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 help you avoid these errors.
There is no perfect online course to learn Chinese. There’s nothing that will teach you everything you need to learn. You’ll almost certainly need to combine these with other resources to make sure you get enough speaking, listening, reading, and writing practice – depending on your priorities, of course.
There are, however, many good courses and course-like resources that can act as a guide as you learn Chinese. At the end of this post, I’ll mention some that I think are terrible that you should avoid wasting your money on.
Let’s take a look at them one at a time.
ChineseFor.Us is the newest website that will be included in the list. It’s also, 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 I’m preparing for an HSK 5 exam.
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, 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”.
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 involve the host asking 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 10% off any course on Yoyo Chinese by using the coupon code “10NRES”.
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.
Chinese Zero to Hero!
The courses on Chinese Zero to Hero! are very affordable and can be pretty funny at times. 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.
So far, they’ve released courses for levels HSK1-4. Each HSK level is split into two separate courses. These separate courses only cost $9 each, making it one of the most affordable courses you’ll find. Review.
Save 15% off any course at Chinese Zero to Hero! by using the coupon code “ALR15”.
Coursera and edX
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.
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.
Hacking Chinese – A Practical Guide to Learning Mandarin
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 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. The book and the course organize and expand on this content.
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.
When you consider how long you’ll spend learning Chinese, it’s worth it to spend some time learning how to go about doing it.
At the very minimum, go to the blog and start reading a lot.
This course costs $97.
This is a sort-of hybrid between a game and a course that can be played online or in the app. It actually manages to walk the line very well, being both entertaining and comprehensive. 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. Afterwards, 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”.
ChineseSkill and LingoDeer
These two apps are quite similar to each other and are inspired by Duolingo. They’re both completely free to use. 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 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. ChineseSkill Review.
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”.
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”.
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.
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.
It’s very bare-bones and while useful, isn’t ideal. It doesn’t explicitly teach any grammar or vocabulary.
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.
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.
I really dislike Rocket Chinese. I found the lessons to be put together very poorly and the app constantly crashed. There’s a lot of repeat after me style lessons, but one of the teachers is a foreigner with poor pronunciation himself.
The examples they chose to use didn’t fit the level of the students and contained errors. They have some handwriting lessons but these are both poor quality and they chose uncommon characters – even for absolute beginners.
I only used the free trial, but that was enough to see that it was a terribly put together product. It’s fairly expensive, costing between $99-$259. I’d stay away from Rocket Chinese even if it were free. Review.
Fluenz might have been a good product ten years ago. Luckily for us, that time has passed.
It’s the kind of product a grandma might buy for her grandson to learn Chinese because she doesn’t know there are better options. It’s a wonderful thought, but a waste of money.
The lessons are quite slow and I hate that they completely ignore the use of characters.
It may be the most expensive, lowest quality, and slowest beginner course around. With a cost of nearly $300, you’d expect it to do something better than other courses, but it doesn’t. Both HelloChinese and ChineseSkill are both significantly better products and are completely free. Review.
Chinese Learn Online
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 it’s not as good and more expensive.
It costs $9.99/mo and doesn’t do anything to warrant the price.
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.
Like many other resources, Pimsleur isn’t necessarily terrible. It’s just outdated and extremely overpriced. With a cost over $300, they don’t do anything special to justify the cost.
One nice thing is that because it has been around for quite a while, you may be able to find a free copy from a local library. Review.
Rosetta Stone is another one of those old-school language learning resources. It may be the most well-known of all, but it’s not worth using or paying for. Other free resources are significantly better.
To make things worse, it’s also one of the most expensive resources around with levels 1-5 costing nearly $500.
Even though Duolingo is free, I can’t recommend anyone to 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.
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?