ChineseFor.Us is a new site offering online Chinese courses. I’m very excited to see how this site comes together in the future. If they continue to put out as high of quality content as they have so far, it could easily become the go-to resource for learning Chinese online.
The courses on Chinese For Us are exceptionally well-made. The content is covered more in-depth than I’ve seen in any other online Chinese course. I don’t think you’ll find another resource will give you as strong of a foundation for learning Mandarin.
So far, the biggest issue I see is that there are only a few courses to choose from.
This review will look at their Beginner, HSK1, Pinyin Drills, Tone Drills, and Writing courses.
There may not be a lot of courses, but they’re very good and relatively inexpensive.
A six-month membership only costs about $60. You can then save an additional 15% by using the promo code “alr15off”. Anybody getting started learning Chinese should take a look at Chinese For Us. There’s also a free 7-day trial.
But for now, let’s get into the review.
Beginner and HSK 1 Courses
These are actually two separate courses even though I’d consider Beginner and HSK 1 to be the same thing. Here, however, the beginner course comes first. The structure of the two courses is nearly identical.
The Beginner course contains 32 lessons, 52 videos, and 40 quizzes.
The HSK 1 course contains 50 lessons, 80 videos, and 60 quizzes.
These video lessons are split up into two types of videos. These videos typically last between 5 and 10 minutes.
They’re hosted by Lili and Chuck. It’s clear that Lili has an extensive background in teaching Chinese and that Chuck is very knowledgeable about the language and has reached a very high level of proficiency.
First Video – Topic
The first video would be a typical style lesson were the focus is on vocabulary, sentence structure, phrases, grammar and so on.
The hosts explain the vocabulary, sentences, and grammar very naturally and the lessons tie together quite nicely. I also like that although pinyin is used, it’s not used as the expense of the Chinese characters.
Lili makes sure to pronounce the words very clearly and several times. There are gaps in the videos so that you can practice speaking along with the lessons. Sometimes when resources do this, it can feel like the lessons drag on longer than necessary, but I didn’t get this impression from the videos on Chinese For Us.
I’m a little embarrassed to say this next part. Although I’m preparing to take the HSK 5 test in the next couple of months, I’ve actually learned several new things from the HSK 1 lessons on Chinese For Us. For example, I knew that both 你多大 and 你几岁 could be used for asking someone’s age. But, I never learned that the latter was used with younger kids and the former would be used for asking adults.
This wasn’t a unique experience. There were several instances where I ended up saying “ohhhh” to myself after hearing something in a video. These lessons are incredibly thorough – more thorough than I’ve seen anywhere else.
Second Video – Characters
The second video of the lesson focuses on the characters covered in the previous video. The purpose of these videos is to help you learn to write and memorize the characters you learned.
First, she’ll break down the characters into their radicals and explain when you’re likely to come across those. You’ll do some exercises where you find which characters those radicals appear. Later, you’re shown how the characters are written.
One room for improvement would be to attach practice writing sheets that could go along with each of the characters videos. There are writing sheets included in the Characters Writing Course but they’d also fit in here. If you’re interested in these, you can find some on Hanzi Grids.
After each video, you’ll have an interactive quiz. These are pretty good but could be improved some. The question type varies but mainly involve dragging and dropping elements. There are some listening where you’ll match sounds to words, translations, sentence ordering, and listening activities where you match possible questions to answers. This last type was my favorite and I’d like to see more questions like these.
But some of the questions were too easy. Let’s look at this sample question.
I don’t think matching pinyin to the audio would be difficult even for beginners when the possible answers don’t sound at all similar. I like the way Yoyo Chinese used similar sounding words to make the quizzes more challenging.
I think the quizzes for the characters videos are much better. The question types are more varied and challenging. These questions may include matching pinyin and definitions to the radical, matching radicals to characters, matching definitions to characters, matching characters to audio, translating sentences, rearranging characters to make a sentence, typing characters, and sentence dictation.
There are also review lessons periodically throughout the courses. These review lessons come in the form of a short dialogue or story. It’s a good way to not only review what you’ve learned but also get comfortable listening to a bit longer content.
There will be comprehension questions to look out for when starting and then they’ll be answered after the dialogue. There’s also a transcript in English, Simplified Characters, and pinyin.
The focus is on characters. The first and last time the dialogue is played only the characters are shown. You’ll see pinyin and translations later in the video to help with understanding. I really like that they stress learning characters early on in the course. You can see that they’re focused on building the foundation for long-term learners.
My Thoughts on the Beginner and HSK 1 Course
These two courses are incredibly comprehensive. Taking the HSK 1 course on Chinese For Us probably won’t be the quickest route to pass an HSK 1 exam. This is because of how fully everything is covered. You’ll learn more than you necessarily need to know.
You probably aren’t studying Chinese so that you can pass an exam. You’re most likely more interested in learning the language so you can communicate in Chinese. For most, this in-depth, sometimes overly detailed and slow start will prove worthwhile in the long-run.
You may have noticed that I didn’t mention pronunciation. These first two courses don’t actually cover pronunciation at all. It would be a major mistake for a beginner Chinese course to ignore pronunciation and tones.
Chinese For Us doesn’t ignore them though. Instead, they’ve made these two topics into two separate courses – Pinyin Drills and Tone Drills.
Pinyin Drills Course
Just like the Beginner and HSK 1 courses, this Pinyin Drills course is among the best resources for learning pinyin and pronunciation that I’ve found.
The Pinyin Drills course is comprised of 13 lessons with 13 videos and 24 quizzes. Again, these videos typically last between 5 and 10 minutes long.
Learning proper pronunciation is essential when learning Mandarin. Many resources skip over this too much. Here though, it’s covered exceptionally well. The videos explain tongue and mouth position for all sounds. They encourage the student to get involved and practice along with the videos.
After the videos, there are two quizzes. Here you’ll get practice listening to a sound and choosing the corresponding initial or final. I can see these being very helpful to beginners. I remember when I first started learning Chinese, I found it really difficult to hear the differences in pronunciation. This is great for improving that skill.
My Thoughts on the Pinyin Drills Course
I think this Pinyin Drills course is great. Anybody starting to learn Chinese should spend considerable time learning pronunciation early on. This course and some practice may be the best option for learning Chinese pronunciation.
The weakness I see is something that is consistent with nearly every other pronunciation course as well – no feedback. While, there are a lot of opportunities to practice your pronunciation, sometimes it can be hard to spot errors you’re making by yourself. It’s not a problem with the course – it’s just beyond its scope.
With Speechling you can record yourself repeating sentences, compare them to an original recording, and have them corrected by a teacher. The unlimited plan costs $19.99/mo but you can save 10% off with the promo code “ALR123”.
Another option would be to work with a tutor to get feedback on your pronunciation. There is nowhere as convenient, flexible, and affordable as italki to find a teacher online.
Tone Drills Course
The Tone Drills course, like the Pinyin Drills course, will help you master Chinese pronunciation. Just like everything else I’ve seen on Chinese For Us, this course is incredibly detailed. You won’t need to know everything in this course as a beginner or to pass an exam. But, if you take the time to go through it, you’ll have an extremely strong foundation going forward.
The lessons don’t focus on single tone pronunciation for too long. By Lesson 2, they move into tone pair drills and include full sentences to practice as well. This is important because you can’t learn pronunciation and tones in isolation.
The quizzes include a lot of listening drills. They’re very helpful for learning to hear the differences in tones.
The third tone is very tricky for a lot of people learning Chinese. This is evident by the fact that 5 of the 16 lessons here are focused on the 3rd tone and tone change rules with the 3rd tone. I learned far more from this Tone Drills course than I’ve learned from any other resource.
Many of the things, explained in this video, I’d found that I had sort of learned naturally. For example, 好不好 being pronounced as a half 3rd tone + 4th tone + full 3rd tone. It’s something that I never realized I had learned. It’s also something I realized I might not have been applying to other similar structures.
My Thoughts on the Tone Drills Course
This is by far the most thorough resource I’ve found for learning Chinese tones. It reaches the point where it may be too much information. A lot of the information, you’ll likely learn naturally just from listening and speaking Chinese. However, it can still be beneficial to have this explained.
If you’re a beginner, it may be too much information, too soon. I’d worry that it might discourage new students or make them worry too much about tones in the beginning. That said, learning Chinese is a long process. Starting with a strong base, even if it means moving slowly at first, will make things much easier later.
Chinese Characters: Hands-on Writing Course
Continuing the trend of incredibly thorough courses, the Chinese Characters: Hands-on Writing Course fits right in. I’d be really surprised if there were a more detailed online course for learning to write Chinese Characters than this one.
This course builds up from learning to write the basic strokes and moves you into learning to write full characters. It can feel a bit overly technical at some points. You’ll learn quite a few of the stroke names which won’t be important for most students.
But again, learning Chinese is a long process. Sure, you could skip over this stuff and be just fine. However, if being able to hand-write characters is important for you, the depth of these lessons will give you that solid foundation. I’d expect the time invested here will pay off for you later.
Unlike the other courses, these videos don’t have quizzes with them. But, there’s something more fitting – practice writing sheets and homework sheets. The practice sheets are meant to be used as you follow along with the videos. The homework sheet is for homework – duh.
My Thoughts on the Chinese Characters: Hands-on Writing Course
If you’re looking for somewhere to learn how to write Chinese Characters, from the basics, you’re unlikely to find a better course than this. However, learning to write characters by hand is a relatively low priority for a lot of students – myself included. If it’s a low priority for you, then you may find yourself wanting to skip this course. But, if it is a priority for you, you should definitely take a look at this course.
One thing that I don’t necessarily like but I’m not sure of a better alternative would be the order of the courses. If I were brand new to learning Chinese, I’d probably jump right into the Beginners course. I’m not sure this would be best though. You’ll end up practicing pronunciation as you go through the lessons before you’ve learned the intricacies of Chinese pronunciation. It would be easy to start developing bad pronunciation habits.
As an absolute beginner though, going through the Pinyin Drills and Tone Drills courses may be excessive. The thoroughness of them could make learning Chinese seem more difficult than it needs to be.
My suggestion would be for a beginner to first go through the Pinyin Drills and Pronunciation Drills courses but don’t get hung up on any parts that may seem confusing or overwhelming. You don’t necessarily need to know everything in them to get started. There’s a chance that doing these courses before the beginner lessons could lead people into feeling demotivated. If that happens, it may be best to do both the Beginner course and the pronunciation ones at the same time, inter-mixing lessons.
You need to learn pronunciation early on, but you don’t necessarily need to know everything in those courses right away. You can also come back and review them later. The important thing is to get started.
Conclusion – Chinese For Us
Foundation. Foundation. Foundation.
I should have used a thesaurus when writing this review.
It’s true though. I don’t think there’s a tool – an app, website, or course that will give you quite as solid of a foundation for learning Chinese as Chinese For Us.
It may not be for everybody. If you’re not planning on studying Chinese long-term than it’s not for you. It’s not necessarily the quickest way to reach a conversational level of Chinese.
But, if you spend the time on these courses in the beginning, you’ll benefit from it later on. You won’t find yourself with many random gaps in your knowledge. You’ll have learned just about everything you need to learn.
Unfortunately, so far the lessons only go up to HSK 1. I’m looking forward to seeing how future levels come together. ChineseFor.Us could easily become the best tool for learning Chinese online.
For now, it’ll give you the best start.
You can save 15% off a subscription to Chinese For Us by using the promo code “alr15off”.