It is an app for phones and tablets that is ‘gamefied’, meaning that you progress through 17 short exercises for lesson and you have four ‘pandas’, kind of like energy levels in a video game. Every time you answer incorrectly, you lose panda and if you answer a question incorrectly when you have zero pandas then you must quit or restart the lesson.
There are a total of 45 levels right now and each level can have from two to six lessons. So fairly extensive, it’s a tool that can help you build a foundation.
A recorded female voice says most of the words out loud and you usually can click on words to hear them said out loud and even to translate them to English in certain exercises.
There are several different types of exercises and you can change a few settings for them.
1. Translate a single word or phrase by picking from four options with pictures, characters, and pinyin.
2. Translate from Chinese to English by selecting words and placing them in the correct order
3. Listen for the missing word (in Chinese), pick from four options.
4. Draw characters by dragging and dropping different parts of the character
5. Translate from Chinese to English by seeing and hearing a sentence in Chinese and then selecting the correct option out of four possibilities.
6. Translate a Chinese sentence to English by typing it yourself.
7. Translate an English sentence to Chinese, using either characters or pinyin.
That first exercise may seem easy. You have the four photographs to help you. The last type of exercise with translating an English sentence to Chinese may seem a lot harder, because it is. Listening for a single word usually is not too hard, unless the four options include very similar words that only differ in tone.
The exercises have quite a bit of variety and as you progress through the levels the difficulty level will increase.
For the exercises with writing characters, you are not really taught these in a step by step way. I often clicked on the ‘hint’ button to see how the characters are written. At that point, if you spend some time on it you will get some practice in recognizing and being able to form characters. I think, given the option of typing in Chinese using pinyin, learning to recognize characters ends up being very important. If you ever do want to write in Chinese, you will need to do that, Chinese people write in characters, not pinyin. However, they may use pinyin as an intermediate step in typing characters.
The options include displaying the Chinese as characters, pinyin or both
You can also use simplified characters or traditional
You can also have it require that you input the tone as you enter pinyin.
Personally, I display both the characters and the pinyin, I use simplified characters, and I don’t have it require inputing the tone. Possible that I’ll change the first setting down the line if I get more comfortable with characters. Not planning on learning traditional characters. And inputing the tone on an app does not seem especially helpful to me.
Why should you use Chinese Skill
Chinese Skill offers a fairly comprehensive set of lessons that can help you form a foundation for learning more Chinese. You can listen and repeat things back as well as use images to help you learn new words. It is challenging and you may have to repeat some lessons to get them right. It’s also a free tool.
Unlike Pimsluer, it does use writing, which is an important part of learning Chinese.
How to use Chinese Skill
I had used Duolingo for quite a while with Spanish (tree completed) and a bit with German. Since it feels somewhat like a game, it feels fun many times. Though it can be a little frustrating. Chinese Skill is similar.
Something that Chinese Skill does that duolingo does not is comparing your level for any given exercise to other users.
I used Chinese Skill for a bit, then focused on other tools such as Chinesepod. But I have come back to Chinese Skill and started to use it more. If Pimsleur was unavailable, I think it would have been useful to help build a foundation. And later on it does get more advanced and provides some useful things to work on.