If you google Rocket Chinese or Rocket Languages review, you’ll be shown lots of people who seem to love it. Like me, they make money off of affiliate sales and Rocket Languages has some of the best commission rates around. If I were to put a Rocket Chinese link on this site and you clicked it, then made a purchase within 60 days, I’d make somewhere between 40% and 70% of that sale. This is well above the standard rates and with the high price tag of Rocket Chinese, there’s a lot of money to be made in leading people astray. Level one costs $99.95 and the level one and two combo costs $249.90. So, if I placed a link here, you clicked it and went on to buy the $250 package, I’ll earn between $100 and $175. That’s absurd. It’s also the reason why there are so many people who seem to love an expensive and poorly made product.
Continue reading on for the review itself or skip to this article where I’ll help you figure out how to start learning Chinese.
So, let’s get into the review itself.
First off, this is only my opinion and it’s only based off of one afternoon using the free trial. I think that was more than enough time to get a general idea and be able to strongly advise against purchasing Rocket Chinese.
Level one of Rocket Chinese has eight modules with the first seven containing 12 lessons each. The last module only has four. The free trial gave me access to nine of the lessons in Module 1. So, these lessons are the very basics and absolute beginner level.
The lesson audio averages around 25 minutes. This is basically a dialog that the two hosts discuss together. They leave lots of long pauses so that you can repeat after them. The pace is painfully slow but that’s not a big problem given the absolute beginner level. You can also play different parts of the lesson separately.
Given how much of the lesson they leave as pauses for you to repeat, it seems like their focus would be on pronunciation. But, at least in the lessons I looked at, they don’t give you much help at all in learning to pronounce the sounds unique to Chinese. For adults learning Chinese, you won’t be able to simply repeat the words without feedback and get correct pronunciation. You need a more focused and conscious effort to learn the subtle differences in the pronunciation of Chinese words. Some good alternatives to learn pronunciation are the “Say it Right Series” at Chinesepod (read my review), this free video based pinyin chart at Yoyo Chinese, The Mimic Method (my review) and the Chinese Pronunciation Wiki.
Speaking of pronunciation, let’s talk about the hosts quickly. The lessons are hosted by a Chinese girl and a foreign guy. The foreign guy has a strong accent that doesn’t sound native or even particularly good. I wouldn’t be surprised if my pronunciation is better and that’s a major problem. They should have found a host with a more natural sounding accent or a native speaker – especially since the lessons are centered around repeating after him.
After the lesson they have a variety of tests available for you to complete. The first is called “Hear It Say It!”. You’re supposed to record your voice and compare it to the audio. While I’m happy that all the audio is recorded from the native speaking Chinese host, it’s disappointing that I can’t have a man’s voice to copy. This function could still be useful but every time I push the record button, the app crashes.
The next test is called “Write It!”. Here you listen to the audio and type in the pinyin that you hear. So, for example, you hear zàijiàn. That’s what you’re supposed to type in. However, there’s no way to add the tone intonation marks. So, if you type it as zai jian, zaijian, zai4jian4 or 再见 all would be marked incorrect. It’s not a huge problem because you can manually change your score, but it’s just another thing that isn’t made particularly well.
Up next is the “Know It!” test. Here, you read a word or phrase in English and record yourself saying it in Chinese. Once again the app crashes every time I try to record my voice. I emailed support about this problem and they suggested I uninstall and reinstall the app. That didn’t work and I didn’t try to figure out another solution.
Moving forward is the quiz. This is a five question quiz multiple choice quiz and seems alright. I actually got into a debate about the question below with my Chinese girlfriend. Regardless, I think the example they chose for this beginner quiz was a pretty poor choice.
The next part is “Play It!”. In this part, you play the audio from one person in the dialog and are supposed to record yourself saying the other person’s lines. Again, the app crashes if I try to record my voice. Also, half the dialog is from a foreigner with a strong accent. I don’t see the point in trying to mimic a non native sounding accent.
Next, we’re at the “Write It (Extra)” section. Here you hear the audio and type in the simplified characters. This seems to work well. However, this is an absolute beginner level lesson and they never explain how to type Chinese characters or where to get a program to input Chinese characters onto your phone or computer.
Finally, there’s a second “Play It (Extra) section. This is exactly the same as the first “Play It!” section. Not sure why this is here.
More reasons why Rocket Chinese is awful
Moving away from the tests now, we’ll find more things about Rocket Chinese that I think are terrible. There are some lessons about writing Simplified Chinese characters. It feels more like they added this part, simply so that they could say they have a writing component. There are a couple of videos around 10 seconds long that simply show someone writing the character. There are only a few characters included and they seem to be chosen almost at random. You can find free resources that will teach you the stroke order (Arch Chinese is good) or if you’re serious about learning to write Chinese characters, Skritter is the best option available. You can get a free week trial of Skritter and get 45% off a one month subscription with coupon code “alllanguageresources”.
In lesson 1.12, so very much still the absolute beginner level, they include six characters to learn how to write. The first four are common characters but the last two should not have been included. They’re the characters 凹 (ao1) and 凸 (tu1). I’ve spent nearly a year now studying Chinese in Beijing and have never consciously come across either of these characters. I looked them up on Hanzicraft and found the frequency for both to be around 2856 of 9933 characters. There are plenty of characters worth spending the time to learn to write, but for beginner students to learn to write these characters is a complete waste of time.
The next problem is also related to selecting poor examples for beginner students in the beginner lessons. In lesson 1.7, they have a part about sentence order. Okay, cool, that’s probably worth learning. There are plenty of vocab and sentence structures that would be helpful for a beginner level student to learn. However, they chose to use 不如 (bùrú ) as an example. This is an HSK 5 word that would be more fitting in an intermediate level lesson, not in the absolute beginners section. There are plenty of other HSK 1 or 2 words they could have used instead to show differences in sentence structure. To make things worse, they mistakenly wrote it as bùrǔ instead of bùrú a couple of times.
They have flashcards as well. I didn’t spend too much time looking at these. The one major problem I see again is that for some of the flashcards, the audio is recorded by the foreign host.
I have nothing good to say about Rocket Chinese
There are so few positives worth writing about that I’m not even going to bother. Everything good about Rocket Chinese can be found elsewhere, generally cheaper and better. Be wary of any good reviews you read for any Rocket Languages product. They offer far above industry standard affiliate commission rates which leads to a lot of dishonest reviews. The lessons on Rocket Chinese look like they were thrown together quickly without any real thought about making a useful product for people trying to learn Chinese. There are so many amazing resources out there to help you learn a language, it’s a shame to see so many people wasting their time and money on this product. Rocket Chinese is garbage. Don’t waste your time with it.
Luckily, there are tons of great resources to help you learn Chinese. Read my resource guide on how to start learning Chinese.