app

ChineseSkill


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  • Review


    This app is based on the already well known “skill tree” model that was popularized by Duolingo, and holds one more feature in common with it: it’s also absolutely free! Each module has between two and five short lessons, although rather than teaching the language through its theory, this app definitely aims to introduce the student in a more practical way, through spelling exercises with two different speeds, hanzi construction and English-Chinese translation work.

    One of the things I like the most about this app is that it is chock-full of extra features that can almost be seen as “easter eggs”. It backs up every sentence, word and Chinese character you’ve mistaken in such a way that you can simply go back to that section and review only what you’ve done poorly in, or even make them into flashcards; other features include an interactive pinyin board that one can tap to get all of the sound combinations of Mandarin Chinese, and a section to learn how to “hand write” hanzi. Pretty neat, if you ask me!

    Go to site

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Ninchanese


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  • Review


    Having started in 2015, Ninchanese is a recent entry to the language learning course world, but one that promises great things for Mandarin learners of all levels. Their gamified approach to learning Mandarin is quite different to the classical standards according to which Chinese is usually learnt: in Ninchanese, a whole level of Chinese aptitude is structured as in an RPG adventure. In order to advance, you clear mini-missions one by one, collecting vocabulary and testing your abilities in each of these sections, and, ultimately “becoming a dragon”. The story is amusing, and its characters and world simple but attractive and well designed. As if it wasn’t enough, Ninchanese also features a separate “Challenge” section through which you can challenge any other member (random, or from your friend list) of the Ninchanese community to a knowledge test; whomever knows more Chinese characters wins.

    I was lucky enough to interview Ninchanese’s co-founder, Sarah Aberman, on the ocassion of a crowdfunding event Ninchanese held in June 2015, and I got some very interesting replies as to why Ninchanese is a necessary new approach to learning Chinese.

    Go to site Currently in beta

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Pleco


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  • Review


    Talking about Pleco without gushing is quite difficult because there are very few dictionary apps that offer as much as Pleco does without charging an outrage. Although Pleco does offer paid updates, its base version (that one can download without paying) is still more useful than other paper AND online dictionaries that do carry a considerable price tag… which means that Pleco’s updates are VERY much worth their price.

    Pleco has so many features that it’s impossible to cover them all, but you can read more about it in my review of it.

    Go to site

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7 jours sur la planète


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    “7 jours sur la planète” and its mother site, “Apprendre le français avec TV5Monde”, are indispensable listening comprehension tools for the French learner. Everyday, new carefully picked audiovisual content is uploaded along with listening comprehension, vocabulary and grammar exercises for learners of all levels. In all honesty, if you wanted to learn French and didn’t have a penny on you, you could base your whole French education on this site.

    You can read more on them in my “7 jours sur la planète” review.

    Go to site

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Lingvist.io


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    Lingvist.io has an interesting foundation story, where (in short) Mait Müntel, one of its co-founders, had to develop a solution of his own for learning French. The meat and potatoes of Lingvist is “Memorize”, a Spaced Repetition based system where you learn words in context, and get them read back to you once you get the answer right. This obviously means that at first you’re going to have (almost) no idea of what’s being asked of you, but this approach is similar to how we learn new words in the real world, so it’s actually a very good idea. It also has a Reading and Listening section with an amazingly large collection of texts and audio (with scripts) that you can use to reaffirm what you’ve learned in the Memorize section. Currently, you can learn French and English from Estonian, English, French and Russian. They’ve also released apps for both iOS and Android.

    I used during my 2015 French language mission, and out of all the resources I used this gave me the highest vocabulary retention rate, without a doubt. I highly recommend it, even while it is in beta phase, but it is worth mentioning that once the beta is over, Lingvist.io may stop being free, although no price chart has been mentioned yet.

    Go to site Currently in beta

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Imiwa?


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    I suspect that every poor college student going through a Japanese course must’ve cried tears of joy when they found out about Imiwa’s existente. It is an iOS dictionary based on Jim Breen’s legendary JMDict project (on which only God knows how many online dictionaries are based), filled with just about every search function you could wish for and with a favorite’s list function so you never forget a word again.

    And how much do you pay for 130,000 English-Japanese entries? Well… zilch. (But if you do find it useful, it’d be nice to donate something to Pierre, Imiwa’s creator.)

    Go to site

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Issuu


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  • Review


    Issuu is a website and app that offers reading material in a plethora of languages. It’s a rarity in that it is a free (or if you want a premium account, extremely cheap) way to read all sorts of contents in your target language. As long as there’s someone publishing in the language you want to read, you’ll find something interesting; even if you’re a beginner and feel a bit intimidated by the task of reading, in Issuu’s archives you’ll find simpler practice material, such as informational brochures, short stories, and more.

    You can read my long review of Issuu by clicking here.

    Go to site

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Duolingo


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  • Review


    Duolingo is Luis von Ahn’s second brainchild (von Ahn is also ‘father’ to CAPTCHA, which you must have seen at least once in your life unless you have been living under a rock). In his own words, von Ahn wanted to know how to deliver quality English language education to the millions of people without access to classes, and he came up with a brilliant idea: the students would “pay” for their classes translating the Internet (and by this I mean the whole internet–from Wikipedia to other less well-known large clients).

    Duolingo works like this: you learn the language of your choosing through intuitive, practical writing and listening/reading comprehension exercises, translating phrases from and to your base language, or writing them as they’re spelled to you. Once you have a certain level (since you earn points for each completed lesson, as if playing in an arcade game) Duolingo will start showing you an approximate percentage of reading comprehension in your target language and invite you to participate in translating or correcting an actual article.

    Go to site

 

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