Most Helpful Chinese Learning Tools in 2023
1. ChatGPT - https://chat.openai.com
Chances are you may have heard of this one recently, whether online or in the press. ChatGPT is a ‘chatbot’ launched by Open AI in 2022. The idea is, you can ask questions and make requests in a conversational way. The bot itself was trained using data from the entire web, making it an expert on almost every subject.
However, when I tried it for the first time, being a Chinese learner, I thought I’d throw in some language learning requests. I was pleasantly surprised and impressed, not only could I have a conversation with it in Chinese about any subject of my choosing (great for those who want some cross talk or to practice written output but are a little shy). During the conversation, it was able to explain in detail grammar points or vocabulary I didn't understand, you can also ask it to point out and correct any mistakes you may be making. You can request explanations of usage of certain words and for the most appropriate context in which you'd find them. Which is excellent when you have a grammar question at 3am and your teacher might not be available!
You can even request it to write a short story for you at an appropriate level and for it to include certain vocabulary. In essence, an automatic and bespoke graded reader!
I asked ChatGPT to explain the differences of the words above that are all defined as ‘to change’ in English, as I wasn't sure of the slight difference in meaning. Questions like this are where ChatGPT really excels itself.
You can even request it to write a short story for you at an appropriate level and for it to include certain vocabulary. In essence, an automatic and bespoke graded reader! I highly recommend you try it for yourself and ask it anything you want about your target language or just have a chat!
2. LingQ - https://www.lingq.com
If you are interested in linguistics or using comprehensible input (CI) for language acquisition, you have probably heard of Steve Kaufmann (youtube.com/@Thelinguist) he speaks 20 languages and is a strong advocate for input based approaches to learning. With his son he created LingQ an online platform in which you can upload your own content or choose from a huge library at different levels. This includes Youtube videos, podcasts, novels etc. which are all transcribed, so you can follow along.
While ChatGPT can help in a multitude of ways, LingQ really is great for reading comprehension, it can include characters and Pinyin if so desired. You can click on unknown words or sentences for an explanation and then save known words. It currently supports many languages, with more on the way. A real strength is that you can upload your own lessons. So if you have written a story during your lesson, you can upload it and study it in more detail later. It's also available on mobile and tablet, so can be used anywhere. The only downside is it's quite pricey.
An excerpt of 小王子 I uploaded to LingQ.
3. Refold Chinese Discord server - https://refold.la/join
Refold is a language acquisition platform based off the AJATT (All Japanese all the time) approach. While originally focussed on Japanese, it is simply an immersion based approach to learning. The website outlines their ‘roadmap’ to fluency. While full of great advice, where the real value lies is in the communities that can be found on Discord. In order to access the Chinese server, you will have to download and install Discord. Don't worry, it's all explained in the link included above with a step-by-step video guide, it's pretty simple. Within the community there are various channels which includes everything from Anki decks to movie and TV recommendations and chat channels. You don't have to interact if you don't want to, you can just lurk and take advantage of the great advice and thousands of content recommendations. There are even Google Docs included with content lists sorted by level. There's no doubt you will find something that interests you!
Movie recommendations on the Mandarin discord server.
4. Language Reactor for Youtube / Netflix - www.languagereactor.com/
This is a great tool for improving comprehension, I also like it for acquiring vocabulary in context. It's a plugin for both Netflix and YouTube that allows you to view subtitles on the video you're watching with a twist, you can highlight vocabulary and when clicked it brings up a pop-up dictionary with an explanation of the word and some examples. In the premium version, you can save the words and even export subtitles for usage as flashcards. Although, for me the free version has been more than useful, you have options to include subtitles and translation in your native language too, you can even blur them and then when you hover over them, they will appear giving you a chance to guess the meaning before checking if you were correct! You can also choose to include Pinyin for some added help. If you choose to show the full transcript, you can click on a specific sentence, and it will repeat that part of the video, which is great if you need to repeat it a few times. On top of that if you go to the Language Reactor website, they have a library of videos and supported content for you to choose from.
A screenshot from the language reactor plugin, this is a video from Eazy Mandarin with Li Can (youtube.com/@EazyMandarinwithLiCan) a cool channel if you're looking for some conversational content about a variety of topics.
I hope you find these tools useful!
Happy Learning from a fellow Chinese student!