Learn Chinese with iHuman Apps (Hongenshizi, Pinyin, & Books) – with instructions in English!

This post is a review of iHuman app, a fantastic app to learn Chinese by Hong En Literacy. Actually iHuman is a combination of three different apps which all go together:

  • iHuman Chinese: (aka HongenShizi 洪恩识字) for learning 1300 Simplified Characters
  • iHuman Pinyin:  for learning the Hanyu Pinyin of all 63 elements, through interactivr scenarios  
  • iHuman books: for interactive reading practice

Each of these Chinese learning apps are suitable from about ages 3 upwards. Even tweens find it fun and will fight over the device for it.

Think of as the equivalent of the English learning apps of ABC Reading Eggs or Starfall, but all in Chinese. 

Each of the apps is well designed, focussing on teaching 1300 Chinese characters level-by-level, and supporting the learning through stories. 

It’s gamified learning at its best, in a highly polished format, which including reading, writing and listening.  Each level is divided into 4 units, covering each of these topics, with lots of repetition.

It’s been thoughtfully designed and illustrated, and really brings characters and words to life for a primary schooler. 

The iHuman app collection, alongside Wukong Literacy, are the two preferred games which our family have to support Chinese learning. 

Pros of iHuman app

  • They offer a free trial to learn the first 20 characters in the Hongenshizi app. 
  • The kids will love the characters (dancing penguins, pooping goats, dogs with stylish hairdos, aliens etc)
  • It includes 130 levelled online reader books, which can be also bought in physical form.
  • Unlike many other Chinese apps, the company has a website which has a good English overview
  • There is a progress tracker so the child can see how far through the 1300 characters or 63 Pinyin elements they are
  • It’s a super fun way for your child to systematically learning characters, as it’s visually appealing and makes use of repetition and clever visual cues to reinforce character memorization and context.
  • Concept is largely based on vivid imagery, which is helpful for memory.  My elder child is able to concentrate for a long time, and focus on the sounds and words.
  • iHuman follows a systematic linear map where each character is learnt, and then child progresses to the next one.
  • It’s possible to only concentrate on Simplified Characters, without the Pinyin app, if that is the preferred learning route (some families don’t like the anglicisation of Pinyin)

Cons of iHuman app

  • The entire set up is in Chinese, so hard for a non-Chinese reader to navigate, especially the payment system (although it’s great for encouraging full language immersion!)
  • The app itself and all instructions (written and verbal) are in Chinese, which means as a non-Chinese speaking adult, it can be hard to understand some of the screens. 
  • Unfortunately, there is no module for use on desktop computer, so it’s fully tablet only. However, the app can be combined with a series of 130 physical story books which follow the same curriculum as the app, which makes for off-line learning.
  • Purchasing the app for a parent who doesn’t speak Chinese is a little complicated – it’s easier on Apple, an payment can be done via App store.   It takes effort, but it’s well worth it. 

iHuman Instructions in English?

How to access IHuman app if I don’t read Chinese? Are there iHuman instructions in English?

This information is for if you are living outside mainland China, and paying using a credit card which is also outside mainland China. 

Download it at here: App store  & Android 

The app looks like this:

You can download the iHuman app trial without paying, however once you want to subscribe later, payment is substantially easier from an Apple than from an Android.  For iOS, you can pay via the app store, and for Andriod, you’ll need to use AliPay Tourpass or WeChat pay, which is more complicated.

Your child can enjoy it for free for a while.  But they’ll get stuck at Level 20 (i.e thr 20th character learnt).  This is where the complication starts.  You’ll need to set up an account and pay.

Navigate to the “Config” section (the cog design). 

As an adult, when you try to change the settings, you’ll get a screen to verify that you’re a parent.  To verify it, you need to read the three characters on the right, which sound similar like the Chinese numerals, and that’s what you enter on the number pad.

You can use google translate and hear what it sounds like, if you’re familiar with counting in Chinese from 1 to 10, otherwise here’s a “cheat” table:

1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9

Next, follow the instructions below to sign up for an account either by use of WECHAT or EMAIL ACCOUNT.   The WeChat option was simple to use, assuming you already have an existing account on your device.  Otherwise, click on the “Users Outside Mainland China” option and the mail icon to use your email account instead, and you’ll be promoted to enter a password. 

A useful tip at this point is to view the app using another phone with “Google Translate” camera mode, so you quasi-understand what is happening.

iHuman_signup

Payment for iHuman from outside of China

Once you’re signed up for an account, you’ll have the option to click on the shopping cart in the top right corner, and you enter the VIP Purchase Page to choose your plan.

iHuman_ShoppingBasket

There are three purchase options. The first is the Annual VIP package, the second is the Quarterly VIP package, and the third is the Monthly VIP package.  However, at the time I wrote this blog post only the 1-year option is able to be bought using a non-Chinese payment option [Update 2020; – lifetime package is now offered outside of China, for about US$65 through the App Store!]  Also note this subscription does not include access to the graded reader picture books, which can be purchased separately.

iHuman_Chinese app

Once you’ve chosen your option, you’ll need to pay with either WeChat or Alipay, or Apple Pay store (for iOS devices).  Thankfully I had an Apple, and the rest was history!  Just follow the iOS instructions to pay with Apple through the App Store.

If you’re not on an iOS device, it’s a bit more complicated.  Without a Chinese credit card, your best option will likely be to put funds into an Alipay account using a non-Chinese credit card, and pay for the app that way.  Do a Google Search on “Alipay TourPass” and read up more on this is a payment scheme designed for tourists in China.

Chinese Apps for Kids

Hopefully this iHuman review will help you decide if this Chinese app is right for your family. Looking for more Chinese apps? Check out reviews of Wukong Literacy and Skritter, and see the main post: Best Chinese Apps for Kids.

You may also be interested in the Bilingual Kidspot FREE Chinese learning series: Chinese for Kids which has lots of resources for parents with kids learning Chinese.

Author: Emma Lee is a mother of 3 living in Singapore, bringing an engineer’s skillset to her bilingual parenting.  Her website has detailed reviews on literary tech gadgets & books to assist children learning Chinese.

iHuman Chinese app to learn Characters