Preparing to come to China for a few weeks, semester, or even a year? Worried about learning Mandarin Chinese and navigating life in a new culture? Have no fear! We have five ways you can get a head start on Chinese language learning before you get here!


Chinese Skill & Hello Chinese: Learn Chinese Through Games

Cost: FREE for the basic account

One of the most helpful things to learn before arriving in China is the Chinese phonetic alphabet, or pīnyīn. Chinese Skill and Hello Chinese are two useful apps that can help you begin to familiarize yourself with Chinese pronunciation.

Chinese Skill is similar to the popular language learning app, DuoLingo, but is designed specifically with the Chinese language in mind. The app includes many short learning modules that are great for beginners, including a new “Alphabet” module that will help you learn the basics of Chinese pīnyīn and pronunciation. The “Learning Tips” section before each module help users understand new grammar points that will be taught in the following lessons. To review, you can use the built-in flashcard system so that you do not forget the new words you have learned. When you get tired, you can choose from a variety of games that will keep you engaged and help you to remember what you are learning.

Hello Chinese is very similar to Chinese Skill. The first module is “Pronunciation,” will help you master tones and sounds; and the following modules, like Chinese Skill, will help you learn words and grammar. The “Fluency” game allows you to speak into the app and check whether your pronunciation is correct, which is a feature that Chinese Skill does not currently offer. However, more of the features and many of the games in Hello Chinese require you to upgrade to their premium subscription ($6.99/month).

Overall, these two apps are very similar and provide helpful ways to begin learning the basics of Chinese pronunciation and language.

iTunes links: Chinese Skill, Hello Chinese, DuoLingo

Google Play links: Chinese Skill, Hello Chinese, DuoLingo


FluentU: Learn Chinese Through Video

Cost: 15-day FREE TRIAL; $15/month

The more you listen to Chinese, the faster you will start to pick up the pronunciation and basic language points.

FluentU uses videos to teach you Chinese, allowing you to learn and become familiarized with Chinese sounds by listening to native speakers’ conversations. It also has a good flashcard function so that you can review the words you are learning. For advanced learners, they also have flashcards for the HSK, which is the standard Chinese language test in Mainland China.

The biggest downside to FluentU is the cost. Still, it may be worth it to sign up for the trial period and study a bit before you prepare to board the plane. One more thing to note is that using this app within China requires a VPN.


International Students: Learn Chinese Through Relationship

Cost: FREE

Chinese students are everywhere! A great way to get a head start on learning is to find a Chinese international student at your university and ask them to teach you a few words or phrases. You can also use this opportunity to practice what you’ve learned from your other resources.

Spending time with international students can also help you learn more about the culture in China and, more specifically, in the universities of China. Learning as much as you can about your host country before you arrive will be helpful as you begin to adjust to life here.


University Resources: Get Resources From Your University

Cost: FREE or discounted

Universities often offer some kind of free language learning software through their library. These programs (ex. Rosetta Stone, Mango Languages) can teach you basic words and phrases before arriving in China.

Confucius Institutes are offered in conjunction with the Chinese Ministry of Education and are located on various universities throughout the world. They hold Chinese language classes and cultural activities to help students enhance their Chinese language and culture study. The teachers in these programs are all from China and are eager to help you learn. Click here to see if there is a Confucius Institute in your area!


Podcasts: Learn Chinese Through Listening

Cost: FREE for the basic account

Podcasts are another great way to start your learning. Listening to a podcast can help you get a head start, even if you do not have a lot of extra time. You can listen to a podcast while driving to work or cleaning your room. A few podcasts that offer beginner language lessons and interesting tidbits are Survival Phrases, Chinese Pod, and Popup Chinese. The Chinese History Podcast and Chinese Sayings Podcast by Lazlo Montgomery are a good place to start for culture learning.

iTunes links: Survival Phrases, Chinese PodChinese History PodcastChinese Sayings Podcast (Popup Chinese is not available on iTunes)


There are many great resources to help you prepare for your adventure in China. The best piece of advice is to pick one or two and stick with it. Just five minutes of study a day can put you well on your way to effectively communicating and understanding the culture of China!


Find more suggestions from Joseph, co-founder of Silk Road Start, here.