Learning Chinese On Your Phone – Decipher: The Review (2023 Update)
The Decipher app allows you to learn Chinese by reading articles. It offers articles on Chinese culture, the Chinese language, and news stories from across China.
It’s available on Android, iOS, and online
Let’s take a look at the Decipher app, and help you decide whether it’s the Chinese language learning app for you!
Decipher Review // Quick Facts
Decipher Review // What’s it About?
Decipher Review // The Ultimate Guide
Decipher Review // What We Love
Decipher Review // What We Don’t Love
Decipher Review // FAQs
Decipher Review // Quick Facts
|Online Magazine for Learning Chinese
|Google Play: 4.6 stars, 1,515 reviews.
Apple Store: 5 stars, 23 reviews.
|Free version includes around 30 articles, plus one free article each day.
|Monthly subscription costs £3.99/month for access to all articles in the archive (300+) and all features (full audio, export flashcards).
Decipher Review // What’s it about?
I have bittersweet feelings about writing a review for this app. Let’s start with the bitter.
Before coming across this app a few weeks ago, I had been looking for something like it for ages.
I’ll be honest, I had started to convince myself that I was the only one that had had this brilliant idea for a language-learning app.
I just didn’t have the tech know-how to create it.
On the sweet side… well, someone has done the dirty work for me, and now I have an app pretty similar to what I was looking for all along.
Of course, there are some niggles and also some features I’d like to see developed in future updates.
But first, let’s talk about why I think you should download it.
I’m going to put it out there – I think it’s probably my favourite language learning app for Chinese, ever. (Disclaimer: not including Pleco, of course, the undisputed King of Chinese apps. But Pleco I see more as a language learner’s tool than an educational app).
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Decipher Review //The Ultimate Guide
Decipher is something like an online Chinese-language magazine for those of us who have already started learning Chinese but don’t spend enough time reading in the language as we would perhaps like to.
New articles are published each day on aspects of Chinese culture, quirks of the Chinese language, or topical news stories from across China.
Life is full of these little in-between times, and it’s about time we stopped using them to play Candy Crush.
The experts all agree, ‘little and often’ is the best way to learn a language.
The free version of the app includes a collection of example articles from the archive, plus one free article each day.
Articles are roughly graded and colour-coded by HSK level – the developers estimate readers should be able to recognise about 70% of the characters in any article marked at their HSK level.
In this way readers can review the characters they already know or recognise, and see how these characters can be used in a sentence.
The other 30% of unknown characters push the reader out of their comfort zone and expose them to topical vocabulary items that they probably haven’t come across yet in the classroom textbooks.
Audio clips throughout the text allow the reader to listen to single words or whole sentences, as spoken by a native speaker.
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Decipher Review // What’s Great About Decipher?
Where Decipher really comes into its own is its toggle function for hints.
You can choose to view the article with a non-intrusive colour-coding, which indicates the approximate HSK level of each word, so its clear which characters you should know for your level.
If you’re stuck on a word, tapping on the character(s) will generate a pop-up box with the pinyin, an English translation, and the option to save the word to a flashcard.
No need to minimise the app and open Pleco!
Tapping again will get rid of the pop-up, and importantly the English translation, so you can test yourself on the new word on the second read-through.
The pinyin translation remains above the character to help you remember the pronunciation of this new vocabulary item.
If you’re looking for an in-depth analysis of current affairs in Chinese, this isn’t the app for you.
Due to the bite-size length of most articles, and the Chinese proficiency level of the target audience (approximately HSK 2 to HSK 5), the news stories tend to be more overviews of interesting events or celebrity gossip.
Many have clickbait headlines such as 杀人犯变住持 (Temple Abbot accused of murder) or 惊险：货车悬空 （Thrilling: truck suspended in air!).
However, others offer helpful guidance on language usage 别对朋友说’你好’ （Don’t say ‘Ni Hao’ to friends) or the origins of Chinese traditions and festivals, ‘中国的鬼节’ (The Chinese Ghost Festival).
Decipher Review // What’s Not So Great About Decipher?
The main problem I have with this app is its subscription model.
£3.99 per month gets you access to the 300 or so articles in the archive and some additional features, such as the choice to export your flashcards to other platforms.
If it was £3.99 as a one-off payment, I think I would pay. But £3.99 per month?
I wouldn’t exactly call it daylight robbery – the content and the interface are both really rather good.
But it’s still too expensive for most students or casual learners. For that sort of money, I’d at least like to see more than one new article per day, and a more sophisticated flashcards mechanism.
Something like the Memrise model would be more useful, where the system uses spaced repetition to remind you which flashcards you should review each day.
It would also be better if articles could be downloaded in advance for offline reading, for those times when you’re stuck on a cross-country train without internet access.
I’m sticking with the free version for now, and making sure to read the free article that is published each day on the way back home from work.
Another resource I’ve found is Du Chinese, a similar article-based Chinese language learning app – all the articles on this app are free until all of its features have been developed.
Using the two apps together for the past few weeks, I’ve been able to really improve my character recognition.
I actually live in China, but I’ve realised I don’t actively practice my reading and writing all that much in my day-to-day life.
I hear a lot of Chinese on the street, and I speak a fair amount each day, but I tend to read and write Chinese a minimal amount.
No one says that learning to read and write Mandarin Chinese is easy, especially for those of us coming from a non-character-based language background.
But the best way to improve is to get exposed to the characters as often as possible.
Using Decipher each day is an easy way to get into a habit of reading in Chinese – a stepping stone towards reading genuine Chinese media and literature.
Reviewed by Bethan Williams, former student advisor at LTL Mandarin School
Decipher App Review // FAQs
What is Dechiper?
In a nutshell, it is an online magazine for learning Chinese.
How much is Decipher?
Cost: The free version includes around 30 articles, plus one free article each day.
Upgrade: a monthly subscription costs £3.99/month for access to all articles in the archive (300+) and all features (full audio, export flashcards)
Can I get fluent in Chinese with Decipher?
Decipher is great for reading but it won’t get you fluent in Chinese as there are other elements like spoken and written you’ll need to work on also.
Will I improve my speaking using Decipher?
No, Decipher is best used if you wish to improve your reading skills.
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