Learning Chinese independently can be a challenging task. There’s so much to learn and it’s hard to know what’s worth prioritizing and what can be put off for later. Without some structure, it’s easy to find yourself with gaps in your knowledge. A good course can make learning so much easier.
I’ve taken the time to try over 25 popular (and lesser-known) online Mandarin courses. In this article, and in the individual reviews which are linked to from here, you’ll see why I recommend using or avoiding a particular course.
No course is perfect, but some are quite good, while others are impressively bad. I’ll share my favorites and towards the end, briefly mention the ones that are worth avoiding.
Let’s take a look at them one at a time.
Best for comprehensive beginner-level lessons
ChineseFor.Us is, for the content it covers, the most in-depth course you’ll find. To say I was impressed would be an understatement. While looking at their HSK 1 Course, I found myself learning new things even though it’s been a long time since I’ve been a beginner.
They’re incredibly comprehensive, to the point it might be too much information. But, I think that’s a good thing. No course will give beginners as strong of a foundation going forward as ChineseFor.Us.
They have a few different courses. The main ones right now are Beginner, HSK 1, HSK 2, Tone Pair Drills, Pinyin Drills, and Writing. The lessons use short videos with quizzes after each video and review lessons interspersed. The biggest drawback now is that there aren’t courses at higher levels – yet.
ChineseFor.Us uses a subscription model with one month costing $19.99/mo. If you commit to a year up-front, the price lowers to $8.99/mo. Review.
Save 15% on a subscription to ChineseFor.Us with the promo code “alr15off”.
Best comprehensive course covering all levels
Yoyo Chinese is probably the most established website for someone looking for an online Chinese course. They have the stats to back it up – over 15 million YouTube views and 45,000 Facebook likes. They earned these stats.
They made learning Chinese online from a course possible before anyone else really tried. The lessons are video based and compare various grammar points, sentence structures, vocabulary, and more in detail. The host adds lots of interesting cultural information along the way.
My favorite videos are when they ask questions to random people on the street. It’s great to see how people actually respond and she explains all of their answers. There are also review exercises, flashcards, and quizzes to keep you engaged.
There are a few different courses to choose from.
The Beginner Conversational Course is good for beginners and would be about an HSK 1 to HSK 2 levels. The Intermediate Conversational Course is structured similarly and would cover HSK 3 and HSK 4 material. There’s also an Upper-Intermediate course. However, I wasn’t a big fan of their Chinese Characters Course.
The Beginner Conversational Course costs $129. You can also pay by individual lesson as well but that ends up costing a little bit more money in the long-run. Review.
Save 15% off any course on Yoyo Chinese by using the coupon code “10NRES”.
Great for adding to a self-study routine
The courses on Chinese Zero to Hero! are perfect for independent learners who plan to use other resources, but want to make sure they don’t skip over anything important. They use video lessons covering grammar, vocabulary, and speaking exercises. They do a really good job of using a lot of Chinese in their videos, even at lower levels, without them becoming too difficult for the learner to understand.
The courses aren’t ideal for people looking to rely on a course to learn everything. However, if you have a bit of a textbook phobia or want to find something to act as a guide while using other resources – then it’s a great option.
The lessons are based on the HSK Standard Course textbooks. I like it because it’s much more enjoyable than just following a textbook on your own.
They’ve released courses from HSK1 – HSK 6. Each level is quite affordable with lots of discounts for purchasing bundles. Review.
Save 10% off any course at Chinese Zero to Hero! by using the coupon code “ALR10”.
Best course for learning in your car
Pimsleur used to be included in the section about courses that you shouldn’t bother with. I still don’t think anyone should ever buy their courses for the high prices that they’re asking for – as high as $550 for five levels.
But, they recently released a new app and added a subscription service with a much more reasonable price of $15- $20 per month. This change takes it from a course that’s terrible value to something that’s definitely worth considering.
Pimsleur’s focus in on the oral language. They ignore grammar, while reading and writing are very much an afterthought. But, not many courses are as good as Pimsleur for getting people to start speaking right away. Although the lessons aren’t terribly exciting, they force you to participate and actively speak Chinese. Review.
Best course for 1-1 classes
I’m a huge fan of TutorMing – so much so that I purchased 80 lessons for my own personal use. I’ve been extremely happy with everything and highly recommend them.
TutorMing is among the most expensive courses on this list, so it’s won’t be for everyone. However, those that don’t mind spending a bit extra money may love the option. They use an interesting curriculum that had me learning new things about Chinese culture despite already living in Beijing for a few years.
In the two classes I tried, the teachers I worked with were excellent. I also really love how easy it is to schedule lessons at any time of the day (literally 24/7). So, for these reasons, it could very well be worth paying a bit extra to sign up for lessons on TutorMing.
The shortest duration of lessons available is for three months. Prices vary depending on how long you sign up for and whether you pay everything up front or on a monthly basis. They’ll end up in the range of $15.50 to $23.30 per 45-minute lesson.
Great for its unique approach and comprehensive content
This is a sort of hybrid between a game and a course that can be played online or in the app. Although it does have these game elements, it’s a serious course. Ninchanese uses a story and different worlds that the character has to work through. The worlds get more and more difficult as you move up levels.
You start doing this by learning new words with spaced repetition. After which, you move on to building sentences. The grammar lessons of Ninchanese are outstanding. Afterward, you’ll practice the grammar point by building sentences.
Then, you’ll go onto expressing yourself – aka working on your speech. You’ll repeat lines using voice recognition software and score points depending on how well you do. There’s also dictation exercises where you listen and type what you hear.
These sub-lessons build on each other, so the new words you learn are reinforced with grammar and speaking later. The amount of content covered by Ninchanese is impressive. Review.
A subscription costs $10/month or $96/year.
Save 15% off a subscription to Ninchanese by using the coupon code “ALR15OFF”.
Best course for understanding Chinese characters
Outlier Linguistics are the creators of an extremely in-depth Chinese character dictionary available within the Pleco app. Their dictionaries are great for learning how characters work and the logic behind them.
Their Chinese Character Masterclass, which doesn’t require using their dictionaries, is the best thing I’ve come across for learning the logic behind how characters work, their components, and how to learn characters more efficiently. Most learners study characters by practicing writing them, stroke by stroke, which the creators have stressed just how ineffective that is.
This is a 90-day course is available for both simplified and traditional characters. The course consists of videos and PDFs that cover 25 new characters each week. I would highly recommend this course as it does a great job of taking something as complicated as learning new characters and really simplifies it, making the process much more manageable.
This course costs $99 but you can save 20% by using the coupon code “ALR20”.
The best alternative to Duolingo
HelloChinese (iOS, Android, Web) is my favorite of the free apps for learning Chinese. It initially was created following the template of Duolingo, but it has gone on to become much more robust and packed with features. It’s a great app to learn various areas of Chinese; including reading, writing, vocabulary, speaking, listening, and grammar.
One thing that I really like is that there are lots of speaking exercises throughout the lessons. There’s also speech recognition software that will help you gauge how well your pronunciation is.
While there’s a ton of content in the free plan, there’s also a Premium and Premium+ plan. The Premium plan starts at $6.99/month and includes lots of extra training games. The Premium+ plan costs $19.99 and includes all the games in the Premium plan, as well as podcast type lessons that include extra exercises.
These can be really fun, especially the exercise where you dub over a video with your own voice speaking Chinese. Review.
Use the promo code “hcalr15” to save 15% on all Premium+ plans and yearly Premium plans.
Good option for university-style courses
If you’re looking for a free and traditional style course, you should check out Coursera and edX. Here you’ll find online courses on just about everything, including learning Chinese, from universities around the world.
There are several Mandarin courses on these sites – Beginner Chinese, Intermediate, Business Chinese, and more. You can access all the lesson materials for free, but it costs extra for certificates and to have assignments graded. Because there are many courses available, I haven’t had the chance to try most of them.
When I first started learning Chinese, I enrolled in a Chinese for Beginners course but I ended up abandoning it in favor of other materials. It wasn’t the right course for me, but it may be for you. Because they’re free, there’s no harm in taking a look.
Good for more casual feeling lessons
Coffee Break Chinese is made for a specific type of language learner – generally, one who doesn’t have much experience learning a language and finds it extremely intimidating. The lessons feel much like sitting in on a private class between a student and a teacher.
You’ll learn alongside Mark, one of the hosts. Like you, he’ll make mistakes and have lots of questions. Crystal, the Chinese teacher, will guide him along the way. They do a great job of building lessons up from learning single words to sentences to full dialogues.
All of the audio lessons are completely free and available anywhere that you listen to podcasts. The premium course which includes video lessons, lesson notes, and bonus audio lessons cost $92. As they’re still in Season 1, its only suitable for beginners. Review.
Good for their unique blended approach
GoEast Mandarin uses a unique blended approach for teaching Chinese online. They’re a Shanghai-based language school that also offers several online courses. The courses are unique for a few reasons. First, they’re a combination of self-study via their video lessons and 1-1 online lessons with one of their teachers.
The video lessons are 100% in Mandarin, but with English subtitles. This can sometimes be a bit strange at lower levels as simple words are being explained with more complex vocabulary. The benefit, however, is that students get exposed to tons of Chinese from the very beginning.
The courses aren’t cheap, with the HSK 1 and HSK 2 levels costing $889 each, although group courses (3 per HSK level) are available for $199. While this sounds absurdly expensive, and you can definitely learn Chinese without spending a fraction of that amount, the courses come with a lot of 1-1 lessons. Each of the HSK 1 and HSK 2 courses includes 33 1-1 lessons, working out to around $27 per class.
Mention ‘All Language Resources’ to get a $20 discount on your purchase.
Good for the large variety of options
Unlike edX and Coursera, where courses are added by top universities, anyone can add a course to Udemy. Because of this, courses on Udemy can vary significantly in terms of quality and content. This also leads to unique courses like practicing pronunciation with tongue twisters, intensive reading, and story-based courses.
There are some free courses but most will cost something. Udemy does have lots of sales. I’ve found if you add a course to your cart and leave it for a day or two, you’ll almost always get an offer discounting it to $10, regardless of the original price.
I used one short and free course at the absolute beginning when I started learning Chinese. It was a nice introduction and fairly entertaining. I wouldn’t expect to find anything exceptionally thorough on Udemy but you may find something interesting to you.
Good for learning how to learn Chinese
The Hacking Chinese blog is one of the best resources for learning Chinese. Olle has written a ton about the topic and helped countless people – myself included.
In my first year of learning Chinese, I read through an absurd number of his posts. I jumped around a ton and often would have five separate tabs open of articles I wanted to read. The blog is great and you should definitely check it out.
There are actually two courses here.
This course isn’t a typical course – you won’t learn characters, words or sentences. Instead, you’ll learn how to learn Chinese. He talks about learning the building blocks, finding problems with your listening ability, plotting your learning path, and more.
The second, and newer course, is Unlocking Chinese: The Ultimate Guide for Beginners.
This course is closer to a typical beginner course, but still quite unique. Olle’s experience and perspective of teaching Chinese and running Hacking Chinese are reflected in the topics, instruction, and structure of the course.
Both courses are currently 50% off.
Good alternatives to Duolingo or HelloChinese
These two apps are quite similar to each other and are inspired by Duolingo. I’m pretty sure they were even created by the same people.
Lessons are based on different topics. For example, you may learn colors, then move on to numbers, food and so on. You’ll learn new words and practice building sentences.
I used ChineseSkill quite a bit when I first started learning Chinese. At that point, I wasn’t sure how seriously I would study or much time I’d devote to it. It provided me with a nice option to learn, without having to make a commitment.
I don’t think either is the best option for very serious students but both are great for getting started. They provide a very nice introduction to learning Chinese. You can use the coupon code “ALR123” to get 15% off a subscription to Lingodeer.
The best podcast style audio lessons
ChinesePod isn’t necessarily a course, but it’s close enough. It’s by far the most popular podcast for learning Chinese and possibly the best Chinese learning tool. I’ve used it fairly consistently for over a year and a half. I owe most of my listening comprehension skills to the time I’ve spent with ChinesePod.
There are a huge number of lessons across various difficulty levels with new ones being released regularly. If you’re interested in learning about any topic, you’ll find lessons fitting the theme.
The Premium plan also includes extras such as exercises, expansion activities, and a pronunciation course. These expansion exercises give extra examples of how to use key vocabulary or phrases from the dialogue as well as vocabulary. The activities include matching, sentence reordering, dictation and multiple choice questions.
A subscription costs $14/mo for the Basic plan or $29/mo for the Premium plan. Review.
Save $50 on an Annual Premium Subscription to ChinesePod by using the promo code “ALLLANG50”.
Pretty good for beginners but not a top choice
ChineseClass101 was better than I expected, but I had quite low expectations. Like ChinesePod, they focus on audio lessons revolving around a dialogue. Their lessons range from absolute beginner to the advanced level.
While ChineseClass101 is a reasonable choice for beginners, I couldn’t recommend it for higher levels. They use quite a bit of English in their lessons making it a poor choice for advanced learners.
The lessons last around 10 minutes each focused on a dialogue. They explain the dialogue, including key vocabulary and grammar.
The Basic Plan only costs $8/month making it one of the cheaper options for learning Chinese. The Premium Plan is $25/month and includes quizzes and a few extra features. Review.
Save 25% on a subscription to ChineseClass101 by using the promo code “ALLLANGUAGERESOURCES”.
Good course with a pay what you want model
Domino Chinese is a bit different from other Chinese courses for a couple of reasons. The lessons are pretty interesting and the host is a foreigner who attained a very high level of Chinese. Many people may worry about learning from a foreigner as they don’t want to learn improper pronunciation. His is quite good though, so that isn’t a problem with this course. There’s also a Chinese co-host at the higher level lessons.
The lessons are also a bit unique in that they focus on learning characters and learning several related words and expressions based off of that one character. This can be a nice change of viewpoint and differs from the way nearly every other course tackles Chinese.
His personality and sense of humor also show throughout the lessons.
The pricing is based on a pay as you go model – starting from $2/month. The lessons are easily worth that low price.
Alright for getting lots of speaking and listening practice
Glossika isn’t suitable for beginners. It’s better for those with an elementary or higher level. It’ll help you learn Chinese by getting a lot of repetitions repeating sentences.
If you’re learning a dialect, like Hakka or Hokkien, it’s probably one of the few places you’ll find material to study with.
I used Glossika when I felt like my speaking skills were falling behind my listening and reading. By repeating lots of sentences at my level, it helped me to get more confidence and fluidity in my speaking skills.
Unfortunately, it’s kind of expensive for what you get, costing $30/month
Luckily, a new competitor, Speechling, does much of what Glossika can do for free. Glossika Review.
Good option for getting speaking practice and feedback on your pronunciation
This isn’t a typical course either. It’s similar to Glossika in that they use lots of sentences to help you improve your spoken Chinese. But, Speechling is a much more modern, better-designed product with more functionality, and a lower price – even free for most features.
For free, you can listen to an unlimited number of sentences and record your own voice. The design makes it really convenient for comparing your voice with the speaker – which is a great way to improve your pronunciation.
You can organize sentences by topics or difficulty level, choose the sex of the speaker, and more.
The Premium subscription costs $19.99/mo. With this, you can submit an unlimited number of recordings each month and have them corrected by a teacher. Review.
Save 10% on a subscription to Speechling by using the promo code “ALR123”.
Don’t Waste Your Money On These Courses
There are quite a few good options for people looking for a Chinese course. There are also plenty of courses that are really worth avoiding. I’m sure this list doesn’t include every bad course there is. These are the ones I’ve tried and can strongly recommend staying away from.
Rocket Chinese has improved from when I first tried it, but it still isn’t worth using when there are so many better options. It relies too heavily on memorization exercises and other courses explain everything about the language far better. They have some handwriting lessons but these are both poor quality and they chose less common characters – even for absolute beginners. Everything is just kind of ‘meh’. Review.
Fluenz isn’t bad for other languages, but the fact that they completely ignore Chinese characters is a major problem. Combine that with the fact that it’s rather expensive and you’ll almost certainly be better off choosing another course instead. Review.
CLO isn’t terrible. But, like Fluenz, it feels outdated and has been surpassed by other better products. The lessons are pretty boring and don’t always explain things thoroughly enough.
The exercises that accompany them are okay, but if you make a mistake, you won’t see the correct answer. The website design is very clunky and I wouldn’t expect improvements to it anytime soon.
At $19.95/mo, I’d rather spend my money elsewhere. Review.
Busuu is quite similar to HelloChinese and ChineseSkill except without as much depth and with a higher cost. For starters, the app doesn’t have have any support for writing in Chinese and doesn’t provide explanations for how to pronounce the four different tones, at least not in the beginning. The grammar explanations are also subpar and leave a lot to be desired.
It costs $9.99/month for Premium and $13.99/month for Premium Plus
However, there is one awesome part of Busuu and you can use it for free – the social part. You can submit writings and recordings to be corrected by other people. Review.
Rosetta Stone is another one of those old-school language learning resources. It’s one of the most well-known and also more expensive than other alternatives. I wouldn’t even want to use it if you found a free copy. There are other free courses that are much better. Review.
Even though Duolingo is free, I can’t recommend anyone use it. It may be good for other languages, but for Chinese the quality leaves a lot to be desired. The lesson structure is severely lacking and when compared to other free resources, like HelloChinese, it falls far short. Your time is valuable, don’t waste it with Duolingo. Review.
This is just another course that is somewhat expensive and doesn’t offer anything special. There are better free courses and paid courses to choose from, so there’s no real reason to pay for Living Language. Review.
Transparent Language is one of the worst courses we’ve tried. It’s available in far more languages than other courses but has a terrible teaching methodology. Basically, you’ll spend your time memorizing words and phrases in isolation. Don’t bother with it. Review.
There isn’t any perfect course and different people will find they prefer different styles of instruction. Luckily, there are plenty of options to choose from. Most of the courses offer a free trial period so you can try a few of them yourself without spending any money. Which courses have worked for you? Are there any you’d recommend trying out or avoiding altogether?
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