Learning Chinese can be very expensive but it doesn’t have to be. This post will be a compilation of resources that you can use to learn Chinese completely free. I’ll help you find the best courses, apps, textbooks, podcasts and tools to study Chinese.
It will be divided up into two parts.
First, we have the resources that are always 100% free. There are quite a few places you can practice speaking, writing, reading, characters, grammar and even complete courses online.
The second part will be a bit sketchier. There are other materials that you can pay for but cancel your subscription and get a full refund. Often times, you can download months or years worth of study materials and end up spending no money at all. Some people aren’t comfortable doing this and I understand. This isn’t for everyone but if money is really tight and you still want to access quality materials, this may be your best option. I’ll share the best resources that you can take advantage of in this manner.
Generally speaking, utilizing only free resources will take longer to compile, organize and be less user friendly in the end. However, some free resources are just as good or better than paid ones. Anybody who’s interested in saving money while learning Chinese will hopefully find something useful from this post.
Free Resources to Learn Chinese
Courses and Textbooks
Textbook – Everyone should have access to a good textbook. It will help guide you and keep you from straying too far from where you need to be. You can find free PDF versions for many of them online. Integrated Chinese and New Practical Chinese Reader are the two most popular textbooks for beginners.
MOOCs – Edx and Coursera are two platforms that provide free MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) on a ton of different subjects, including Chinese. These are created by universities and can often be joined at any time.
Udemy – Udemy has user created courses on just about everything, including Chinese. Most of them cost money but there are free ones as well. They also run constant discounts offering nearly all their courses for $10. If you add an item in your cart and leave it for a day or two, you’ll almost certainly be offered a discount.
ChineseSkill and HelloChinese – These two apps are very similar to duolingo. They’re both free and have a lot in common with each other and a few minor differences. They make it easy to get started learning Chinese and are fun to use as well. You can read my full review of ChineseSkill if you’re interested.
Memrise – Memrise is basically a gamified flashcard system with user-created decks. This app/website is pretty great but be careful not to overuse it. Many people spend a long time learning lots of words but later find that they don’t know how to use any of the words they learned. There is a ton of variety in the content and quality of the decks. You can read my review of Memrise if you’d like.
Pleco – Pleco is a dictionary app but it’s really so much more than that. Unfortunately, a lot of the best features involve a paid add-on. But even without those – Pleco is a must have for anyone learning Chinese. The flashcards do cost $10 to use but for me, the convenience of being able to quickly add new words from the dictionary makes it worth the cost pretty easily. There’s also a free clip reader where you can paste text and read it with a pop-up dictionary. You can then get more example sentences of how the word is used and many more things.
Anki – Anki is a flashcard app that is a bit more DIY than Pleco but there are some pre-made flashcard lists as well. It’s free on the web and android but the IOS version costs $25. However, you can just use it in your browser for free.
Language Exchange – Can’t afford a tutor? No problem. Making use of language exchages will give you more opportunities to practice Chinese than you can handle. There are tons of people that want to learn English and will help you learn Chinese. There are several places that you can find language exchange partners. Italki is most known for paid tutors but there is also a large community of people interested in doing language exchanges. It’s easy enough to find someone and start talking on Skype. Hellotalk is an app that’s special to me because I met my girlfriend on there. It has a lot of extra features like voice to text, grammar correction, moments and lots more. Tandem and Speaky are two other options that you may want to consider as well.
HiNative – This is another language exchange style app but more for posting questions instead of having conversations. You can get feedback about how to say ___, what something means, ask for feedback on your pronunciation, ask about cultural things, upload a picture and more. It’s a great way to quickly get your questions answered by a native speaker.
Busuu – Busuu is a good for getting corrections and feedback on your writing. Busuu is a paid app but I wouldn’t recommend paying for it. The language correction part is free and quite useful. You can read my review of Busuu here.
Du Chinese – This is a pretty awesome app for reading and listening practice. Although it’s a paid app, the free version is still useful. There is a free trial period where you can access all of the lessons. After the trial, new lessons will be available for a short period of time for free. Read my review of Du Chinese.
Chinese Pronunciation Wiki and Chinese Grammar Wiki – These were created by John Pasden of Sinosplice and are as good or better than many paid resources. The pronunciation wiki does a great job of explaining Chinese pronunciation in a way that makes sense. The Grammar wiki breaks down grammar points according to level. You’ll learn what you need to learn when you need to learn it.
Tone Pair Drills – Learning to hear the differences in the tones can be a challenge for beginners. Tone pair drills help you learn to identify the differences in tones. Wordswing and Sinosplice both have very good exercises to practice.
Mandarin Weekly – Mandarin Weekly is a weekly newsletter with links to lots of resources for learning Chinese. Check out the website and subscribe to get a weekly view of new things happening in the world of learning Mandarin.
Stroke order dictionary – While, using a paid app like skritter is really nice to learn how to write – it’s not cheap. There’s no reason you can’t just use pen and paper with the help of a dictionary. Yellowbridge and Archchinese are both very extensive and include stroke order.
Line Dictionary – This is an awesome dictionary has lots of example sentences and recorded audio. There are even quotes and proverbs as well.
Online Reading Practice – There are a few places to find practice reading materials online. Just Learn Chinese, Chinese Reading Practice, University of Iowa and here at All Language Resources. While reading these texts may not be as user friendly as some paid apps, they’re still very useful.
Lang-8 – This is a great place to get your writing corrected by a native speaker. It was created by the same people as HiNative but is more suitable for longer content than HiNative.
Youtube – There are tons of Youtube channels devoted to people learning Chinese. I haven’t had a chance to figure out the best ones but you can read some suggestions in this article by Dig Mandarin or this one on FluentU.
Melnyks – There are some free beginner audio lessons here. It’s not my favorite but it’s free so I can’t really complain about it.
Slow Chinese – This free podcast includes transcripts and translations. It’s really great because the speech is slowed down to make it easier to understand. The topics focus on different aspects related to Chinese culture and are very interesting. It’s good for intermediate or higher level students.
Browser Extension – Use a browser extension to easily look up Chinese words you read online. This makes a lot of texts that would have otherwise been unreadable much easier. Use Zhongwen for Chrome, Perapera for Firefox or Frill for Safari.
Native Chinese Resources
Finding materials made for Chinese will only really be suitable for advanced students. You can watch tv shows and movies on youku, iquiyi, bilibili among others. BaoBeitingting is a good app for childrens stories and cartoons. Xiaogushi provides lots of written short stories. XimalaiyaFM radio app is awesome. Honestly, there are tons more but I’m still not quite to the level of being able to use many of these effectively.
Take Advantage of Free Trials and Refunds to Get Access to the Best Resources
I’ve reviewed a lot of Chinese learning resources on this site. The only reason I’m able to do this is by making full use out of free trials and cancellation policies. Some people might feel uncomfortable about doing this. Personally, I don’t have a problem with it. The policy exists and making use of it is fair. I don’t think that a lack of money should stop you from being able to learn Chinese.
Some paid resources allow you to sign up, download materials and then you can request a refund within a certain number of days. You can download everything you want to use and will get your money back in the end. It’s often time-consuming because you may need to download files individually or find a way to organize everything. However, if you don’t have the money to subscribe to these services, it may be the best option. Just remember to set an alarm somewhere reminding you to cancel your subscription.
You should double check with the sites themselves before signing up to make sure nothing has changed.
Chinesepod – Chinesepod is a fantastic resource that I recommend to everyone. They have a massive library of very high-quality podcasts for all levels. I owe much of my listening comprehension skills to them. You can subscribe and get a full refund within your first 30 days. After subscribing you can download lessons and PDFs but there isn’t a way to download all of them at once. It’ll be time-consuming but if you have more time than money, it may be worth doing. Read my review of Chinesepod.
Chinese Learn Online – CLO isn’t the best or worst resource to learn Chinese. It’s a progressive course that goes from beginner to advanced. You can get a full refund within 30 days of your purchase. There’s also a way to bulk download lessons making it really quick to get everything on your phone or computer. If I remember correctly, you aren’t able to bulk download the lesson PDF’s though which is a bit inconvenient. You can read my full review of CLO here.
Mimic Method – The Mimic Method is a fairly expensive paid course that uses music to teach pronunciation. It’s pretty good and will definitely help you with your pronunciation. You can get a full refund in your first 60 days. I do feel a bit worse about abusing their refund period because you receive feedback and corrections on your pronunciation from an actual person. Read my review of The Mimic Method.
Also, check out your local library. You may be surprised to find that they have some pretty decent materials there that you can use for free.
You can learn Chinese without spending money.
Learning Chinese is difficult. There’s no question about that. It’s time-consuming and challenging. There are plenty of good reasons not to learn Chinese. However, not having enough money is just a bad excuse. Anybody who is willing to put in the time can learn Chinese.
Thanks for reading. I’m sure I forgot some awesome resources. Let me know what I should add!