There aren’t a lot of places to find engaging and structured Chinese lessons at an affordable price. Chinese Zero to Hero! is a new course hosted on the teachable platform. It’s structured around the HSK standard course textbook series and organized by HSK level. The lessons are video based with just the right amount of humor to keep you interested.
At the time of writing this article, they have courses for HSK 1, HSK 2, and HSK3. HSK 4 is expected to be released in July/August.
Both of the HSK 1 and HSK 3 are split into two courses – A and B. For the HSK 3 course, both parts contain ten lessons with nine short videos in each lesson. So, there are 90 videos total ranging from 1:30 – 9:10.
The videos are arranged in a clear and logical manner.
First, there is a short warm-up video. Here, you’ll be introduced to some new vocabulary that you’ll learn later. There’s a short light-hearted dialogue. They speak in a way that’s clear and easy to understand for learners. Unlike some other resources, they do a great job of limiting the amount of English in the lessons.
After the warm-up video, the next video focuses on vocabulary. The teacher goes through the vocab 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, he often prompts the student by asking questions and giving examples of how the word is used. So, it actually provides a good way to get listening practice and reinforce other things you’ve previously learned. He then goes over the words in a list with the characters, English and Pinyin. Finally, he leaves only the characters and goes over them once more. During this time, he’ll continue to add in extra comments using Chinese almost exclusively.
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 very well made. I like that they don’t use pinyin and stick with simplified characters. While this might be more difficult in 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. They also include short dramatizations which are a nice break from the pure grammar. They provide realistic examples and can be fun. After the video, there’s a short three question multiple choice quiz based on the grammar point. You can also find the grammar videos for free on Youtube.
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 language exchange partner for free.
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. italki and Verbling are both good for finding an online tutor and provide a lot of flexibility. eChineseLearning is another option but requires a commitment which can be good or bad depending on your preferences.
Let’s get back to talking about the review activity for Chinese Zero to Hero!
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. The video is a demonstration of the sample dialogue. You’re then supposed to practice this structure using your own sentences with your language exchange partner. There’s a PDF file you can print out to use as a guide.
This format repeats itself one more time in each lesson.
After the Review Activity, you’ll begin the second Warm-up activity of the lesson. This is followed by another Vocabulary, Grammar, and Review Activity that follow the same structure as before.
At the end of each lesson, there’s a short dictation video. This is my least favorite part of the course by far. Basically, the teacher says ten words with pauses between each and you’re supposed to write down what you hear. There’s a PDF answer key included for you to check your work.
The lessons include such a large amount of Chinese that having a one-word listening test seems far too basic compared to the other materials. I think the idea is that you’re supposed to write the character by hand and therefore learn to write in Chinese. But, there hasn’t been any mention or focus on handwriting up to this point in the lesson. They could link to some resources like archchinese, Skritter or mention Pleco’s stroke order feature – all of which would help students learn to write Chinese.
However, I don’t think that’s the best option and with some small changes, the dictation section could still be very useful.
For many people learning Chinese, handwriting isn’t a priority. There’s just so much to learn and most of your written communication will be done online.
ChinesePod’s Premium lessons provide a good (but not perfect) example of how dictation can be used in online lessons. Instead of focusing on handwriting one word, I think it’d be better to focus on typing a full sentence. This way, you would get the dictation practice in a much more challenging format. And, you’ll almost certainly type Chinese far more than you’ll write by hand.
The end of the dictation marks the end of the lesson.
HSK 1 and HSK 3 are both composed of two courses – Part A and Part B. Each of these parts cost $9. You can also click here and use the coupon code “ALR15” to get 15% off your purchase. There aren’t many products as cheap and well made as Chinese Zero to Hero!
Is it a replacement for a textbook?
No, it’s not. They mention the textbook and workbook are required for the course but I don’t think any of the practice exercises require using those books. I know many people, myself included, who have a sort of textbook-phobia and avoid them as much as possible. This is as close as you’ll get to a textbook without actually using one.
Is this the only resource I’ll need to use?
They use Quizlet for vocabulary flashcards. This is better than nothing but I think using Pleco or Anki to review flashcards will be much better for most people. With those, you’ll be able to quickly add other words you learn from other sources.
You’ll need to practice more of everything. This isn’t a flaw of the product though. It’s just the nature of learning Chinese. There’s no way to learn without putting in a serious amount of time and energy into learning the language.
You should consider using Du Chinese or The Chairman’s Bao for extra reading practice. I wrote a comparison article here with discount codes.
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.
Chinese Zero to Hero! is a good product at a very low cost. 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. I’d like to see an improvement to the dictation component of the lessons. It would also be nice to have some more practice problems and quizzes throughout the courses as well. However, it’s still very new and I’m sure it’ll undergo some changes in the future. Even as it is now, I’d recommend people to take a look at Chinese Zero to Hero!