You’ve decided that you want to get serious about learning Chinese and that the next step for you is finding a tutor. That’s a big step and one that will take your skills to the next level.
A good tutor can quickly correct your mistakes, provide valuable feedback, and in general make learning Chinese much easier.
But, you shouldn’t only depend on your teacher. After all, you’re responsible for your own learning. I’d recommend using a teacher similar to how you would use an app, a podcast, a course, or a textbook – as part of your Chinese learning strategy – not in isolation.
You don’t know what you don’t know – that’s why you’ll need a Chinese tutor
There are obviously tons of benefits to finding a Chinese tutor. The first, and most obvious, is the personal attention that comes with it. If you’re taking a course at university or just started studying Chinese independently, it can be hard to know exactly what your weaknesses are.
Is your pronunciation okay? Do you have quick questions that need answered? Do you simply need more conversation practice? Are you struggling with grammar?
Often times you may not be consciously aware of what you need to improve.
A tutor can’t teach you everything
Of course a tutor can teach you parts of the language, but nobody can teach you everything. If you’re dependent on someone teaching you, then you’ll be too passive in the learning process. Learning Chinese is an active process that you need to take personal responsibility for.
When I first moved to Beijing, I procrastinated on starting to learn Chinese for a couple of months. When I finally found my first tutor, the experience was underwhelming. I signed-up for ten lessons and soon after realized that this was not the way for me to learn Chinese. It moved at too slow of a pace. I wasn’t learning what I needed to learn. I wasn’t as engaged as I should have been.
If you’ve just started learning Chinese, I wouldn’t suggest finding a tutor right away. Instead, I’d recommend you to first self-study and get a base of knowledge. I know, self-studying a language as complex as Mandarin can be a daunting task, but it really isn’t that tough. I’d suggest taking a look at my advice for beginners in this post.
What shouldn’t a tutor teach you?
My opinion may go contrary to what many people think, but I believe that a tutor should only teach you a relatively small amount of the language.
You don’t need someone to teach you individual words – you can learn those more efficiently on your own. There’s no doubt that you’ll increase your vocabulary from talking with a tutor, but if they’re just telling you what words mean, then you’re wasting your time and money.
You don’t need a teacher to teach you all of the grammar rules. You should read about those on your own. There are plenty of good resources for this, including, the Chinese Grammar Wiki, Chinese Zero to Hero Youtube videos, the Chinese Boost blog, or a good grammar textbook. After you have a basic grasp of various rules, you should then practice implementing these with you teacher.
You don’t need a tutor to provide you with listening practice. Sure, you’ll get the listening practice from your conversations, but that should be far from the only time you practice listening. You’d be much better off using a resource like ChinesePod to improve your listening comprehension, with the tutor playing a minor role.
You don’t even need to have a tutor teach you how to read or write in Chinese. Apps like The Chairman’s Bao and Skritter can provide easy to read materials and practice writing Chinese characters. If you want to have longer form writing corrected, you can do this with the notebooks section of italki for free.
Even learning pronunciation and improving your speaking skills isn’t something that should be strictly delegated to your time with a teacher. Many teachers aren’t skilled enough to accurately teach you pronunciation.
Think about it, could you teach someone English pronunciation? Where should your tongue be when you make the “r” sound? What’s your mouth doing when saying words with an “x” in them? Many tutors you’ll find aren’t any more skilled than you are in this regard. But, you can and should learn the basics of pronunciation first, on your own.
I strongly believe that you should spend a good amount of time studying Chinese before looking for a tutor. There are many resources that will be able to teach you the fundamentals of Chinese better than a tutor would be able to.
Plus, if you’re depending on a tutor to teach you everything, then that’s going to become very expensive, very fast.
However, if a tutor is a supplemental part of learning Chinese, it’ll be a very affordable expense.
So, what should a tutor teach you?
A tutor should be more of a guide rather than explicitly teaching you things. Similar to the example I gave above; the tutor shouldn’t be telling you what words mean, but rather pushing you to use these words in a new context or sentence structure.
A tutor should listen carefully and spot your weaknesses. Even after learning pronunciation on your own, it’s entirely possible that you’re still making mistakes pronouncing the Mandarin “c”, this should be something your tutor points out and helps you to correct.
If you don’t have access to Chinese speakers, a tutor can provide conversational practice. Of course, language exchanges from places like italki, HelloTalk, Lingbe, and Tandem can also provide this for free.
Basically, a tutor should help you to apply what you’ve already learned and spot mistakes you don’t realize you’re making.
How to find the right tutor for you?
Finding the right tutor will be slightly different for everyone as each person has different needs.
First, I’ll share what my needs where and how I found a great tutor.
After moving to Beijing, procrastinating on studying Chinese, and having an underwhelming experience with my first tutor, I realized that I needed to spend some time studying on my own. After a while, I decided that I needed someone patient to practice conversational Chinese with.
Because I was living in Beijing, I wanted my tutor to also be someone living in Beijing so that I would become more accustomed to the local accent. I was also fairly broke and didn’t want to spend much more than $10/hour. Also, being a man, I’d prefer to find a male teacher (not as easy as it sounds) so that I wouldn’t develop a feminine speaking style. Finally, I found that an online tutor was even cheaper than an equivalently qualified in-person tutor and didn’t leave me needing to make long commutes. I tried several different tutors on italki and ended up taking regular lessons with one tutor who best matched my personality and needs.
So, how should you find the right teacher for you? I’d suggest a similar method. Does your ideal tutor have a specific accent? What’s your budget? Are there any specific skills or interests you’d prefer your tutor to have? How often and at what times would you like to have a class? Do you just want a casual conversation class or do you require someone who is an expert in a specific area?
If you use a site like italki or Verbling, you can then go through a read about the tutor’s teaching experience, style, and more. It’s definitely worth it to spend some time looking through the reviews of the teacher.
There’s a lot to consider but the most important part will probably come from your gut feeling. You’ll probably want to take classes with a few different teachers at first before deciding on one or two that you want to work with regularly. Sometimes, someone looks great on paper, but you just have completely opposite personality styles.
I’ve had classes with tutors where the time dragged on slowly and I wanted to quit early. On the other hand, there have been tutors that felt more like friends where the conversation flowed naturally and easily. Make sure you find someone that you enjoy talking with.
Where can I find an online Chinese tutor?
You have an abundance of options for finding a tutor online. These options will fall within one of two categories.
1. Online classes booked directly from the teacher.
2. Online classes booked through a Chinese school.
There are several options for each category, along with advantages and disadvantages for each. Let’s take a look at each of them now.
Book online classes directly from a tutor.
This, in my opinion, is pretty easily the best choice for finding a tutor. There are a few different websites that provide a platform where you can find numerous tutors offering their services. This option provides the most amount of flexibility, independence, the lowest prices, and doesn’t require a commitment of more than one class period.
It may not necessarily be for everyone though. This method requires you to be much more self-monitored and proactive in your studies. For the most part, you’ll have to decide what you want to study and how you want to go about your lessons. This isn’t always the case though, there are plenty of teachers that can give you a set curriculum and lesson plans as well.
Because you’ll be using one of the online platforms below, they will also end up taking a fee for themselves. This usually isn’t much money though and tends to already be reflected in the prices up front. In many instances, you can also discuss things privately with the tutor and arrange the classes off of the platform if you prefer.
These are the top three places to arrange these classes, though there are likely others as well.
italki is easily my top choice when it comes to finding a Chinese tutor – or any other language for that matter. This platform has more teachers on it than any other. With over 300 Chinese teachers available, you’ll be sure to find someone that fits your requirements.
Because there are so many teachers, there is also a huge discrepancy in terms of experience and price. You’ll find brand new teachers offering their services for as low as $5/hour; to experienced experts charging over $40/hour.
The tutors on italki are divided into two categories: Community Tutors and Professional Teachers.
The only requirement to be a Community Tutor is to be a native speaker or someone who has attained an advanced level in the language they’re teaching. Professional Teachers need to either have professional teaching experience, a university degree in education, or a teaching certificate. Generally speaking, Community Tutors charge less than Professional Teachers, but this isn’t always the case.
You can get a pretty good idea of what a teacher will be like before signing up for a lesson. You’ll find an introduction video as well as a written introduction, the languages they speak, how many lessons they’ve taught, reviews from students, and much more. This makes it much easier to find a suitable teacher to fit your learning style and goals.
Scheduling and booking lessons is very easy to do and classes take place over Skype. The process is quite easy.
In addition to individual tutoring, you’ll find other useful features on italki. You can organize language exchanges for free. Another great free feature is the the Notebooks. In this section you can write a passage in Chinese (or another language) and then have it corrected by native speakers. It’s probably the best option for improving your Chinese writing skills.
Next up on the list is Verbling. Verbling is identical to italki in nearly every way. They also provide a platform where you can book classes directly from a teacher. You can read through their bios, watch an intro video and book classes.
The biggest differences are that there are fewer teachers on Verbling compared to italki and that they are usually more expensive. The average price for a tutor on Verbling is $21/hour and if you’re looking for someone charging less than $10/hour, there are currently only two options. There are significantly more tutors on italki that charge less money.
The second difference between the two platforms is teachers on Verbling don’t use Skype. Instead, classes are taught on Verbling’s own platform.
Lastly, Verbling has a simpler and more intuitive payment process. italki requires you to first purchase tokens to add to your wallet before scheduling a class. This isn’t very convenient. In comparison, Verbling is much easier to use – allowing you to book one class and pay when you schedule it.
That said, there are also lots of tutors for learning Chinese – currently 254.
Similar to the other platforms, you’ll find an introduction video, schedule of availability, reviews and more. While there aren’t as many tutors available as italki, there seems to be more than on Verbling. If you’re looking for someone who charges $10/hour or less, you’ll find 23 tutors in that range at the moment.
Lessons are taught over Skype.
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Book Online Classes from a Chinese Language School
The second option for taking online Chinese lessons is by going through a language school and booking lessons with them. The biggest benefit in this is that they will often, though not always, have a curriculum and structure that they follow.
The downsides of finding your tutor via this method is that it’s more expensive than when booking classes directly with a tutor. In addition to that, there will be a commitment, usually consisting of a big upfront payment that you can’t back out of. You generally lose a bit of autonomy in your studies – you’ll be limited to taking lessons with one of the relatively few teachers they employ and there will be less flexibility in scheduling times when compared with a site like Italki.
I don’t like this method personally as I prefer to be more self-directed in my learning, but for someone who just wants to be told what to study next, this may be the best option. Still though, I would be hesitant to trust anyone else with my learning path.
When done right, a good language school can be worth the extra cost. Too often though, it’s essentially just a middleman that raises the cost and reduces flexibility and autonomy.
I don’t want to act as if all language schools are bad or should be avoided. There are countless options and I’m sure some are pretty good. Nearly every school will offer a free trial class – unfortunately this is rarely enough to give you a detailed picture of what their service will look like. Let’s quickly take a look at some of the bigger names.
eChineseLearning seems to spend the most money on marketing. You’ll constantly see people pushing their service and it does make me less willing to trust them. Their website is also very dated with a bunch of phone numbers across the top.
I’ve taken a trial lesson with them and spent some time thoroughly researching their platform and reading user reviews.
They offer lots of unique courses such as Chinese Business Etiquette, Chinese Lessons for Dating, Chinese Lessons for Adoptive Parents, and a bunch more. It’s unclear though how much structure these lessons have. Do they have an actual curriculum with lessons planned, or is it all kind of just thrown together? My guess is on the former, but I could be wrong.
They list the price as between $9-$25 per lesson. A one year plan with three lessons each week will come to around $13 per lesson. The cost fluctuates with how long of a commitment and how many classes are chosen.
One major problem I see with eChineseLearning is that if you miss a class, then you lose it. So, let’s say you sign up for that one year plan with three lessons each week. If something happens and you miss a week of classes, then you lose them. You can’t make them up the next week, you can’t add them on to the end of your year – they’re just wasted.
One thing I found from reading other people’s reviews is that it may be difficult to schedule a class with your preferred teacher. Popular teachers can have their schedule fill up very fast making it difficult to find a suitable time for a class unless you plan far in advance.
I personally don’t see any reason to choose eChineseLearning over a site like italki. But, to each their own.
Hanbridge Mandarin is a Chinese language school in Shenzhen that also has online classes. Similar to eChineseLearning, the price range is rather large, from $8-$35 per 50-minute lesson, depending on the duration, time, course type, and level.
They also offer quite a few different types of courses – courses for kids, test prep, culinary arts, and more. Again, I’m not sure how much or how structured of a curriculum they offer. They do have some books available on their site, but you’d have to purchase them.
I imagine if you want real structure, you’d probably be better off bringing your own book to work through with your teacher. In this case though, why not just use a platform where you can book lessons from a teacher directly?
The classes are taught online but don’t use Skype. The tool they use makes it a bit more possible to use multimedia and more interactive. Still though, the overall experience isn’t much different than teaching over Skype.
Rather than receiving a set number of classes per week, you’re given a total number of credits to use before the end-date of the plan. This is much more forgiving than eChineseLearning but still not ideal.
One big problem is that their working hours are only from 8am – 10pm Chinese time. So for someone not living in China, this could align rather poorly with the hours that would be convenient for you.
On first impression, Tutor Mandarin seems to be much more structured class than the other sites I’ve come across. They break down the lessons into various components and this appears like something that will remain consistent across lessons.
While they don’t offer as many off-topic classes, they cover all of the main areas. The lessons appear to follow a clear learning path, building on each other. They may move a bit slower though; Beginner 1 and Beginner 2 both only cover 250 words each. The two intermediate levels teach 250 words and 280 words. This is only 1030 words before getting to the advanced course. Of course, grammar and conversation practice is also included throughout.
This seems like it could be an okay option for someone that wants to use a tutor for the vast majority of their total study time. I suspect the structure wouldn’t be flexible enough for someone that studies a lot on their own.
They sell various packages, for example, Beginner 1 or Intermediate 2. The majority of these packages require 90 credits to complete. Each 50-minute lesson costs 2 credits and each credit costs $10. So, in total, a Beginner 1 package would end up costing $900 for 45, 50-minute lessons.
In my opinion, spending $900 to go through the B1 level seems extremely expensive. For this price, you could go through a course like ChineseFor.Us or Yoyo Chinese, use ChinesePod to supplement your listening skills, practice reading with Du Chinese or The Chairman’s Bao, take lots of lessons on italki, and still have a bunch of money left over. You’d likely master the material much quicker and have more well-rounded skills by using these other resources.
Another issue is that with the packages, you’re required to book at least one lesson per week. If you miss a week, then you lose those credits.
Live Lingua is a bit different than other online tutoring platforms as well. They have various courses available for tons of different languages. What makes them a bit different than other platforms is that they structure their lessons around free public domain language learning materials.
In reality, this basically means that they use FSI materials as their guide. You can access these for free from Live Lingua or other places as well, without needing to sign up or spend any money.
These materials can definitely feel a bit dated, but they’ll work.
Standard lessons start at $20/hour if you purchase between 1-9 hours. The price drops down to $15.99/hour if you purchase 40+ hours to start. One nice thing is that unlike some places where the lessons expire after a certain amount of time, they never expire with Live Lingua.
Part of me likes that they use these free materials, but then again, $16-$20 per hour is a bit more than you would pay on italki – though still cheaper than other language schools. You could pretty easily just use the FSI materials and find a tutor there for less money.
On the other hand, maybe the tutors on Live Lingua are familiar enough with the FSI courses that it justifies a relatively small higher price. I’m not sure.
Live Lingua prides itself in being what they call a “boutique” language school. This may be true in that their options are more expensive than others and that they offer specialized courses that would be hard to find elsewhere. However, for the average person I’m not sure that’s reason enough to pick Live Lingua over some others.
With Yao Ming as their Brand Ambassador, it’s quite clear that TutorMing has a huge budget.
However, their site doesn’t really contain much information regarding how the courses and lessons are structured
I actually ended up signing up with TutorMing for my own personal use after trying out their platform and have been really happy with the experience. Read the full review of TutorMing.
Other Online Chinese Schools
There are countless other online Chinese schools that you could book lessons from. Some of them may be very good – I haven’t had the chance to try out and research all of them.
However, my general impression for most of them is that they are less like schools and more like booking platforms – essentially just a middlemen between you and the teacher.
The rates are generally higher than other options with less flexibility. Most probably aren’t worth using, but if you happen to have found a great Online Chinese school that I haven’t mentioned – please let me know in the comments.
Regardless of which service you use to find a Chinese tutor, your experience with it will depend on the teachers you work with more than anything. Every platform will have some outstanding ones that you connect great with, and others that just don’t work for you.
I’d avoid judging a service too much based on your experience with one teacher. If possible, try to work with a few different ones so that you can find someone that can help you improve the most.
I’d also suggest being clear about your goals and reasons for working with a tutor. This will help you to get the most out of the experience and save you a ton of money.
My personal favorite choice is italki. I’ve found that platform to provide the most flexibility, lowest prices, and high-quality teachers that best fit my learning goals.
Other people will of course have other preferences. Let me know if you think another online school or website should be included.
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