Is it possible to practice Mandarin by yourself, without taking classes or living in China? It could very well be, at least if you are to believe the advocates of input based language learning. Input based language learning consists of listening and reading, with study activities such as watching TV, reading books, listening to podcasts and studying texts. Many experienced language learners swear by an input focused learning style where the bulk of your time is spent on listening and reading material.
Through input based activities you are fed a stream of correct language which helps you develop a natural intuition for the language’s grammar and a large passive vocabulary. A possible drawback to focusing mainly on input is that it might take a bit longer before you feel comfortable speaking yourself, but if you keep practicing input based activities you will soon reap the rewards of a rich vocabulary and a much better intuition for the language. To make the learning the most effective, the language you input should be just slightly above your comprehension level, so that you can understand most of the material but it still contains some new words and grammar. You should get as much input as possible, so it helps if you also find the material interesting. So where can you find fun, interesting listening and reading material suited for your skill level? Here we recommend two apps that aim to provide you with entertaining content suited to your language level: ChinesePod for listening, and Du Chinese for reading.
Practice listening with ChinesePod
ChinesePod is nearing the 4000 lessons mark, so you are unlikely to ever run out of study material. You can enjoy online podcasts with ChinesePod if you’re on the move, or watch the entertaining videos comfortably from your sofa at home.
For listening material, ChinesePod is an excellent resource with lessons organized by difficulty level. With fun listening material from a range of topics, you will build up your Mandarin skills in no time. Each lesson is also accompanied by supplementary learning material, like worksheets and vocab lists to assist you with your studies.
The ChinesePod Android app also received a complete overhaul earlier this year, so be sure to check it out if you haven’t already. The iOS update will be released soon.
For a $50 discount on an annual ChinesePod subscription, use the discount code "DUCHNS" at checkout.
Practice reading with Du Chinese
Much like ChinesePod, Du Chinese has an archive of lessons ranging in difficulty from newbie to master, with new lessons being added continuously. When you open a lesson, you are presented with a reading screen showing the lesson text where you can quickly look up word and sentence translations with a simple tap. It frees you of the burden of reaching for a dictionary to look up words you are unfamiliar with, and you can focus entirely on your learning.
Each lesson in Du Chinese comes with a voice recording by a native speaker, and the text is highlighted karaoke style during playback so that you can easily follow along. If you get stuck on a word, a simple tap gives you the word’s meaning in the context of that sentence.
Each sentence is also carefully translated into English, so that you can be sure that you’ve understood the text correctly.
The lessons cover a range of categories, from daily life and funny stories to history and current events in China.
Additionally, Du Chinese also lets you save words from the text with a swiping motion, storing the words in your word list for later review. The built in spaced repetition system keeps track of how well you remember each word, and lets you test yourself on words that are up for review.