LearnYu is an artificial intelligence-based system to learn conversational Mandarin Chinese. Like Khan Academy and Duolingo, it keeps giving you more and more exercises until you master a word or grammar point. Unlike Duolingo, it is fully accountable for your progress (based on the largest standardized test for Chinese, the HSK) and it focusses on enabling you to have conversations. It does so by

  • showing you only sentences that may come up in conversations
  • having "reply to this" as one of the exercise types
  • allowing you to practice what you learned in chatting with the computer
  • using only audio recordings of native speakers, no machine voices


LearnYu is the brainchild of Judith Meyer, who has also been financing its development until now and doing most of the programming. Judith brought in Marina Gonzalez Gomez, a graphic talent from Barcelona, Sophia You, a Chinese teacher from Qingdao, and Jesse Alter, a sysadmin from New Jersey. With these collaborators, the alpha version of LearnYu went live in December 2013, the closed beta version in April 2014 and the 1.0 release in December 2015.


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Studying with this site

The first level contains 9 units with 3 lessons each, covering most everyday situations and leading up to the HSK 1 (standardized test for Chinese).

Each new word is presented individually, never more than one at a time. Then, complete multiple-choice, dialog, word order and translation exercises in order to train yourself to use it. If you make a mistake, the system will remember and it will show you more exercises for the same word, until you have mastered it. The same goes for grammar: after an explanation and some examples, you will be asked to solve various exercises until you have mastered this grammar topic. If you find it easy, there will be few exercises. If you find it hard, there will be as many exercises as you need, because the system adapts to you. If you have forgotten something else in the meantime, the system will quiz you on that as well.

Once you have completed a unit, there is an extra reading exercise and a chance to have a conversation with the computer in order to practise what you learned.


LearnYu is a very intuitive course that takes you through one word at a time and with plenty of ways to get the pronunciation repeated, you also learn the tones quite effectively. What I found best with the way the course is built up is that you feel like you are playing a game where you are levelling up, little bars tell you how far you’ve come in the lesson and the greener they are the better you know each individual word. I wasn’t really expecting to actually learn a lot, because my mind is full of BA projects, Esperanto and Russian at the moment. But the highly intuitive process of slowly adding words, rather than bombarding you with 20 or more words in one go, really makes you feel like you are just learning Mandarin one step at a time. I even met a Chinese guy in the bar and he was able to understand my basic: “I am Danish” :-) that’s a huge win.
-- Chris Broholm,
I really recommend you invest in LearnYu if you're a beginner in Chinese. Already, the tool is great to prepare you for HSK 1. With plans to add more levels and new features, it'll be unstoppable.
-- Olly Guest,