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The Best Language Courses for Learning Cantonese in 2020

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Learning Cantonese can feel intimidating—but it doesn’t have to be. With the right course, you can learn everything from basic vocabulary and pronunciation to how to conduct business in Cantonese.

Here, we’re sharing which resources are excellent for learning Cantonese. Of course, we’ll also cover the courses that are decent enough—but not stellar—and the options you should probably avoid.

We’ll explain our reasoning with the pros and cons of each language course option. Ready?

Let’s get started with our top-tier choices for learning to speak Cantonese.

Tier 1 – the Best Options for Learning Cantonese

These top four resources are our favorite recommendations for anyone learning Cantonese.

Pimsleur

A smart start for Cantonese

Price: Subscriptions are $14.95 to $19.95/month. For now, unfortunately, subscriptions aren’t available for Cantonese—hopefully, that’s coming soon. You can buy the Level 1 course for $119.95.

The Level 1 course in Cantonese features 16 hours of Cantonese Chinese content. Pimsleur’s audio-focused teaching style will get you speaking the language faster than other resources will. However, it’s not great for learning grammar or about the written language.

Pimsleur is a strong resource for learning many languages, and we don’t hesitate to recommend it for Cantonese. Especially for beginners, it’s a nice intro to a new language.

Pros:

  • You’ll start speaking almost immediately, which jump-starts your learning.
  • The audio makes for an easy introduction to Cantonese.

Cons:

  • You can’t get Cantonese via a subscription.
  • You’ll need some reading and writing supplements.

See our full, in-depth review of Pimsleur here.

Visit Pimsleur

italki

Accessible tutors for every ability

Price: Starts at $4/hour and averages about $10/hour (but ranges up to $50/hour)

We love italki because you can connect with experienced instructors who meet you where you are (not literally!). The online platform lets you choose from either teachers (who usually have educational experience) or tutors (typically native speakers or those with lots of language experience) for one-on-one digital lessons.

You can schedule your sessions to fit your schedule, work on specific topics or categories, and find someone who matches your learning style and speaking ability.

Pros:

  • Totally customized learning experiences.
  • You interact with a real instructor via virtual lessons, so it’s convenient yet powerful learning.
  • There’s a sense of community, with language swapping boards and more.

Cons:

  • Sometimes the in-demand teachers are hard to schedule with.
  • Pricing is via italki credits, so you’ll need to load up your account to pay.

See our full, in-depth review of italki here.

Visit italki

CantoneseClass101

Tons of content at a good value

Price: A basic subscription is $8/month, Premium is $25/month, and Premium Plus is $47/month

Podcast-style language learning has caught on, and for good reason. It’s a casual yet natural way to learn any language, and the rule applies to learning Cantonese, too. While we haven’t tried Cantonese, we do have experience with other courses from Innovative Language—and they all use the same format.

With CantoneseClass101, you’ll find lots of dialogue to practice with, crucial grammar discussion, and some cultural information to help round out your lessons. There’s a lot of English in the beginning, too, which can help new Cantonese speakers.

Pros:

  • Tons of content—especially audio—at a decent price point.
  • The beginner level starts out with a lot of English, which can help if you’re a complete newbie to Cantonese.

Cons:

  • Not a ton of written material here, so you’ll need a supplement.
  • There’s a lot of material but the pathways are a bit confusing.

See our full, in-depth review of CantoneseClass101 here.

Save 25% on a subscription by using the coupon code ‘ALLLANGUAGERESOURCES

Visit CantoneseClass101

Memrise

Great for growing your vocabulary

Price: Free, premium plans cost $8/month

Memrise is another tool we love and has a lot of free content. The way Memrise works is it hosts user-generated “decks” of vocabulary, grammar, and more. With a paid subscription, you get access to those and developer content, too.

You can study specific decks to practice skills in different areas, with the flashcard-like style working well for drills. You’ll need another resource to really round out your Cantonese lessons, but as a beginner, you’ll need to learn lots of words, and Memrise is excellent for that.

Pros:

  • You can study user-created content for free—which often receives updates/new additions.
  • The flashcard format lends itself to quick study sessions.
  • Their use of a spaced repetition system ensures your study time is effective.

Cons:

  • Don’t expect or try to learn every aspect of the language from Memrise.
  • The higher your Cantonese level becomes, the less useful Memrise is.

See our full, in-depth review of Memrise here.

visit Memrise

Tier 2 – Decent Enough Alternatives for Learning Cantonese

These Cantonese courses have some strengths, but some drawbacks, too.

Cantonese Learning Center

Old-school resources for dedicated learners

Price: Free

While the Cantonese Learning Center website is pretty clunky, there’s good material here if you invest the time. Their downloadable e-book and accompanying audio files cover mostly beginner material, but since free is the price, there’s not a whole lot to complain about.

You can’t really argue with a free resource, but we do have to note that there isn’t much content for intermediate to advanced Cantonese speakers. Therefore, the scope of this course is a bit limited.

Pros:

  • You can study in-browser from anywhere you have Wi-Fi or download the materials to take them on the go.
  • The courses are completely free.

Cons:

  • The materials are quite dated and the format is totally old-school.
  • Intermediate to advanced Cantonese speakers may not find much to work with here.

Visit Cantonese Learning Center

Conversations

Podcast-style learning for a fee

Price: $97 one-time fee for the MP3, video, transcripts, and Anki flashcard decks for each conversation

Cantonese Conversations involves audio and video of real conversations in Cantonese. You’ll also get the transcripts for the conversations, so you can follow along and fill in the gaps in understanding. Also, you’ll download flashcard decks (with the Anki app) for more practice.

Pros:

  • You get audio, transcripts, and flashcard practice, which helps jump-start your speaking/processing skills.
  • Everything is downloadable so you can study anywhere.
  • Real conversations from native Cantonese speakers.

Cons:

  • The price is a bit steep for the content you receive—which is mostly audio and transcription documents.
  • It’s a supplemental resource, so don’t expect it to teach you everything you need.

Visit Conversations

Glossika

Audio instruction but at a cost

Price: $30/month, $299.88/year

We like Glossika for learning multiple languages concurrently or in succession, but it has its drawbacks, too. Let’s start with the positives: the lessons will get you listening and speaking Cantonese. The audio is pretty robust, and there’s a lot of content.

On the downside, the price is pretty high, and we’ve found errors in some of the courses—not impressive.

Pros:

  • One subscription includes all the languages.
  • There’s a lot of audio and effective repetition in each lesson.

Cons:

  • We don’t love the high price point.
  • Some courses have errors, which makes the cost even harder to stomach.

See our full, in-depth review of Glossika here.

Visit Glossika

Mango Languages

Solid instruction in Cantonese

Price: $7.99/month for one language or $17.99/month for all languages

Mango Languages is a solid enough option for beginners looking for a structured and affordable course. It’s not the flashiest of courses, but it’s designed reasonably well and the lessons will get you off on the right foot.

Although it’s not particularly expensive, some libraries offer free access to Mango Languages, so it may be worth checking there.

Pros:

  • Access is free via some libraries—and a subscription includes 70+ languages.
  • The stats trackers and game-like interface can be fun.
  • A good option to get started with the language.

Cons:

  • The interface can get boring and kind of repetitive.
  • The translation function is meant to be a utility, but it isn’t really reliable.

See our full, in-depth review of Mango Languages here.

Visit Mango Languages

FSI

Dusty but decent

Price: Free

The primary highlight with FSI is the fact that it’s free. But these old-school resources leave a bit to be desired, even though Cantonese is hardly the only language available via FSI. You’ll find a student text (two volumes) and over 23 hours of downloadable audio.

It’s nice that you can print the text if you want, or download it to use as an e-book, but the materials are very dusty. The age shows—and there’s nothing new or innovative about this learning style. That said, it might work for serious learners who are ready to buckle down.

Pros:

  • It’s totally free and downloadable.
  • You have both audio and text components, which is helpful for beginners especially.

Cons:

  • The materials are super old.
  • There’s nothing really fun about learning with FSI—just a textbook.

Visit FSI

Tier 3 – Just Okay Cantonese Resources

Tier 3 contains our “meh” Cantonese resources—we don’t love them, but they might work for some learners.

Udemy

A free-for-all of language learning

Price: A range of price points, but courses often go on sale for an average of $10/each

The quality of content you’ll find on Udemy varies significantly from course to course since anyone can add a course. However, that does also lead to some interesting and unique options you won’t find elsewhere. Not surprisingly though, the majority of courses are aimed at beginners in the language.

Be sure to check through the reviews and watch any sample lessons before making a purchase.

Pros:

  • If you do buy a course, you get lifetime access (and a money-back guarantee via Udemy).
  • Courses go on sale regularly, so you won’t need to pay much more than $10.

Cons:

  • There aren’t many Cantonese courses to begin with.
  • Many courses are relatively low quality.

Visit Udemy

Popup Cantonese

A pricey podcast we don’t love

Price: A premium account is $99.99/year

Popup Cantonese is a podcast-style course that’s no longer releasing new content. We haven’t tried the course yet, because the price is a bit steep—and there’s not a ton of content available. There are five levels from basic to advanced, but each level only includes 20 or fewer lessons.

The site is a little outdated, too, and we’d expect something more intuitive and fresher for a year-long membership. Given the high price, it’s a little tough to recommend Popup Cantonese.

Pros:

  • There is some free content to check out, so you can see if the course is right for you.
  • Content spans beginner to advanced, so it might help with some skill-building.

Cons:

  • The site seems outdated and a bit neglected since nothing new is added.
  • Fewer than 20 episodes per level doesn’t give us hope for covering much material.
  • The price isn’t that great—a monthly option would be better so you’re not stuck in a year-long membership.

Visit Popup Cantonese

Transparent Language

Basic Cantonese at a cost

Price: $24.95/month or $149.95/year for one language. $49.99/month or $249.95/year for all languages.

Transparent Language has a lot to offer in terms of total languages, but at this price point, we expected better content. We’re not huge fans of the teaching methods, which are mostly rote memorization of individual words in isolation – far from an effective way to study.

Pros:

  • There are many languages available to choose from.

Cons:

  • The price is way too high for what you get.
  • The teaching style is ineffective.

See our full, in-depth review of Transparent Language here.

Visit Transparent Language

Final Thoughts

Learning Cantonese isn’t always easy, but the right resources can make a difference. Our top picks for online Cantonese courses can take you from beginner on up as good as any in-person class out there. Do you have a recommendation to share for learning Cantonese? We’d love to hear about it in the comments.

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