Most people start studying Chinese with whatever resource they happen to stumble upon. It’s hard to know what you should focus on and where to find quality materials. This post will help give you a clearer path forward.
The beginning may feel like a daunting, exciting and confusing place to be. But don’t worry, everybody started where you are now. There are tons of courses, apps, and websites out there. The first step is to figure out which of these tools you’re going to use.
This isn’t a long-term study plan. It’s a guide to take you from knowing absolutely nothing or very little and get you up to the lower intermediate level.
For some, this may only take a couple of months. Others will lose motivation and never get beyond this stage. Before we begin, you’ll need to think about a few questions.
After years of waiting, the beta version of Chinese for English speakers course was finally released on Duolingo.
It’s been a long time coming and many people had given up on it ever being released. After all, they’ve released courses for over 20 languages, even Klingon and High Valyrian (with even more in development) before tackling the most widely spoken language on the planet.
With millions of users, Duolingo is probably the most popular language learning resource around today – and it’s completely free to use.
But should you use it?
That’s not to mention all the other online Chinese courses.
So, does the Chinese for English speakers course on Duolingo live up to the hype? Should you use it to learn Chinese?
The short answer is no. Don’t waste your time with it.
But, let’s see why I feel this way.
There’s a lot to look at here. So, let’s start at the beginning…
Learning Chinese independently can be a challenging task. There’s so much to learn and it’s hard to know what’s worth prioritizing and what can be put off for later. Without some structure, it’s easy to find yourself with gaps in your knowledge. A good course can help you avoid these errors.
There is no perfect online course to learn Chinese. There’s nothing that will teach you everything you need to learn. You’ll almost certainly need to combine these with other resources to make sure you get enough speaking, listening, reading, and writing practice – depending on your priorities, of course.
There are, however, many good courses and course-like resources that can act as a guide as you learn Chinese. At the end of this post, I’ll mention some that I think are terrible that you should avoid wasting your money on.
Let’s take a look at them one at a time.
If you’re looking for an online Chinese course, you’ll eventually come across Yoyo Chinese. It’s one of the few established courses where you can independently study Mandarin online.
It’s quite possibly the best course as well. That’s not to say it’s perfect or that it’s the only tool you’ll need to learn Chinese.
Yoyo Chinese is actually comprised of a few different courses. The three main courses are Beginner Conversational, Chinese Characters, and Intermediate Conversational. There are also two smaller and cheaper courses – Chinese Grammar and Chinese Learning Tips.
This review will focus on the three main courses.
All of these courses are comprised of short videos, audio reviews, flashcards, and quizzes. The host, Yangyang, does an excellent job of explaining the material in an easy to understand way but also with depth.
First, I’ll discuss the Beginner Conversational Course and Intermediate Conversational Course together because they’re very similar to each other.
Afterward, I’ll talk about the Chinese Character Course.
I’ll let you know what I think Yoyo Chinese does well and where it falls short. I’ll give you all the information so that you can decide for yourself if it’s worth purchasing.
Speechling has quickly become one of my favorite and most used resources for studying Chinese.
One area of learning Chinese that I’ve always felt disappointed by the resources available was for speaking practice. Mimicking native speakers is one of the best ways to improve your pronunciation and speaking fluidity regardless of the language you’re learning.
But, the act of mimicking isn’t as simple as it sounds.
First, and most importantly, you need to make sure your pronunciation is correct. There are several good resources to learn Chinese pronunciation.
Second, you need to find lots of material suitable for your level and you’ll need to mimic it repeatedly. Repeating one time will rarely be enough.
Third, you should at least occasionally record yourself speaking so that you can compare it to the original recording. This is a helpful way of hearing the difference between what you say and what you intend to say. But, as you’re still not proficient in the language, it’s hard to catch all of your mistakes.
Finally, you should try to get feedback on your recordings. This will help you find mistakes you weren’t even aware you were making. Sure, you could send these to a tutor but let’s be honest, few people will actually do that.
Speechling is an app and website that makes all of these steps (and much more) incredibly easy to do.
Fluenz is one of those leftover products from an earlier generation of language learning that, in my opinion, is extremely overpriced and not particularly effective.
Ten years ago, Fluenz may have been one of the best products for learning Chinese on the market. However, in 2017, there are better free resources. Not to mention the countless affordable apps, websites, podcasts and tutors that will help you learn Chinese much quicker.
They spend a fair amount of effort comparing themselves to Rosetta Stone and explaining why they’re better.
I don’t know if Fluenz or Rosetta Stone is better and I don’t particularly care. Both are very expensive for what you get. I wouldn’t recommend either of them.
Let’s find out why I’m not a fan of Fluenz and what would be better to use in its place.
I found my first Chinese teacher on Verbling about a year and a half ago. She was skilled, professional and helped me get past that very beginner stage. Overall, my experience was rather positive.
Now though, I’m not sure that Verbling would be my first choice. Let’s take a look at our options for finding a Chinese tutor.
1. A platform like italki or Verbling where you book classes directly from the teacher.
2. An online school like eChineseLearning or Hanbridge Mandarin that hires teachers.
3. Finding a local teacher from somewhere like Facebook, craigslist or an acquaintance.
Finding a local teacher is almost always the most expensive and least convenient. I found this to be true even living in Beijing. In many other places, it’ll be difficult to find a Chinese tutor near you. Offline classes do have their advantages though and I can understand why some people would prefer that.
Online schools are the best option for a lot of people but aren’t necessarily my favorite. They’re often times cheaper than finding a local teacher but it may require an upfront commitment to a certain number of classes or length of time studying. On the plus side, you’re pretty much guaranteed to find a teacher with lots of experience. Often times these schools will provide a structured course around whichever topic you prefer.
For me personally, I prefer to use a platform like italki or Verbling. On both of these sites, you’ll book your lessons from the tutor directly. This gives a lot more independence and flexibility to both the student and the teacher. You’ll have more say in terms of price, schedule, and your preferences for a teacher. italki and Verbling are quite similar but they aren’t the same.
This article is going to discuss Verbling and then make comparisons to italki.