Chinese Learn Online Review – Progressive lessons for all levels

Quick Review
Summary: Chinese Learn Online is an online platform providing progressive Chinese lessons across several levels. The website and app feel very dated and in need of a major upgrade. It’s not necessarily a bad product, but it would be far from my top recommendation for people insterested in learning Chinese independently.

Quality
The website and app are both fairly poorly made and in need on an update
Thoroughness
A decent amount of content at various difficulty levels, but falls short of competitors.
Value
Not priced any cheaper than other, better products.
I Like
The lessons build on each other and can give you some structure.
The amount of English used in lessons slowly becomes less and less as you move up.
Lesson notes can provide helpful explanations.

I Don’t Like
The lesson content is fairly average and forgettable. Lessons aren’t particularly interesting.
The website and app design are quite bad. You won’t see corrections when you make a mistake on the exercises.
There are better products priced similarly.

Price: The Self-Study Plan costs $19.95/month, $49.95/3-months, or $149.95/year. There’s also a guided plan with a teacher for $49.95/month, $119/3-months, or $399/year.

Alternatives:

ChinesePod is the biggest and best alternative to Chinese Learn Online. They have a massive library spread across various difficulty levels.

Yoyo Chinese has excellent online courses for self-studying Chinese.

There are several other possible courses. What’s best for one person may not be the best for everyone.

Chinese Learn Online (CLO) is an okay option for learning Mandarin. It wouldn’t be my first choice though. Lessons aren’t particularly interesting. The app and website are both pretty poorly designed and in need of an update. There isn’t as much content as several other resources. Finally, the price isn’t any cheaper than many products that I think are much better. But for now, let’s get into the details of this review.

A bit more about Chinese Learn Online

CLO is based in Taiwan. I’m living in Beijing and have primarily heard Beijing accents, and haven’t had any difficulties understanding the presenters’ accents. There may be a slight one, but it’s not a reason to buy or to avoid CLO. There are 7 levels with 60 lessons in each level. These lessons range from absolute beginner to somewhere around the upper intermediate level. The amount of English used in each lesson varies according to the level you’re at. You can access the first three lessons of any level for free.

Chinese Learn Online has lessons that progress on each other and use varying amount of English depending on the level you're at.

Audio Lessons

The lessons on CLO are audio based. The average length is probably about seven minutes long. Lessons are progressive and build on each other much more than some of the other courses or podcast options. For example, in one lesson you may learn some new vocabulary and they’ll discuss it. Then, in the next lesson there may be a dialogue. These follow up lessons can vary in structure a bit. They typically play the dialogue once at normal speed and once again slower. Sometimes they’ll go over the lessons line-by-line and add in extra comments. However, sometimes they only play the dialogue at the two speeds, leaving you on your own a bit more.

Chinese Learn Online has lessons that build on each other in a logical manner.

Transcript

Along with the audio lessons, you’ll have other materials available to you. First, is the transcript. This is available in Simplified, Traditional, Pinyin and English. Unfortunately, it’s not the best design. My biggest complaint here is that it’s a bit inconvenient to look up the meaning of an unfamiliar word, as you’ll have to switch to the English tab and then find the place in the dialogue. However, combined with a browser popup dictionary (frill for safari, perapera for firefox, or zhongwen for chrome) it’ll be much easier.

Next, there’s a vocabulary portion. For the lower levels, this may often just be the audio of one word, but as you move up it’ll generally be full sentences. I actually like this part as it makes it really simple to practice mimicking the speaker. You can pretty easily record yourself repeating these sentences without the hassle of constantly pausing and rewinding the audio.

Activities

There are a few extra activities associated with each lesson. First, is the sentence builder. If you’re familiar with ChineseSkill, this is pretty similar in that regard. You basically just drag and drop parts of the sentence into the correct spot. Sometimes there will be several of these exercises and other times there may only be one sentence. Another thing I dislike is that if you make a mistake, it’ll just say wrong and highlight the characters you put in the wrong spot. This isn’t necessarily bad as it forces you to try again. But if you get stuck, you won’t be given the correct answer.

With Chinese Learn Online you will review the lessons that you studied by completing activities.

The next activity is practicing writing the new characters. I’m not a big fan of this. Here you’ll be shown some new characters from the lesson and see a visualization of the stroke order. While it’s much better than Rocket Chinese, it’s still worse than other free resources like Arch Chinese. Of course, if learning to write characters by hand is a priority for you, then Skritter is a great resource. However, this part of CLO is pretty useless.

The next activity is the typing test and it is so close to being awesome. You listen to a short audio clip and are supposed to write what you hear in Chinese characters. I think this would be great if it weren’t for one problem. If you make a mistake, it simply says wrong and doesn’t show you where you made your mistake. If this were fixed, I think this would be incredibly useful but as it is, it’s just sort of a so-so extra.

Next, there are flashcards. It seems every app or course has their own set of flashcards. I’m never particularly interested in this because I’d rather have all my flashcards together and available offline on either Pleco or Anki. I like how on apps like Du Chinese or The Chairman’s Bao, you can quickly click any word and add it to your flashcards. Here, however, it’s a bit different. You’re not really able to add any word you’d like to the flashcards. Instead, you can choose between which lesson or range of lessons and decide if you want to test characters, definitions or full sentences. One good thing is that you’re able to export any of these outside of CLO.

There may also be a fill in the blank activity. Here, you’re given sentences and obviously fill in the blank. Not all lessons have all of the different activities. But, for all the lessons you are able to look them up in Simplified, Traditional, Pinyin or English.

Notes

The notes are usually pretty useful. They’re fairly short but provide good information. For example, they may talk about how things are said differently in Chinese than in English and what the literal translation of a phrase may be. Here it shows that CLO wasn’t simply trying to put out a product as quickly as possible and that they can relate to people learning Mandarin.

Chinese Learn Online has good notes included with each lesson.

Extras

While there is technically a CLO app, you should probably just pretend it doesn’t exist. Only the first two levels are included in the app and it’s a bit unclear if you have to pay extra to be able to access it.

You can also bulk download the audio for all of the lessons so you don’t have to always be online to use their materials. However, it doesn’t seem like it’s possible to do this for the PDF lesson notes, which makes things a bit more inconvenient.

There’s a sorta-fun character game where you listen to a sound and try to choose the correct character as quickly as possible. There’s a timer and you get points. It’s interesting to try a few times but not much more than that.

There’s a useful word bank. Here you can type in a character, pinyin or English word and you’ll find all the lessons that that word was used. You’ll see the translation, pinyin, characters and be able to listen to the sentence as it was used in the original lessons. This is a good way to get example sentences with the audio being recorded by a real person.

What I like about CLO

Unlike a lot of resources that use far too much English, CLO has a more appropriate mix. It’s used more in the beginning lessons but by the time you reach level 6, the amount of English used is very low.

The lessons progress well and build on each other providing you with useful topics to learn from.

The notes, activities, and transcripts are all helpful learning materials.

What I dislike about CLO

It seems like the website was made 10 years ago and could use a thorough update. The app only covers the first two levels and you have to buy the lessons individually. It’s unclear if members can use the lessons in the app for free.

The activities don’t show you the correct answer if you made a mistake. This can be a bit annoying, as you have to keep trying different combinations to figure out the correct sentence order or fill in the blank item. However, for the typing test, it makes the difference between being an awesome feature and something not particularly good.

They also don’t always explain the information enough in the dialogue and sometimes just play it twice. The lessons are a bit shorter compared to some competitors. For example, at Chinesepod’s intermediate level, they’ll review the dialogue twice but also explain the nuances, while still using primarily Chinese.

Cost

The self-study plan (what I reviewed) in $19.95/mo, $49.95/three months and $149.95/year.

There’s also a guided with teacher plan. This is $49.95/mo, $119/three months and $399/year. This plan also includes assignments marked by your teacher, learning custom vocabulary, being able to ask your teacher questions, and a certification at the end of each level. I can’t speak about this personally but I don’t expect it to be very good value for the money. I prefer to find extra help and tutoring at Italki.

Final thoughts

Chinese Learn Online doesn’t stand out or excel in anything. It’s not bad by any means. But, nowadays there are so many resources to learn Chinese that being okay isn’t really enough. CLO basically gets a shoulder shrug from me. It can be useful, but I wouldn’t go out of my way to use it.

Chinese Learn Online

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  1. I am keen on learning Mandarin and would like to utilise an online course. I found Chinese Learn Online and decided to look for reviews, which in turn lead me here.

    From the little I know, it comes across as a balanced and fair-minded review which noted both the strengths and weaknesses of this online course. Obviously, we all have different learning styles. I, for example, like to be able to print out “things” and read from *real* paper. This together with a relatively average 6.5/10 (or thereabouts) review means I should probably keep looking…

    Given the sheer volume of Chinese language learning resources on the web, what would you recommend if you had to choose one or, perhaps, two courses?

    Thanks, in anticipation!

    Dave

    • Thanks for taking the time to read and comment. My top recommendation to everyone is pretty much always Chinesepod. You can read my review of Chinesepod here. It’s mostly audio and online but you can print out lesson notes. I have a bit of the opposite learning preference where I really dislike using actual pen and paper. Yoyo Chinese is also pretty good for beginners (review). It just depends on personal preferences. I just finished a long post about free resources to learn Chinese. Here you can find some links to various resources that are really helpful. For example, there’s a stroke-order dictionary which will make it easier to practice writing, Grammar Wiki, Tone training exercises and a bunch more. I also like using italki to get occasional tutoring help for things like pronunciation or conversation practice – not for learning words and grammar. It’s the cheapest and most convenient thing I’ve found for tutoring. I reviewed italki as well. Hope that helps some. Let me know if you have any questions.

      • I realised after I had posted it, that my question was a bit of a “how long is a piece of string” – type question; so, thank you for taking the time to write a detailed response – much appreciated! I’ll have a look at all these resources (over time) but will start with Chinesepod and Yoyo as you suggest.

        P.S. I’m from the era when fountain pens were used at primary school; hence the preference for pen and paper!