Amanda: a Chinese learner’s review

I’m currently hooked on amanda. Using it as part of my daily language learning routine has given a really nice boost to my vocabulary learning, and it has also given me a small insight into the culture I’m working so hard to learn about.

But what is amanda, you ask?

News plus integrated dictionary equals win


Design-wise, this app is so simple it’s almost hard to see the appeal in it. Amanda (written with a capital A from now on to make it easier on the reader) is so simple that noticing its feature actually takes some fiddling with the screen, but once you realize what this app is capable of doing, you’ll have a short “Oh.” moment (probably followed by another longer “OOOOOH” moment).

What’s wonderful about amanda is that it is simplified news for Mandarin beginners. Your home screen features eight short articles in English for each day. You can swipe to the right to go back one day and check out articles from prior days, so the amount of material you can access goes up by eight articles for each swipe. In every article there’s one highlighted word in Chinese, that you tap on to get a definition in English. I know, you must be like ONE WORD?! How am I supposed to learn anything with one meager word?!

Well, that is when you tap on that tiny CN button in the bottom left corner. Just by tapping on this button, the whole article is translated into Chinese, and you can tap on every word in this article (excepting for the title) in order to get yourself a definition. You can also put that word into your favorites, and have it spelled out loud in case you want to get a better grasp of the spelling.

My favorite part of the CN button is that it also has a reading function: when tapped on, a machine voice will start reading the article to you at a very reasonable speed. When all features are used together, it is quite possible to proverbially do the ages-old language learning exercise of “reading with a dictionary next to the newspaper”, excepting that in this instance the dictionary is IN the newspaper and the newspaper can read the article back at you. Another big plus is that the app detects hanzi compounds (words made of more than one Chinese character), so you won’t find yourself scratching your head because your tap-dictionary killed the context of a sentence due to an awkward need to take things one hanzi at a time.

Not perfect, but damn close

While I have yet to run into a horrifying six-eyed, eight-feeted, app-crashing bug, there are a few things that I feel are missing at this point (at the time of writing this article, Amanda was in version 1.8), from which I think this app could benefit a lot.

  • For one, once you’ve favorited certain words from an article, they’re in your wordlist for good. You can play them back as many times you want but you cannot take them out of the wordlist, so while they fix this one, be prepared to manage a humongous wordlist at some point.
  • For another, the words in your wordlist are stuck in your wordlist: they cannot be exported or made into flashcards, which is a crying shame because the format of the app is a match made in heaven for flashcard practice.
  • Because of the tap functionality of the dictionary, you cannot cut and paste the article in either language, so if you wanted to make notes to an app like Simplenote or Evernote, you’re doomed.
  • Lastly, somewhat basic features such as controlling the size of the text or the speed of the speaking voice are missing.

All in all, I think this is an incredibly helpful app for Chinese learners between absolute beginner and lower intermediate who want to work on or improve their reading and listening skills. The contents aren’t hard to get at all, and it certainly increases the amount of real reading material to which you have access!