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Author: Qian Kan

Download our Chinese characters learning apps

Updated Thursday, 18 May 2023

Dr Qian Kan, Head of Chinese at The Open University, led the development and the update of the Chinese@OU app, which is ready to download. She explains below why it is important to learn Chinese.

Find out more about The Open University's Languages courses and qualifications.

Chinese@OU app has been updated

This free Chinese character learning app is developed by the Chinese language team, led by Dr Qian Kan, at The Open University (UK) with interactive activities to help you write, recognise visually and aurally, and memorise some of the most frequently used characters in a systematic, friendly and fun way. Most importantly it helps you to form phrases and sentences with the limited characters learnt.

For information on how to download the app, click here (PDF document487.7 KB) or on the image below.

A picture of a dragon.

This app contains the first 200 plus characters introduced in The Open University's beginners’ Chinese courses. These are the most frequently used characters taught at beginners’ level and are also part of the GCSE Chinese syllabus. By combining them, you will learn a further 200+ useful words and phrases (e.g. 网  net + 球 ball =  网 球 tennis, which you will be asked to search for in one of the Word Search Activities).

The app has 16 lessons which chronologically build upon each other. Each of the 16 lessons has the following five interactive activities with audio embedded: Writing, reading, listening, rearranging, and identifying or word search.

Note: Except Lesson 1, all odd numbered lessons have the Identifying activity. All even numbered lessons have the Word search activity like a puzzle. 

We welcome feedback from you after you have had the opportunity to use this app. We would be grateful if you could complete this short survey so that we could improve future design of language learning apps. The link to the survey is also at the end of the Introduction page within the app.

Why is Chinese a language worth learning?

China has a rapidly growing economy and a more influential role in international affairs: as it becomes a bigger player, more and more people want to interact in China's own language. Plus the Chinese language has more than 5,000 years of history and many of our students are fascinated by how the characters are drawn and the rich culture and stories embodied in characters.

They get a real sense of achievement when they can read and write simple texts in characters. If you travel to China or other Chinese speaking places, whether for business or pleasure, you can play with the app at the airport, and land in your destination able to recognise some signs and say some useful expressions such as computers and mobiles, the internet, shops, and travelling by train, taxi or plane.

Isn't Chinese really hard to pick up?

Learning to read and write Chinese characters involves two big challenges.

Firstly, there is the lack of correlation between the sound and the script: there are too many similar sounding words so one sound can be written in many different ways with different meanings.

Secondly, although some characters need only two or three strokes of the pen to write, the average character has around 12 strokes – it's a lot to remember!

However, once you have built up about 100 characters, you will notice that you can use them to make up more words!

How many characters do I have to learn before I feel like I'm getting somewhere?

You need up to a thousand characters to be confident in reading and writing. The app teaches you over 400 most frequently used characters, but also supports you in combining them to make new words and phrases.

For example, if you learn three single-character words for ‘net' (网 wang), ‘ball' (球 qiú)and ‘to go on' (上 shàng), you can then form three extra two-character words: ‘tennis' (网球), ‘to surf the internet' (上网)and ‘online' (网上). So once you've learned a handful of characters, there's a lot you can do with them.”

Can touchscreen devices make learning languages easier?

Touch screen learning is ideally suited to learning a language like Chinese, sweeping away much of the uncertainty and cross checking. Rather than having a text book, audio CD and a notebook to practice in, the sound, instructions and writing are all brought together in one interactive experience.

The three elements are combined to help you recognise and remember characters.

Do I need special keyboard to type Chinese characters?

No, you do not need a special keyboard! You can easily enable Chinese font onto your computer, smartphone or tablet. And you can also add Chinese Handwriting onto most smartphones' keyboard in order to use your touch screen to create typed characters.

The link between innovation & teaching and research

You can read a research article by Kan Qian and two other authors on Chinese character learning strategies amongst adult distance learners using mobile devices. 

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