I’m a big fan of Chinese Zero to Hero!
Their courses are ideal for two types of learners…
- Independent learners who like to use several different resources to study from and would like to add some structure to their learning.
- Students looking to pass the HSK tests.
Other types of students would definitely still benefit from these courses as well, but they should be aware that they’ll need to use other resources to supplement their studies. I think if you tried to work through the courses, one lesson after another, without looking for extra practice elsewhere, that it could be challenging.
Impressively, Chinese Zero to Hero! have released courses for all levels, from HSK1 to HSK6.
The HSK 1 – HSK3 courses are each split into two separate parts, whereas the HSK 4 – HSK6 courses are each split into four parts.
In total, there are over 800 videos spread throughout these courses.
One thing that really stands out to me as a big positive is that they actually speak a lot of Chinese in the courses, even at the beginner levels, and don’t rely on pinyin as a crutch.
The lessons follow the HSK Standard Course textbook series and work as an excellent complement to them.
The exact structure and the types of lessons that are included vary depending on which HSK level course you’re studying.
Some of the most common lessons found within each course are the warm-up, vocabulary, grammar, and an activity or homework.
First, there is a short warm-up video. Here, you may be introduced to some new vocabulary or review what you’ve already learned. They also do a good job of adding in some small jokes that can help to make things a bit more fun.
The Chinese is spoken in a very clear manner, using level-appropriate vocabulary, and includes explanations where necessary. Unlike some resources such as ChineseClass101, I feel like the ratio of spoken Chinese to English is pretty much perfect.
After the warm-up video, the next video focuses on vocabulary. The teacher goes through the vocabulary words one by one showing a picture, the character, and pinyin for each word. I wouldn’t typically want to learn new words in this format. However, it actually works quite well here.
You’re often prompted with questions which force you to think about what you’re learning and use it. The teachers also include lots of example sentences with each vocabulary word. So, it’s not as if you’re simply being given a word in Chinese and its English translation. It’s far more useful than that. It’s a good way to get listening and reading practice while reinforcing other things you’ve previously learned.
The teacher then goes over the words in a list with the Chinese Characters, English and Pinyin. Then, he takes away the Pinyin and English and goes over the characters once more. During this time, he’ll continue to add in extra comments using Chinese almost exclusively.
The HSK5 and HSK6 levels don’t have the vocabulary lessons. While this is kind of disappointing, it probably wouldn’t be feasible for them to make that many vocabulary videos. After all, HSK5 has more vocabulary than the HSK 1-4 levels combined. Then, HSK6 has as many vocabulary words as the first five HSK levels combined.
So, making these videos for each level would be a ridiculously time-consuming task that would probably drive the creators mad. Besides, once you get to this level, you’ll be able to improve your vocabulary more naturally by reading, listening, speaking, and writing often.
This is a place where I find Chinese Zero to Hero! to really excel.
These videos do an excellent job of explaining the grammar points and providing lots of examples. The videos are awesome and make studying grammar much more enjoyable.
I like that they don’t use pinyin and stick with simplified characters. While this might be more difficult at the beginning for some people, it’ll be better, in the long run, to focus on using characters and not using pinyin as a crutch.
Some of the lessons also include short dramatizations which are a nice break from the pure grammar study. After the video, there’s a short three question multiple choice quiz based on the grammar point.
I do wish the multiple choice quiz were a bit longer. But, that still might not be enough to really internalize the grammar point. I think it may be too easy for some students, myself included, to watch a video and move on to the next one, without practicing it enough.
For that reason, I’d suggest getting on italki and working with a tutor or language exchange partner. Or perhaps, practice writing some sample sentences with each grammar point you study, then going to italki’s Notebooks section, and get free feedback on your sentences from a native Chinese speaker.
These grammar videos are in all of the lessons, from HSK1-6 and are super useful. You can also find some free ones on their Youtube channel.
In this last video, they’ll quickly review the words and grammar points you learned in this section. They then recommend you to use italki to find a free language exchange partner.
I personally prefer to pay for a tutor instead of doing language exchanges. The reason being that I don’t have a lot of free time. With language exchanges, you have to spend half the time helping them learn your language. Chinese teachers on italki are actually very affordable, often charging less than $10/hour.
You may also find Speechling to be helpful to get more speaking practice, though it’s not a substitute for finding someone to practice with.
In this homework section, they lean pretty heavily on the textbook and workbook, often recommending you to practice the language structure with your language exchange partner and to complete the sections of the workbook. They also provide answers to the workbook questions, some grids for practicing writing hanzi, links to their Quizlet flashcard decks to practice vocabulary, and some other things depending on the lesson.
I like that they included this section quite a bit. It pushes you to find someone to practice and to use the material you just learned. It would be nice if it was a bit less dependent on the textbook, but the textbook structure works, so there’s not necessarily a ton of reason to move away from it.
There are lots of options for purchasing Chinese Zero to Hero’s courses. As mentioned earlier, HSK1-3 are all split into two parts while HSK 4-6 are split into 4 parts. You can purchase each part individually for $17. Alternatively, each level has a bundle that lowers the total price. For HSK1-3, the level bundles cost $25 each and for HSK4-6 the level bundles cost $49 each.
However, what I think is the best value would be their Ultimate Bundle, which gives you access to all the courses for $179.
Is it a replacement for a textbook?
No, it’s not. They mention the textbook and workbook are required for the course and a decent amount of the exercises do ask you to use those resources. It is highly recommended that you use those resources.
I’ve used their courses without actually buying the textbooks and have found them to be worth the cost. Sure, it’d be better to use both this course and the textbook, along with whatever other resources you use to study with. But, if you add these courses into your study routine, you’ll get the much-needed structure in a format that’s easy to use regularly.
I know many people, myself included, have a hard time sticking with using a textbook. This is as close as you’ll get to a textbook without actually being one.
Is this the only resource I’ll need to use?
You’ll need to practice more of everything. This isn’t a flaw of the courses though. It’s just the nature of learning Chinese. There’s no single resource that will teach you everything you need to learn.
You should consider using Du Chinese or The Chairman’s Bao for extra reading practice. I wrote a comparison article here with discount codes.
There are a variety of places you can get extra listening practice but I think ChinesePod is the best.
If you want to practice your handwriting then you should consider subscribing to Skritter.
However, all of these products have a cost associated with them. So, you’ll have to think about what your budget for learning Chinese is and what you can get by without using.
You can also find over 100 resources for learning Chinese in this big list, many of which are free to use.
Chinese Zero to Hero! is a good course that’s very affordable. There aren’t many resources that provide so much for such a low price. While it’s not exactly a replacement for a textbook, I wouldn’t fault anyone for deciding to ditch theirs in favor of these lessons.
It would be nice to have some more practice problems and quizzes throughout the courses but that’s not a deal-breaker.
Chinese Zero to Hero! is perfect for anyone studying independently that feels like their learning needs a bit more structure, or for those focused on passing the HSK tests. But other types of students will also find a lot of value from these courses.