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.
Beginner Conversational Course and Intermediate Conversational Course
The Beginner Conversational Course is intended to take complete beginners up to somewhere around HSK2. After completing this course, you should be able to communicate in China and get around doing basic things.
The Intermediate Conversational Course follows the beginner course and will take you past the basics. This will cover HSK 3 and HSK 4 levels. After completing this course you’ll be able to communicate much easier with people in China, but you’ll still have a lot to learn.
Both of these courses are comprised of six levels. Each level is then split into various units that center around a theme. Each of these units is made of separate lessons. These lessons contain a video explanation, audio review, pronunciation practice, and a quiz at the end.
The exact number of videos in each unit varies but generally, there are between two and four. These videos typically last around five minutes with some being shorter and others longer.
The video lessons are well made. Yangyang has clearly put a lot of time thinking about teaching Chinese. The videos will break down the topic very clearly. She explains the vocabulary and sentence structures needed to understand the lesson point. Often times, she’ll explain things using the literal translation which may make things easier to understand. She breaks everything down into smaller chunks that are easy to comprehend. The videos include pinyin, Simplified Characters, and English.
My favorite videos involve her going to different places and asking questions to people on the street. This provides an excellent contrast to the typical way Chinese is taught. You get to see how people actually speak. Of course, sometimes people speak in an “incorrect” way or make grammar mistakes.
It’s just like in English. If you only learn “How are you?” then you’ll be confused when someone asks, “How’s it goin?” Sure, the latter may not be grammatically correct, but you’ll need to learn it.
This makes it so that you can hear several ways to ask and answer questions. You’ll hear Chinese in an unfiltered context. Yangyang will then explain their answers and add in lots of interesting cultural tidbits. She asks questions to people from a variety of regions and you’ll be exposed to different accents.
You can also ask questions by leaving comments on the videos. Someone from Yoyo Chinese will help to explain whatever issue you’re confused about.
Overall, I really enjoy the video lessons. They’re brief enough that you can quickly learn something new and interesting enough that you don’t get bored and give up on studying. Everything you learn in the videos will be reinforced in the upcoming activities.
After the videos, there is an audio review of the content covered in the preceding video. This will review the vocabulary and sentence structures you just learned. This is a place for you to practice saying out loud what you learned in the videos. It may last about ten minutes, give or take a few minutes.
Typically, she says something in English like, “Say ____” and you’re supposed to say it in Chinese. She will also often include extra reminders about grammar or literal translations. There may be some supplemental vocabulary added as well.
After each audio review, there is a component for you to practice vocabulary and pronunciation. First, you’ll see a character and pinyin of a word or sentence you’ve learned. After you click the ‘reveal’ button, you’ll hear the pronunciation. You can listen at full or half speed. Then you can click to record your own voice and compare it to the original recording. You can also skip ahead to the quiz.
This is a cool feature as it provides extra practice for the lesson materials and encourages you to work on your pronunciation. However, there is another resource, Speechling, that I really like for improving pronunciation and speaking rhythm. I like the free version more than this part of Yoyo Chinese and the paid version will get you unlimited recordings corrected by a teacher.
After the pronunciation practice, there is a 10 question interactive quiz. There are a few different question types: matching, listening, and translations. One thing I really like is that many of the questions also include wrong answers that are close to the correct answer. This makes the quizzes much more challenging and requires you to actually know your stuff. There is also the option to use pinyin or Simplified Chinese Characters for the quiz questions and answers.
These quizzes work really well as a way to finish off the lesson. If there are parts you struggled with, you can now go back and review. Of course, you’ll need to periodically review the content of this lesson.
Yoyo Chinese moves at a somewhat slow pace. This isn’t necessarily good or bad, but it’s worth mentioning. The material is covered very thoroughly. For each lesson, you’ll have the material drilled into your head several times. By the time you watch the video, do the audio review, pronunciation practice, and take the quiz, you’ll know the content in and out.
Both courses are meant to take six months of studying for 30 minutes a day and six days a week.
I appreciate the fact that they don’t make any unrealistic claims of making you fluent in a short period of time. Instead, they stress the importance of a regular study schedule.
There are some extra useful parts to these Yoyo Chinese courses that fall outside of each lesson.
There are flashcards that you can use to review words and sentences you’ve learned from previous lessons. You can filter them based on the course, level, unit, or lesson. They will come up for review periodically and you can mark words as favorites. I generally prefer to use Anki (can download files) or Pleco for review, but I can see why people would like to review directly on the website.
Yoyo Chinese Pinyin Chart
There are quite a few online pinyin charts you can reference to learn or review the sounds of Mandarin. I think the Yoyo Chinese Pinyin Chart is the best one there is. It’s complete and includes video explanations making it easier for English speakers to learn the pronunciation.
There are various useful tools that you can download. First, there are some PDF files – cheat sheets, ebooks, quiz worksheets, and lecture notes. You can also download the audio review files. Unfortunately, you can’t download the lesson videos. My favorite part is that there are Anki files available for download – both vocabulary and sentences. I like using a few different resources to learn Chinese, so being able to have all the flashcards available on Anki is a big plus.
The Beginner Conversational Course costs $129 for the full course and the Intermediate Conversational Course costs $149 for the full course. You can also purchase one level at a time but this ends up costing a bit more.
Learning to understand spoken Chinese takes a lot of listening practice and you won’t get enough of it in these courses alone. I’d suggest using podcasts for extra practice with ChinesePod being the best one.
These are conversational courses. You’ll need to practice using the material in actual conversations to get the most out of these courses. I’d suggest finding a tutor on italki for conversation practice. This can actually be very affordable with many people charging less than $10/hour. You could also go the free route and find a language exchange partner. You could use italki, hellotalk, Tandem, or Speaky to find someone to practice with pretty easily. Regardless, you’ll need to practice speaking Chinese with a real person.
Again, these are conversational courses so there’s not much focus on reading Chinese. There are a number of good resources to get reading practice even if you don’t know many characters.
My Opinion of the Conversational Courses
The Beginner Conversational Course and the Intermediate Conversational Course are very well made. These courses aren’t perfect, but no course is. I think there’s too much English being used and it progresses a bit slower than I’d prefer. I’d also like to see more emphasis on vocabulary acquisition early on. However, these complaints are quite small when you consider the quality of the courses and the fact that they’re priced affordably.
For someone looking for an online Chinese course, Yoyo Chinese is probably their best option.
Chinese Character Course
The Chinese Character Course has much of the same structure as the other courses. The difference is that the focus is on learning to read and type Chinese characters. It’s meant to come after the Beginner Conversational Course. This course covers 300 Simplified Chinese Characters, about HSK 1 and HSK 2.
This course is divided into six levels, 24 units, and 134 lessons. It’s similar to the other courses in that it starts with a short video, followed by a review and quiz.
Each video covers three related or somewhat similar characters. Yangyang breaks the characters down into their component parts. She’ll often use a mnemonic or images to make a short story so that it’s easier to remember. There will also be some simple example sentences or words containing the word. Later, they’ll quickly show the stroke order for writing by hand.
After you watch the video, you’ll move on to the review section. Here you’ll see the character and have to type it in with your keyboard. Other times, there won’t be any typing. Instead, there will be other words or sentences to review. Sometimes there will be a mix of pinyin and characters in this section to form sentences. I guess at this point they’re only showing characters that you’ve already learned and for the ones you haven’t, they’ll use pinyin instead so you can still read it.
Next is the quiz. It’s similar to the quizzes in the other courses. You’ll have matching exercises, sentence ordering, and translations. They also use images from several different places and a character will be circled. You’ll then select the definition or pinyin of the character. This is pretty cool because you’ll get to see the characters you’ve learned as they appear in their native environment. You’ll also learn to recognize them when they’re written in different fonts.
You can also download lesson notes. These lesson notes are pretty useful as they include quite a bit of information.
You’ll have the typical review information for each of the characters. This includes example words and sentences containing the characters. There’s also a font comparison that shows slight changes in how the character appears depending on the font. This would be pretty cool but the fonts they show here are all pretty similar to each other. It’d be interesting if they added in some of the more popular fonts you’ll see on signs and in TV shows that vary a bit more.
There are also some translation exercises, reading practice from real-life pictures, and an answer key. The focus of the course isn’t handwriting, but there’s also a worksheet you can print out and use to practice writing by hand. You can find more worksheets for handwriting practice at Hanzi Grids.
My Opinion of the Chinese Characters Course
The Chinese Characters Course isn’t bad, but it’s not as good as the conversational courses. It wouldn’t be my first choice for learning to read Chinese. For me, it’s a bit too expensive and won’t take you far enough.
The full course costs $149. You can use the promo code 10NRES to get an additional 10% off. But that will still cost $134.
In place of this course, I’d suggest considering an app called Zizzle. It uses short stories and mnemonics to break characters down into their component parts and does an excellent job. Zizzle costs $59.99/year but you can save 15% with the promo code “ALLLANGUAGERESOURCES”. This would only be $51.
I would then suggest subscribing to either Du Chinese or The Chairman’s Bao. These two apps provide short articles written at various difficulty levels. They also have pop-up dictionaries, audio, and are really easy to use. You can read my comparison article here. Du Chinese is a bit better for beginners because it includes English translations. A year subscription to Du Chinese would cost $89.99 but you can save 10% with the promo code “ALLLANGUAGERESOURCES”. So this would be $81.
I’ve also found a big part of learning to read Chinese isn’t necessarily memorizing every character exactly. Instead, simply reading a lot in Chinese will help you recognize and be able to read the characters in context. It’s also a lot more fun to learn Chinese by reading a lot.
Together, a year subscription to both Zizzle and Du Chinese would cost about the same as the Chinese Characters Course and take you much further.
If you’re interested in learning to write characters by hand, then you should consider a subscription to Skritter. With this app, you can practice writing characters on your phone. It uses SRS flashcards to prevent you from forgetting the characters you’ve already learned.
If you’re more concerned with learning to type in Chinese and get feedback on it, you may want to download the Sogou keyboard and using the Notebooks section of italki. There you can write an entry and have others give you feedback. Just be sure to return the favor and help others by correcting their writing.
Final Thoughts on Yoyo Chinese
I think the Beginner Conversational Course and Intermediate Conversational Course are very good. There are other tools I really like using to learn Chinese but these are probably the best online courses around. Truthfully, I wish I had used Yoyo Chinese when I first started learning the language. I tried to study a bit too independently and still find myself with random gaps in my knowledge. This is bound to happen regardless of the tools you use, but Yoyo Chinese will limit those gaps. It provides structure to learning Chinese that everyone needs and lessons are broken down into easily digested chunks. I’d highly recommend these courses.
However, I’m not a big fan of the Chinese Characters Course. That’s not to say that it isn’t useful or good. But, in today’s language learning environment, there are lots of good apps and tools. I think the combination of Zizzle and Du Chinese or The Chairman’s Bao would be much better for those interested in learning to read Chinese Characters.