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App comparison: iHuman Hongen Chinese (洪恩识字) versus Wukong Literacy (悟空识字) for learning Chinese characters

Our favourite Chinese literacy apps are iHuman Chinese Hong En Literacy (洪恩识字) and Wukong Literacy (悟空数学).  Both of iHuman app and Wukong Literacy app are designed for children who have a sound spoken understanding of Mandarin, and are starting to learn characters/words in Simplified Chinese form.  These are great apps for learning Chinese characters.

This review compares the key differences between these two apps.  

Why are apps helpful in learning Simplified Chinese characters?

Both Wukong Literacy and iHuman Go Play Chinese are games based on vivid imagery, which is helpful for memory retention of characters and radicals.   They systematically teach a child character-by-character, with iHuman going up to 1300 characters, and Wukong Literacy getting to beyond 5000 words.

Both apps are fairly similar in their design and games, and each include excellent 2 to 3 minute learning animations showing how the characters are used in words, and supported by graded e-books for the child to read.  The apps are suitable from about ages 3 upwards to tweens, although they do require a child to already be familiar with spoken Chinese.

Each of the app content covers 100% of the first-grade Chinese characters of the Mainland Chinese Education curriculum, and more than 80% of the second-grade new characters.  Think of these apps as being equivalent to the English learning apps of ABC Reading Eggs or Starfall, but obviously for Mandarin.

Note: The entire installation, payment and set up for Wukong and iHuman apps is in Chinese, so they can be hard for a non-Chinese reader to navigate (although it’s great for encouraging full language immersion!).  These post also share some tips and screenshots around how to download and use these apps.

What is Wukong Literacy (悟空识字)?

Wukong Literacy (悟空识字) is a combination of three Chinese literacy learning apps, being:

(note – there is also a Wukong Math package, which we haven’t tried)

Wukong App icons from app store

This software has been developed by Ningbo Qidian Education Technology Co., Ltd, and first written in 2009.  In China, for the last decade it’s maintained a top 10 position in the education app bestseller list.   There are more than 30 million registered users.

Wukong is named after Sun Wukong, (aka the Monkey King), who is one of the main characters in the 16th-century Chinese cult novel “Journey to the West”.  The app has been thoughtfully designed, and the illustrations and learning modules really bring the Chinese characters and words to life for a primary schooler, as the child completes their quest with the Monkey King.     

There are 15 scenes (or levels) with over 100 literacy games, and 1000 learning modules.  New words are introduced from animated stories with pictographs, which is a different approach from most other literacy apps.  Children learn a new character, and then through a combination of different exercise amd mini games, they use the character in words and sentences.

Best distinguishing aspects of Wukong Literacy

What is iHuman Hongen Shizi app ?

iHuman app is a combination of five different apps which can be bought/used together, or separately:

This is the main iHuman app you’ll want to be looking for (Hongen Shizi 洪恩识字 )

Below are photos of the other four apps. Please note the first one below here (“iHuman Chinese”) is not the right one. This is not immersive Chinese in the way that the one above Hongen Shizi 洪恩识字 is. It’s a little confusing. To make it even more confusing, on some App stores this english version is sometimes called GoPlay Chinese or GP Chinese. Neither is what you want. You need the tiger one!!!

iHuman App icons (note the first icon is now called GoPlay Chinese ….. don’t use this one…. specifis)

The iHuman app suite has been created by Beijing Hongen Education Technology Co., Ltd, which has been making educational software for the last thirty years (quite a long time when you think about how long computers have been around for!).   There are more than 20 million registered users for iHuman.

Each of the iHuman apps is thoughtfully designed, showcasing gamified learning at its best, in a well polished and researched format. For iHuman Go Play Chinese, each level is divided into 4 units, covering each reading, writing, listening and lots of repetition.  It intended to be a comprehensive solution for children’s literacy in Mainland China, designed in consultation with 20,000 different kindergartens and schools.

Best distinguishing aspects of iHuman Hongen

There’s a really detailed review of iHuman written by homeschooling mum Jean, at Mandarin Home School which is really helpful to understand full features of iHuman.

Main differences between iHuman Hongen Chinese and Wukong Literacy

 iHuman GoPlay HongEnWukong Literacy
Can a child skip levels or start at a higher grade?Yes (under parental controls)No (although a harder curriculum can be selected)
Can I select different word lists?NoYes (has several curriculums / textbooks used in mainland China)
Can I add in my own words?No No
Can I have two children on the one account? Yes No
Can be used from a PC?   No Yes
Does it enable practice of stroke order? Yes No
Does it enable voice recognition for pronunciation? No Yes
Does it include an optional Pinyin learning module? Yes Yes
Is there a version in Traditional Script? No No
Is there a version in Cantonese? No No
Number of characters covered?~1300~1300 characters; 5000 words
Cost to purchase?~USD 33 per year Or ~USD 90 for lifetime~USD 33 per 3 years
Free trial? Yes – first 20 characters Yes – first five days
Can I pay using iTunes? Yes Yes
Is there English customer support? Yes No
Are there supporting offline materials? Yes – physical books and worksheets can be bought or printed No
Comparison of key features of Wukong Literacy and iHuman Hongen

Content difference between iHuman Hongen Chinese and Wukong Literacy

Both apps are very similar, covering 1300 characters (Wukong goes a little further), using high quality animation and gamified learning.   Key differences:

Ease of Use: iHuman Hongen versus Wukong Shizi

Both systems are fully written in Chinese, which creates a hurdle for a non-Chinese parent (but not an insurmountable hurdle). Key difference in usability functionality is:

Here’s a screen shot comparing the “maps” for iHuman versus Wukong, and you’ll understand the difference in complexity:

Purchasing and Payment: iHuman Hongen versus Wukong Shizi

Tip for non-Chinese speaking Parents using iHuman Hongen Shizi

As an adult, when you try to download and pay for these apps, it can be a minefield.  Also, changing the settings in these apps can be difficult, as you’ll get a screen to verify that you’re a parent.  To verify it, you need to read the three Chinese characters, which sound similar in pronunciation to Chinese numerals, and enter the corresponding numbers to unlock the parental settings.   

Here’s a “cheat” table for that aspect:

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If you want iHuman installation and download instructions in English,  including screenshots, I’ve written some more details on a guest post which I wrote for Bilingual Kidspot (another excellent bilingual parenting resource), which can be found here.

Which character learning app suits my child better?

Each app systematically covers 1300 words, focusing on character recognition through play, and it includes test reading, writing and comprehension activities.  Neither of them is a curriculum per se, but they are great for reinforcing character learning and give a fun outlet to practising Mandarin.

We used both apps together, essentially as alternative games for the children to play. However if only choosing one, I would recommend the following:

For a younger child (3 to 7 years old), I would highly recommend Maomi Stars – and this has the added feature of being able to add your own words. Other similar apps available in Mandarin (although for various reasons we feel they’re not quite as good) are Dr. Panda Literacy, Calligraphy Literacy, Cong Meow Literacy.

Are you still reading?

This has been one LONG post. Thanks for sticking with me! If you have any thoughts or suggestions on apps, I’d love to hear from you. I always keen to hear what works for other families.    As an adult who speaks no Chinese, I’ve resorted to several smart technologies to enable my kids to become bilingual.  Perhaps some of my earlier posts might also be of interest:

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