Learn Mandarin Online from Teachers and Students
Here are some apps that I can't live without here in China, and better still, they're all free.
Baidu Maps 百度地图 (iOS and Android)
Learning your way around the city is one of the first tasks when you arrive in China. Walking around your neighborhood is a great way to become familiar with the area. But in a city as large as Kunming you are going to need some mode of transportation to get around. Baidu Maps will help you find your way. Although the whole app is in Hanzi (Chinese characters), it is still easy to use. You can search for addresses or landmarks and get directions to there from your current location. Directions are given for public transportation, driving, or walking. The app even gives a Taxi Cab fare estimate so you know ahead of time what you are likely to pay. Another nice feature is that you can download maps to your devices so that you can consult them when you are not connected to wifi or using your cellular data.
PPTV (iOS and Android)
There are many apps and websites for watching on-demand TV shows and movies but I find that PPTV has the best selection and the most stable connection. The app contains both Chinese and foreign content. Since Chinese TV shows and movies are currently beyond my listening skills, I often use PPTV to watch American movies and shows. This can still be a language learning activity because the videos have Chinese subtitles. When I hear a useful English phrase, I look at the subtitles to see how this phrase is most naturally expressed in Chinese.
Other Free video-on-demand apps: Tudo 土豆, LeTV, YouKu 优酷
CBox 央视影音 HD By CCTV.COM (iOS and Android)
One challenge to learn Chinese in China is that many people do not speak the standard dialect. CCTV's daily news programs are great sources of standard Mandarin that you can use for listening practice. However, you do not need to subscribe to a cable television service to watch live Chinese television, you don't even need a TV. CBox is CCTV's mobile and tablet app. This app has more than 20 channels, including news, sports, and cartoons that you can watch live on your mobile devices. Not only can you watch live television, this app also works like a DVR in that you can pause and rewind the live broadcasts. I use these features to listen to the same news story several times in a row or to replay any portion that I don't understand. Not home when the news airs? No problem, with this app you can watch any program from the previous seven days.
WeChat 微信 (iOS and Android)
To become fluent in Chinese you need Chinese friends with whom you can practice speaking and listening. If you ask your Chinese friends what app on their phone they use the most, they will likely say QQ or WeChat. These two instant messaging apps were created by the same company, but the newer of the two, WeChat, has more features and more users. WeChat allows you to send instant messages for free over wifi and cheaply through your cellular data plan. Just like computer-based instant messaging you can direct message a contact or participate in group chats with several friends at once. I've found that my Chinese friends prefer communicating through WeChat rather than making phone calls or sending text messages. So this app has been essential to maintaining my friendships.
Instant messaging is a great way to practice communicating in Chinese. In some aspects it is easier for language learners to communicate this way than communicating face to face. First, reading text is easier than listening to speech. Once a sentence is spoken it's gone, but text stays put so you can read it over and over again. Second, in face to face conversations people expect quick responses, but instant messaging doesn't have this expectation. You can take your time to think through what you want to say, type it out, and revise It before you press send. If speaking practice is really what you want, there is a "hold to talk" function where you can record an audio message. This method is also easier than face to face communication. You can listen to the audio messages sent to you over and over, and you can practice what you want to say before you actually record it.
These apps not only help you find your way around town, watch TV shows and movies, and connect with friends, they also provide opportunities to practice Chinese!
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