A Mandarin learning tool

May 2020

This app was a lesson for me in recognizing when I'm programming something for the sake of programming versus actually making something useful.

Google Sheets Notes Page

This project started when I began recording words I knew in Google Sheets. I was doing most of my learning through apps, so I felt recording my notes online would make sense. I made a simple webpage to view a list of all the words I had entered, as well as grammar notes. I found entering the data into Google Sheets to be tedious however, and decided I wanted to make something else.

Chrome Extension

I later sourced words from Duolingo and made a private Chrome Extenion that would show a new one to me whenever I open a new tab. I liked this, but knew I also wanted to have a larger vocabulary than just the words on Duolingo. So I knew I needed more.

Chrome extension


I do still use this one today. It's fast and has a large number of Chinese characters. However, I find that most often I ignore it and just move on. Not quite as immersive as I had hoped.


I decided to create a full-blown Chinese flashcard web app.

Login to Bamboo

On Bamboo a user could sign in, enter words into a database, have the pinyin and literal English autofill (the best value add), and enter how confident they were.

Enter words

They would then see words sourced from Bamboo every time they opened a new tab in Chrome.

Bamboo Chrome extension

I worked very hard on Bamboo. I made a nice login screen, I designed a mobile friendly UI framework, I setup a db. I also made a ton of plans for expansions like word packs, library sharing, flashcard mode, a mobile PWA, word swapping while browsing the web. I spent so much time on coding I forgot that what I was really trying to do was learn Chinese. I eventually abandoned the project.

Bamboo chrome extension, enter a word


Language learning requires effort, and no amount of me programming will make me fluent. Other language apps are helpful, but learning a language has been done for all of human history without computers just fine. Apps or not, what it really takes is putting in the time.