Mobile Mandarin Learning – Review of Byki Mandarin Chinese

As mentioned previously I have been making a concerted effort to improve my Mandarin Chinese – and using my mobile phones (my job means this is plural) to help me do so. I’ll start my reflections with a review of one of the apps I have been using. In fact the one I have been using the most.

Screenshot of Byki app showing flashcard view

Screenshot of Byki app showing flashcard view

Byki Mandarin Chinese (iOS, US$7.99) allows the user to browse sets of flashcards, grouped into common themes such as At the restuarant, Colours etc. The basic premise is simple with three effective steps:

Step 1 – Look through the cards, listen to the word/phrase in Mandarin. Each card comes with the Chinese characters, pinyin (Latinized transcription), picture and a card score (out of 7)

Step 2 – See the written word, say or think the word in English, then flip the card to check. Self mark and the card score goes up one point if correct and down two point if wrong. If wrong you immediately get shown the same card.

Once you have around 4 points for each card you move onto…

Step 3 – See the English and say/think the Chinese. Self mark again. When you get the card score to seven you stop seeing it.

Once completed there is a multiple choice quiz, and this is one of the few negatives about the app – this is much easier than the previous round so provides little challenge. Even so, it’s kinda nice rushing through this, getting 100% correct.

This app has been out for a while – I remember coming across it when reviewing apps while I built MyWordBook, but I have to admit that I probably didn’t give it the amount of time it was worthy of. Having used this quite a bit recently I would say this is definitely one of the best vocabulary tools on the market.

What I like about this app:

  • the ability to slow down the audio so you can hear the word more clearly – very useful especially for phrases
  • the easy way you can switch between packs and review packs that you’ve previously seen
  • the thematic packs which recycle vocabulary from one to the other among similar themes (such as  food and restaurants)
  • the clear representations – the app feels and looks nice, there are no problems with the interface or the navigation.

What could be improved:

  • would be nice to be able to record my own voice and compare, would also be nice to be able to add my own flashcards – however these are minor points as this is a well rounded apps and there are other ones out there that would let me do this.
  • would be nice to be able to sync my progress between apps.

Byki Mandarin Chinese (iOS)
Usefulness &
Nicely packaged word sets that provide just enough to learn in one sitting. The three stages of 'Look through the cards'. 'Mandarin first'. 'English first' work well. Easy to flick through when just got a little time to kill on transport etc but also engaging enough for use at home.
Easy to get around. Easy to install new flashcards. Simple icons which are easy to understand. Little learning curve.
Challenges the user to complete the packs of words with it’s clear adaptive learning. It basically only does one thing - but it does this very well
Value for
Expensive but there is a lot there and a lot of thought has gone into it
Excellent - expensive but one of the best vocab tools available. Great

Byki is also available for Android and I’ve just downloaded which looks ok – not as nice looking as the iOS version but still the same functionality. It’s a memory hog though and there is no way to move it to the SD card which is a major negative. Hopefully they will address this soon. The full list of languages available can be found on their website at


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