Finding a Chinese tutor or language exchange partner is essential for learning Mandarin. You need conversation practice and feedback from a Native speaker. A skilled teacher can pinpoint your weak areas and significantly speed-up the learning process.
In this review, I’ll look at eChineseLearning. They’re one of the oldest and most well-known companies for 1-to-1 online Mandarin lessons. I took two hours of trial classes and researched other people’s experiences for writing this review. I’ve used italki (read my review) rather extensively for help with my Chinese. While this isn’t meant to be a comparison article, there are places where I’ll be comparing my experience with the two services.
My first impressions of eChineseLearning
eChineseLearning is definitely one of the older websites for finding Chinese tutors. One quick look at their homepage shows over a dozen phone numbers you can call to get more information. The design isn’t as sleek as some newer websites. I can’t help but get the impression that the target audience is for people in their 40’s and 50’s. But, we’re looking for quality tutors and not aesthetics, so that’s not necessarily a problem.
They have a large variety of lesson types. You can focus on pretty much anything you’d like. Some of the more unexpected lessons include Lessons for Dating, Medical Chinese, Chinese Business Etiquette, as well as a number of lessons for kids and teens. If you’re looking to focus on something besides just general Chinese, you’ll likely find it or can customize your lessons.
One of the first things you see on their homepage is the option for a free 30-minute trial class. This will be used to help the teacher get a better idea of your Chinese level so that they can tailor the classes to you. It’s quite easy to get signed up for this trial class.
Lessons are taught over Skype.
I had a very positive experience with the teacher assigned to me. She’d been working at eChineseLearning for three years and it was clear that she was very experienced. Sometimes it’s awkward to speak to tutors online but she really was a pleasure to talk with. She also spoke great English which helped for explanations of things that weren’t quite clear. She also typed in words or phrases that I struggled with during our lessons.
I didn’t specify too much about my preferences going into the lesson. So, we just had a general conversation class and then started using a textbook. However, they don’t provide you with the textbook for free. You’ll either have to buy a copy or use your own if you’re interested in working through a textbook. She did a great job of making sure I answered in complete sentences and pressed me to try again when I made mistakes. Overall I found the teacher assigned to me to definitely be above average.
After you purchase a plan, you’re assigned a primary teacher depending on your level, focus and desired timeslots. If they’re sick or aren’t available to teach your lesson, you’ll have another teacher for that class. If you aren’t happy with your teacher or just want to try someone new, you can change teachers anytime.
I didn’t have first-hand experience working with their scheduling system. This section is primarily based on reading and talking with people who have used eChineseLearning. You can schedule a time with your teacher up to 4 weeks in advance. However, one potential issue is that some popular teachers may have their schedule fill up very fast. This means, if you want to book a lesson with a certain teacher only a week in advance, it may be difficult to find a compatible time. You should still be able to sign up for classes with a different teacher though. If you’re someone who doesn’t mind scheduling far in advance, this isn’t an issue. But, for someone who prefers to schedule things only a week or two early, it could be annoying.
The website lists the cost as somewhere between $9-$25/hr. This varies primarily on the number of lessons you purchase at a time. If you buy a one-year plan for 3 lessons each week, it’ll cost around $13 per lesson. If you buy a shorter plan, the price goes up. If you buy a two-year plan, the price will go down a bit more.
The good and the bad
The things that some people like about eChineseLearning are exactly what others won’t like. It’s a commitment. Some people might struggle to stick with learning Chinese. Purchasing a longer plan may be exactly what they need to get themselves to stick to studying. For others, like me, I hate to plan a lesson more than a week ahead of time. I may want to take 5 lessons one week and one lesson the next week. While eChineseLearning is flexible, it’s not as flexible as italki.
The teachers are qualified and competent. They all have a college degree and training. Many of them have a major in Teaching Chinese as a Foreign Language or Chinese Literature. They are professional and aren’t simply teaching as a way to make a little extra money each week. I get the impression that for most it’s their only job rather than just a side-job they do in their free time. That said, qualified and competent teachers aren’t unique to eChineseLearning. Other sites also have good teachers.
eChineseLearning isn’t the cheapest option out there. Even if you pay for a year-long package, it’s still not any cheaper than competitors.
If you miss a class, you lose it. Sometimes we get busy. If you have a week where you aren’t able to take all the classes you paid for, you won’t be able to make those up in a later week. For me, this is a big problem because I suck at sticking to a schedule. However, you can request to suspend your account if you have some weeks were you’re too busy for any classes. This would basically pause your subscription and would extend the finishing date so you can start back up when you have more free time.
I like italki more than eChineseLearning
Although I had a positive experience with eChineseLearning. It’s not my first choice for finding a Chinese tutor. I personally prefer using italki where you can book lessons directly with the teacher.
In fact, on italki you can find similarly qualified teachers for comparable (and cheaper) prices without the need to commit to more than one lesson at a time. And you can often get further discounts if you want to buy a package of classes. This is more flexible than eChineseLearning because you can schedule the lessons whenever is convenient and you aren’t stuck with the x number of classes per week that they offer.
Next, I like being able to choose my teacher for myself. While, you can switch teachers on eChineseLearning as much as you like, it just doesn’t compare to italki. On italki you can read descriptions, reviews and usually get a cheap 30-minute trial class. It’s incredibly easy to try a new teacher. You also have a lot more control over who your teacher is.
Finally, there is more flexibility with scheduling lessons on italki. You can easily find a teacher for any time of the day and without much advance notice. I hate committing to anything more than a week out so this is a big plus for italki. Also, you can usually choose between 45, 60 or 90-minute lessons. The lessons on eChineseLearning are all 50 minutes long.
eChineseLearning is a good option for learning Chinese but it’s not my top choice personally. I prefer flexibility over rigidness and commitment when it comes to Chinese classes.
I can understand why someone might prefer a plan like eChineseLearning though. It forces you to commit to a set plan and schedule out your lessons. While I prefer italki, there have definitely been weeks or months where I didn’t take any classes and I didn’t have a particularly good reason for not doing so. When you schedule each lesson individually, it’s pretty easy to allow yourself to deviate from your original plan. eChineseLearning requires a commitment and that commitment can be helpful to get you to stick with studying Chinese when you might otherwise give up or slack off.
eChineseLearning might also be the best option for those looking for a specialized course such as lessons for Finance, International Trade, Heritage Learners, Job Interviews or Children’s lessons. They have a ton of options you can choose from.
Regardless of where you find a Chinese tutor – you’ll need to also need to spend time studying with other materials.