I have followed tips I read on Twitter (thanks @lantaumama!) or on blogs and, ever since the iPhone was introduced in China, it seems the market has expanded and improved. These are a few of our favorites so far (this post will be a work in progress so please send in any tips of programs I may have missed!):

- Rye Studio: A series of animated stories, with the option to switch between English, Japanese and Mandarin. By far, the best, most engaging and professional Chinese app I have seen. They are cheap, several are free, and my kids love them. Mulan and the Monkey King are favorites and can be downloaded here.

- Apple Tree Books: Illustrated books including classics like the Hare and the Tortoise, the Boy Who Cried Wolf, etc. They have an option to read it yourself or have it read to you, which is nice for beginning readers. Not quite as sophisticated as Rye Studio but good nonetheless.

- FeedMe Chinese: A favorite with my three-year-old, the program asks simple questions about colors, shapes, numbers, etc and the child must drag the correct answer into the mouth of a silly purple monster. If the answer is correct, the monster gives a happy whoop. If it’s wrong, he spits it out and looks dejected and sad. Very cute.

- Just as I was finishing this post, I received an email about a new Chinese reading app, Catch Me if You Can, which is a fun character recognition game, where students have to “catch” the correct characters to recreate a sentence. My six-year-old tried it and was hooked right away. The only downside (for us) is that the versions using simplified characters are very limited. (I emailed the developer and she said they are planning more versions with simplified characters soon.)

- 5Qchannel: A great storytelling website has just started creating iPhone apps. I haven’t tried them yet but the content on their site is quite good.

- Doodle Chinese teaches basic vocabulary in three categories: Animals, Numbers and Greetings then offers quizzes with cute drawings to test your knowledge and expands to more complicated conversations. Good for a new learner.

- ABC Chinese: A simple flashcard application to teach basic vocabulary。

For my six-year-old, the best writing practice is simply the Chinese character touchpad input screen on the iPhone 4, where he can draw a character with his finger and it magically converts it into type.

Some others I have seen but not yet tried:

- Chinese children’s songs. Frankly, I don’t dare download it since I know my daughter will want to listen to nothing else. But it looks good for those whose kids are learning the standard Chinese children’s songs. And it’s free.

I don’t have an iPad so haven’t included any apps that just work on tablets. Beatrix Potter storybooks, in English and Chinese, with the original illustrations, look great but are only for iPads.

For those without smart phones, Childroad is a nice Chinese story and reading website.

What did I miss?

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  1. This is great! Thanks so much and have a great summer!

  2. Great blog!

    Thank you for including the “Catch Me” series on your blog. The simplified versions are starting to be available at the app store (and four more waiting in the app store queue).

    http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/id442936423?mt=8&ls=1 (restaurant P1)
    http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/id442925111?mt=8 (restaurant L1)

    New titles will be updated on our website as they become available: http://www.tinywattgames.com/apps.html


  3. These apps look awesome. I am a mom trying to teach my kids Japanese. I don’t think there are as many apps for children learning Japanese, I am jealous! Keep up the good work, mama!

  4. The more I browse your blog, the more I realize our blogs are so similar, except different languages :) Good luck to both of us trying to raise bilingual children :)

  5. What a great idea to look for iPhone apps that help teach Chinese, and a sneaky way to help kids learn without feeling like they are studying. I’m going to have to let my kids choose one or two of these for our next road trip.

  6. Hi,
    We are the publisher of the best-selling Taoshu Learn Chinese Books for kids. We just launched a very cute and enchanting app for the iPad based on our Chinese books for kids.
    You can check out a youtube clip here http://youtu.be/N7Jp06KJJUQ
    or you can visit our website at http://www.littletaoshu.
    It’s the more interactive and fun Chinese kids apps around.

    If you like, please email me for a promo code to download the app.

    Lingun Sung
    Creator of Taoshu

  7. I make two iPhone games for learning Mandarin. Hanzi Warrior http://dfnt.tv/hanzi is the most fun way for learning traditional and simplified words and characters as well as Bopomofo. Also there is Bopomo Blitz http://dfnt.tv/bopomo which is fast-pace enjoyable way to learn your Zhuyin Fuhao.

  8. Hi everybody. Just finished a language learning app with Chinese, English, German, Swiss German. It is called “Lingua kidz”. I hope you like it. It is now available on the app store. Here a video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oH_nI-_RFNk

  9. Site not launched yet but here is a sneak peek…Mandarin Chinese for American kids and their families.


  10. Hi, my partner and I created this iPad app to help our kids learn mandarin as well. You could have a look at it at http://bit.ly/ZhengHeApp. Thanks!


  11. I was just wondering if you have any new iPhone/iPad favorites??

  12. I was frustrated last year when I was trying to find a fun app to teach my 2 young girls Chinese. I gave up and developed my own app.

    It’s a story of 2 girls named Anna & MeiLing. You can read the story yourself or have it read to you by native Chinese or English readers. There are puzzles and animations throughout the story to keep them interested. After the story is over there are 30 vocabulary words in both languages that show the kids how to write the words and for them to practice the words. Each word also features some animation or puzzle to maintain the interest level.

    Hope you enjoy it.


  13. “DN Chinese” for iPhone and “DN Chinese HD” for iPad is a simple American story that can be listened to in Chinese as well. Includes key vocabulary words and some other fun stuff for kids ages 2 to 8.

  14. When my son was young we tried to find a toy that had a simple interface and that would teach him basic Mandarin. We were never able to find such a toy. To help children in preschool and early elementary grades learn their first words in Mandarin, I developed an app for the iPad and iPhone. I hope that this app helps your children learn their first Mandarin vocabulary words. https://itunes.apple.com/au/app/mandarin-chinese-vocabulary/id836174367?mt=8&ign-mpt=uo%3D2

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