If you’re looking for an online Chinese course, you’ll eventually come across Yoyo Chinese. It’s one of the few established courses where you can independently study Mandarin online.
It’s quite possibly the best course as well. That’s not to say it’s perfect or that it’s the only tool you’ll need to learn Chinese.
Yoyo Chinese is actually comprised of several different courses which can be purchased individually, or as bundles. The six main courses are Beginner Conversational, Chinese Characters, and Intermediate Conversational, Chinese Characters 2, Upper Intermediate Conversational, and Chinese Character Reader. There are also two smaller and cheaper courses – Chinese Grammar and Chinese Learning Tips.
This review will focus on these six main courses.
All of these courses are comprised of short videos, audio reviews, flashcards, and quizzes. The host, Yangyang, does an excellent job of explaining the material in an easy to understand way but also with depth.
First, I’ll discuss the conversational courses together because they’re fairly similar but obviously fit a different skill level.
Afterward, I’ll talk about the Chinese Character courses and then the Chinese Character Reader course.
I’ll let you know what I think Yoyo Chinese does well and where it falls short. I’ll give you all the information so that you can decide for yourself if it’s worth purchasing.
The Beginner Conversational Course is intended to take complete beginners up to somewhere around HSK 2. After completing this course, you should be able to communicate in China and get around doing basic things.
The Intermediate Conversational Course follows the beginner course and will take you past the basics. This is approximately equivalent to the HSK 3 and HSK 4 levels. After completing this course you’ll be able to communicate much easier with people in China, but you’ll still have a lot to learn.
The Upper Intermediate Conversational Course will get you to where you can follow natural conversations, communicate complex ideas, and generally form relationships in Chinese. The material covered would be about equivalent to the HSK 4 and HSK 5 levels.
All three of these courses are comprised of six levels. Each level is then split into various units that center around a theme. Each of these units is made of separate lessons. These lessons contain a video explanation, audio review, speaking practice, and a quiz at the end.
If you were to study 30 minutes per day, 6 days/week, then you could expect to complete each course in six months.
The lessons connect well to each other, typically building with what was taught previously. Also, there’s a clear difference in the difficulty level of each course, and even between the units. As you progress further, more Chinese is spoken, including more challenging grammar and vocabulary.
The exact number of videos in each unit varies, but generally, there are between two and six. It seems like the higher levels have a few more videos and they tend to last a bit longer. In the beginner course, most of the videos are around 5 minutes long, give or take a couple of minutes But at the upper-intermediate level, many of the videos are 10 minutes or longer.
The video lessons are well made. Yangyang has clearly put a lot of time thinking about teaching Chinese.
The videos will break down the topic very clearly. She explains the vocabulary and sentence structures needed to understand the key point of the lesson. Often times, she’ll explain things using the literal translation which may make things easier to understand. She breaks everything down into smaller chunks that are easy to comprehend.
There’s a very nice mixture of authentic spoken Chinese and more academic Chinese where you learn proper grammar, vocabulary, and sentence structures.
Many of the videos involve regular people on the street being interviewed. This provides an excellent contrast to the typical way Chinese is taught. You get to see how people actually speak. Of course, sometimes people speak in an “incorrect” way or make grammar mistakes.
It’s just like in English. If you only learn “How are you?” then you’ll be confused when someone asks, “How’s it goin?” Sure, the latter may not be grammatically correct, but you’ll need to learn it.
This makes it so that you can hear several ways to ask and answer questions. You’ll hear Chinese in an unfiltered context. Yangyang will then explain their answers and add in lots of interesting cultural tidbits. Questions are often asked to people from a variety of regions and you’ll be exposed to different accents.
I really like how, in the upper-intermediate course, you’ll get to meet a lot of Yangyang’s family.
You can also ask questions by leaving comments on the videos. Someone from Yoyo Chinese will help to explain whatever issue you’re confused about.
Overall, I really enjoy the video lessons. They’re brief enough that you can quickly learn something new and interesting enough that you don’t get bored and give up on studying. Everything you learn in the videos will be reinforced in the upcoming activities.
After the videos, there is an audio review of the content covered in the preceding video. This will review the vocabulary and sentence structures you just learned. This is a place for you to practice saying out loud what you learned in the videos. This can be anywhere from around 8 minutes long to over 20 minutes.
Typically, she says something in English like, “Say ____” and you’re supposed to say it in Chinese. She will also often include extra reminders about grammar or literal translations. There may be some supplemental vocabulary added in as well.
After each audio review, there is a component for you to practice vocabulary and speaking. First, you’ll see the characters and pinyin of a word or sentence you’ve learned. After you click the ‘reveal’ button, you’ll hear a recording. You can listen at full or half speed. Then you can click to record your own voice and compare it to the original recording. You can also skip ahead to the quiz.
After the pronunciation practice, there is a 10 question interactive quiz. There are a few different question types: matching, listening, and translations. One thing I really like is that many of the questions also include wrong answers that are close to the correct answer. This makes the quizzes much more challenging and requires you to actually know your stuff. There is also the option to use pinyin or Simplified Chinese Characters for the quiz questions and answers.
These quizzes work really well as a way to finish off the lesson. If there are parts you struggled with, you can now go back and review. Of course, you’ll need to periodically review the content of this lesson.
Yoyo Chinese moves at a somewhat slow pace. This isn’t necessarily good or bad, but it’s worth mentioning. The material is covered very thoroughly. For each lesson, you’ll have the material drilled into your head several times. By the time you watch the video, do the audio review, speaking practice, and take the quiz, you’ll know the content in and out.
Both courses are meant to take six months of studying for 30 minutes a day and six days a week.
I appreciate the fact that they don’t make any unrealistic claims of making you fluent in a short period of time. Instead, they stress the importance of a regular study schedule.
There are some extra useful parts to these Yoyo Chinese courses that fall outside of each lesson.
There are flashcards that you can use to review words and sentences you’ve learned from previous lessons. You can filter them based on the course, level, unit, or lesson. They will come up for review periodically and you can mark words as favorites. I generally prefer to use Anki (can download files) or Pleco for review, but I can see why people would like to review directly on the website.
Yoyo Chinese Pinyin Chart
There are quite a few online pinyin charts you can reference to learn or review the sounds of Mandarin. I think the Yoyo Chinese Pinyin Chart is the best one there is. It’s complete and includes video explanations making it easier for English speakers to learn the pronunciation.
There are various useful tools that you can download. First, there are some PDF files – cheat sheets, ebooks, quiz worksheets, and lecture notes. You can also download the audio review files. Unfortunately, you can’t download the lesson videos. My favorite part is that there are Anki files available for download – both vocabulary and sentences. I like using a few different resources to learn Chinese, so being able to have all the flashcards available on Anki is a big plus.
The Beginner Conversational Course costs $129 for the full course and the other two conversational courses cost $149 each. You can also purchase one level at a time for $29 but this ends up costing a bit more.
Additionally, there’s the Conversational Course Bundle which includes all three of these courses for $299 – pretty great value.
My Opinion of the Conversational Courses
All three of the Conversational Courses are very well-made. These courses aren’t perfect, but no course is. There’s a lot of English spoken, especially at the lower levels, but this does decrease as you move further along in the course.
It may be worthwhile to complement your time studying with Yoyo Chinese with some podcasts to get a bit more listening practice. I’ve noticed that the amount of Chinese used at various levels of Yoyo Chinese is less than the equivalent levels of other resources. The plus side is that you’ll probably have a clearer understanding of how the language works but may still want to get more listening practice.
This isn’t unique to Yoyo Chinese. No single resource will be enough alone to master Chinese, but Yoyo Chinese comes closer than any other.
Overall, I think these conversational courses are excellent and great value for the cost.
Chinese Character Courses
There are two Chinese Character courses available on Yoyo Chinese. Each course covers 300 characters – teaching you how they’re formed, their meaning, how to write them, and including helpful hints to make them easier to remember.
Each video covers three related or somewhat similar characters. The first Character Course is taught by Yangyang and the second one is taught by another teacher. Both of them do a good job of explaining things.
They break the characters down into their component parts, often using a mnemonic or images to make a short story so that it’s easier to remember. There will also be some simple example sentences or words containing the word. Later, they’ll quickly show the stroke order for writing by hand.
After you watch the video, you’ll move on to the review section. Here you’ll see the character and have to type it in with your keyboard. Other times, there won’t be any typing. Instead, there will be other words or sentences to review. Sometimes there will be a mix of pinyin and characters in this section to form sentences. I guess at this point they’re only showing characters that you’ve already learned and for the ones you haven’t, they’ll use pinyin instead so you can still read it.
Next is the quiz. It’s similar to the quizzes in the other courses. You’ll have matching exercises, sentence ordering, and translations. They also use images from several different places and a character will be circled. You’ll then select the definition or pinyin of the character. This is pretty cool because you’ll get to see the characters you’ve learned as they appear in their native environment. You’ll also learn to recognize them when they’re written in different fonts.
You can also download lesson notes. These lesson notes are pretty useful as they include quite a bit of information.
You’ll have the typical review information for each of the characters. This includes example words and sentences containing the characters. There’s also a font comparison that shows slight changes in how the character appears depending on the font. This is definitely helpful for learning to recognize characters when they’re written a bit differently.
There are also some translation exercises, reading practice from real-life pictures, and an answer key. The focus of the course isn’t handwriting, but there’s also a worksheet you can print out and use to practice writing by hand. You can find more worksheets for handwriting practice at Hanzi Grids.
Each of the Chinese Character courses cost $149, or if you’d prefer, you can pay $29 per individual level. There’s also a bundle containing both courses, along with the Chinese Character Reader, which I’ll discuss next, for $299.
My Opinion of the Chinese Characters Course
The Chinese Characters courses aren’t bad, but I don’t like them nearly as much as the conversational courses.
I personally think the character courses are a bit too expensive and won’t take you far enough to justify the cost. Perhaps, the bigger reason is that there are a couple of other resources that I think cover characters better and are cheaper.
First, Outlier Linguistics has a Chinese Character Masterclass that is phenomenal for teaching you how characters work and how to go about learning them. I think they do a better job of preparing you so that you’re able to learn them on your own.
Another option that I prefer to the Yoyo Chinese Character courses is an app called Zizzle.
It uses short stories and mnemonics to break characters down into their component parts and is really quite good. Zizzle costs $59.99/year but you can save 15% with the promo code “ALLLANGUAGERESOURCES”. This would only be $51.
If you’re serious about learning to write characters by hand, then you should consider a subscription to Skritter. With this app, you can practice writing characters on your phone. It uses SRS flashcards to prevent you from forgetting the characters you’ve already learned.
If you’re more concerned with learning to type in Chinese and get feedback on it, you may want to download the Sogou keyboard and using the Notebooks section of italki. There you can write an entry and have others give you feedback. Just be sure to return the favor and help others by correcting their writing.
Chinese Character Reader Course
The Chinese Character Reader Course is a nice addition to Yoyo Chinese’s course library. It’s meant to be completed after the two Chinese Character courses.
This course is a natural progression from learning about Chinese characters to actually using them to read a comic book. It’s split up into 3 levels and tells the story of lovestruck office worker called Zhang Ming.
Each level is made up of a separate book, with each unit covering around four pages of the book.
These videos are pretty fun to watch. The story is entertaining, the animations are well-done and the voice acting is good. However, they are a bit short. In the last unit of each level, you’ll watch the whole story together. The final video for each level lasts around 10-13 minutes each.
Included with each lesson are the study materials you’re already familiar with. For example, you can play and read each lesson’s dialogue, read lesson notes, and use flashcards to study the material in the story.
I think the quiz included with each lesson is very good as well. The questions really do a great job of testing your comprehension of the story.
You can also buy a physical copy of the books on Amazon.
Unfortunately, you aren’t actually given an online version of the story to read, which doesn’t make any sense to me. After all, this is a reading course, but it feels more like a listening/watching course. You can download the lesson notes, which have all of the dialogue and super helpful notes. But it isn’t actually formatted in the comic book way that you would want to read for pleasure.
The Chinese Character Reader course costs $79 or it can be purchased as a bundle with both of the Chinese Character courses for $299.
My Opinion of the Chinese Character Reader Course
I really enjoyed the Chinese Character Reader course but don’t necessarily love it. Although the animated videos are a lot of fun, I found it odd that there’s not an online version of the book that you can read included with the purchase. Without that, it almost feels more like a listening course that you can read along with.
The story was quite interesting, well produced and I thought the comprehension questions and lecture notes were very useful. But, $79 is fairly expensive, especially when compared with the cost to subscribe to an app like The Chairman’s Bao or Du Chinese. With those apps, you can find interesting material to read, regardless of if you’re a beginner or are already at an advanced level.
Final Thoughts on Yoyo Chinese
I think all three of the conversational courses are excellent and would highly recommend them.
No course can be used completely in isolation to learn Chinese but Yoyo Chinese probably comes closer to being able to do so than any other option.
Truthfully, I wish I had used Yoyo Chinese when I first started learning Mandarin. I tried to study a bit too independently and still find myself with random gaps in my knowledge. This is bound to happen regardless of the tools you use, but Yoyo Chinese will limit those gaps. It provides structure to learning Chinese that everyone needs and lessons are broken down into easily digested chunks.
However, I’m not a big fan of the Chinese Characters courses. That’s not to say that they aren’t useful or valuable. But, in today’s language learning environment, there are lots of good apps and tools to consider using and I simply prefer the alternatives.
Similarly, although I enjoyed the Chinese Character Reader course I don’t have an exceptionally strong opinion either way on it. It’s definitely good and a fun way to study. But, that course alone won’t be sufficient reading practice so I’d suggest using other resources as well.