[App Review]—LingoDeer (Chinese)

Doing my Saturday post a bit early!

Finally got around to testing out LingoDeer’s Chinese course! This will be my last LingoDeer review. I’m going to handle this review just as I did my LingoDeer Korean and LingoDeer Japanese reviews, by talking about things I noticed as I went through the first few levels of the course (you can see below I did 8% of the course to write this review. I think that’s sufficient just to judge the starting levels, yes?). Ready?

(Apologies if some parts sound like copypasta from my previous reviews!)

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What is LingoDeer?

LingoDeer is a language-learning app for the three major east Asian languages, Korean, Mandarin Chinese, and Japanese. In this review, I will of course focus on the Chinese course!

Very first impressions

I already mentioned this in my previous two reviews, but LingoDeer app’s design and interface is very clean and visually appealing. The slow loading that used to plague me back when I wrote the Korean review is no longer a problem 🙂 The loading screens I do see are processed very quickly!

Settings

In case you aren’t aware, I study Mandarin using traditional characters. It’s a preference of mine that hung over from studying Hanja in Korean. Since all of the Hanja Korean uses are traditional, I just stuck with traditional when I started learning Mandarin. You can choose to have LingoDeer display the traditional set of characters if you go into your settings! You can’t change this during learning levels, so if traditional is your preference, make sure to set it before you start a learning level! However, during learning levels you can choose if you want to see just the Hanzi (Chinese characters), just Pinyin, or both together.

“Alphabet”

The first block on the learning path is labeled “Alphabet,” and you can skip it if you would like, though of course I went in for the sake of this review! The

explanation of Pinyin and the sounds that Chinese uses is VERY thorough, with a ton of great audio files

so you can listen to the sounds. Again, this sort of explanatory notes system is, as I found in the Korean and Japanese courses, very robust and informative.

When you do the Pinyin learning levels—and I admit I didn’t go through all of them because I got bored—it has you listening to initials and finals separately, then combining them into the full sounds. Doing the levels that I did, I felt like I would feel very well prepared if I were a total beginner at Mandarin.

While the Pinyin notes and explanation were awesome, what honestly blew me away was the Pinyin chart included. It shows every possible combination of initial + final + tone in Mandarin (you select the tone separately; the chart changes depending on if a particular initial + final combo is used with that tone or not). Every one of the initial + final + tone combinations has its down audio file and an option to record yourself. You hear the audio file pronunciation, then record your own, and then it plays your recording and the audio file on loop so you can compare your pronunciation to the file. Cool, right??

One more thing in the “Alphabet” section that neither the Korean nor Japanese LingoDeer courses has is a section for “Survival Chinese.” This includes a ton of useful phrases that you might need while traveling, all divided into different categories ranging from health to flirting to signs you might see in public. These are not normal learning levels—rather, you listen to the read-out of each phrase, record yourself saying it, and if the app deems your pronunciation to be good enough, you get a happy little green flag! This is an excellent feature for people who just need to learn some quick phrases. I do have one bone to pick with it, though—even with my settings set to the traditional character set, it only displays in simplified :< Boo.

Grammar notes and some oddities

After getting Pinyin down (or skipping it because you’re a boss and already know it), you can start with the first level. As with the Korean and Japanese courses, you can’t test out of the lower levels if you are already somewhat familiar with Chinese. This is unfortunate many other comparable apps, including HelloChinese, allow you to test up.

Anyway, once you tap into the first section, there are notes waiting for you if you swipe to pull up the tile to the left, only the edge of which is visible as it starts you right on an actual lesson tile. It would be nice if the notes were the first tile, because some people might miss it. Anyway, the notes are extensive and generally well done, but I did notice a few grammatical oddities and such. While they don’t really cause any misunderstandings, I feel like a more thorough editing by a native English speaker would make it feel more polished. Also, in the notes for Basics 3 I noticed some blatant errors where the wrong Pinyin was written with two characters (I reported the errors, of course).

Also, I was disappointed to see that the notes were only available in simplified.

I found some unusual grammar and translation choices in the actual learning levels as well. Again, while they did not obscure meaning, they definitely could have done with some editing. For example, the English sentence “

Peaches are a type of fruit” is the given translation for the simpler sentence  “桃是水果 (Peaches are fruit)”. Another somewhat uncomfortable example is “這個中國人在吃桃。,” which is translated as “The Chinese is eating the peach.” The meaning is clear, but (at least to me) it sounds strange, almost inappropriate, as we don’t usually call out a person using the form “the (insert race, ethnicity, etc. here)” except with countries where the adjective is also the noun used to refer to the people who live there. “The American is eating the peach” sounds alright, but sentences like “The Chinese is eating the peach” and “The boy likes Korean” (intended meaning was “The boy likes Korean people”) are iffy.

Getting into learning

Now for the actual learning! Same as with the Korean and Japanese courses, the activities in the learning sections are very similar to Duolingo and HelloChinese. You can expect to do activities like matching spoken and/or written words to pictures, unscrambling sentences, filling in missing elements, deleting unnecessary elements, and more. Unfortunately, there were no speaking questions to be found. Considering that there are speaking elements in the Alphabet section, I had gotten my hopes up.

Among the actual questions and problems you do, there are some screens for practicing writing characters. The stroke diagrams are really smooth and nice, and it’s a great way to get used to writing! But… again, all simplified! T T It really seems like the inclusion of the traditional character set was just an afterthought since so many aspects of the Chinese course do not have traditional characters in them.

Once you finish a learning level, there is the option to review what you just went through. This feature is in the Korean and Japanese courses, but I admit I never actually checked it out when I wrote those reviews and it was only later while continuing my Japanese studies that I checked it out >.> In the review section, it breaks down which new sentences and words you did poorly, well, and perfectly on. You can then choose to do more questions on those categories, or you can just tap on the words and sentences to hear them read back again. Personally, I like using this section as dictation practice, tapping on the tiles, listening, and then writing what I hear 🙂

There is also an option for timed review if you go back to a previously done learning level. In these timed reviews, you must try to answer all of the presented questions in a short amount of time. If you want a quick review, that’s a good way to do it!

One thing that I like a lot about these beginning learning levels is that you quickly build up vocab and they have you making sentences of five or more characters in short order! I did not feel like it babies beginner users but rather tries to push them to quickly acclimate using sentences that aren’t super short but are still simple in meaning.

Upon completion of a level, you can get up to five stars. When you first start studying, you set a goal for how many stars you want to get each day, and if you choose the lowest possible number (five) and do a single level perfectly, your study for the day is complete.

Review and stats

If you want to go back and review vocab or grammar flashcards, there is a section where you can do that. The review questions are the same as the regular level questions. You can choose to do a single lesson, or you can combine lessons for a comprehensive review. Also, there is spaced repetition listening practice, which is pretty cool. After listening, you can reveal the correct answer and rate your recall/performance “weak,” “good,” or “perfect.” You can of course use these features to make sure your knowledge doesn’t deteriorate over time!

As for stats, you can check how long your learning streak has been ongoing, and it even tells you how long you have studied for. There are some little achievement badges similar to Duolingo for things like learning time and streaks also. You can also set a time for reminders to study if you would like.

Conclusion

LingoDeer’s Chinese course is very quality despite some grammatical errors and incomplete support of the traditional set of characters. It lays a good foundation for Mandarin Chinese beginners, starting with an excellent intro to the sounds used in Chinese and moving into a well-paced course.

PROS:
  • GREAT audio files
  • Pinyin chart is AWESOME
  • Lots of good notes and information on grammar
  • Spaced repetition practice and flashcards
  • Study reminders
  • Course is paced well
  • Survival Chinese section
CONS:
  • No function to test out of lower levels
  • Strange grammar in notes and in learning levels
  • No speaking practice for normal levels (speaking on Pinyin chart and Survival Chinese is adequate)
  • Traditional character support is limited