I started my Chinese learning at college with in-person classes, but I truly believe that my learning started to take-off when I discovered the world of online courses for Chinese learners. I went from preparing for tests to preparing for conversations, listening to Wang Peng and Bai Ying Ai (Integrated Chinese, anyone?) to listening to my actual real-life conversations.
But, finding the best online course for Chinese wasn’t clearly identified. I had to sift through a number of courses that I would not recommend to others. So, I wanted to put together a list of my absolute, top 4 courses if you want to learn Chinese and for whom they are best fit for. Here we go!
Ah yes. Tests. For those that don’t know, to test one’s Chinese language proficiency, there is a test called the “HSK” test. Currently, there are a total of 6 HSK levels (there will be 9 in the future but that’s for another day) and, to give you an idea of what each level, HSK 1 is basically beginner, HSK 3/4 is getting to intermediate (can probably do everyday conversations with minimal issues) and HSK 5/6 are the advanced levels. For a more detailed breakdown, you can visit this site here.
Anyway, there are a range of reasons for someone to want to take an HSK test. Chinese colleges can require it for admission, workplaces may require a certain level if you work overseas (it can be a great thing to put on a resume, too), and some may just want to have the certificate in-hand to certify their current level.
Easy to Follow and Easy to Practice
Chinese Zero to Hero has done something special – they have broken down all of the HSK levels into courses that are easy to follow, easy to practice with, and easy to watch, which goes hand-in-hand with the most popular Standard HSK books. They have professionally-produced videos with strong audio, they break down all of the grammar concepts, they supply answer keys, and they even build flashcards decks with custom recordings so you can practice on-the-go. I mean, when an organization records custom audio for their flashcards for their course, you know they are going all-in on making studying for the HSK as streamlined as possible.
I am currently enrolled and working through the HSK 5 program and could not be more impressed. To walk you through what it looks like for me, they supply a nice intro video to the chapter with phrases I need to know which allows me to repeat after them and familiarize myself with the key terms/phrases, then I listen to the audio recording from the HSK textbook’s main text for that chapter, and then I listen to (and answer) the grammar points in the textbook while watching the corresponding video explanations supplied by Chinese Zero to Hero. It’s like clockwork and it’s magical.
Even better yet, they use the Teachable platform to host their course so I can download the lessons for offline viewing and listening which has been a great way for me to listen to recordings while on-the-go.
The Verdict for Chinese Zero to Hero
If your intention is to study for the HSK test or if you just want to work through a extremely well-structured Chinese program, then look no further. This is it. It has my full recommendation.
For what is known as the most difficult language in the world, YoYoChinese comes out strong with a big promise to teach it simply in plain English. And they absolutely nailed it. YoYoChinese lands itself as #1 on this list because they have put together a complete system that is well-defined and, most importantly, is effective.
A Collection of Useful Courses
I’ll be honest, I haven’t taken all of the courses that YoYoChinese offers (yet). I mean, they offer so many. From the basics of Chinese characters, to conversational courses, character reader courses, grammar tips, learning Chinese tips, and their relatively new initiative of posting regular YouTube/Facebook videos, they have a ton of content.
Though, I think it’s fair to say that their bread and butter currently is their conversational courses that promise authentic dialogues and learning materials that you will actually use. That’s right – you’re not preparing for a test here with Wang Peng and Bai Ying Ai (Integrated Chinese, anyone?). You’re preparing to make new friends, order food at a restaurant, and actually using the language in real-world situations.
YoYoChinese does so many things right. They have great presenters on camera, like Yangyang and the new hosts that have been presenting material recently, the videos are very high quality, the study materials are packaged in study-friendly ways, and the entire learning management system even has quizzes, flashcards, and more to help keep all your learning in one place. The pricing for the different courses is also very affordable and they also offer free access to a number of their lessons so you can see if they are a good fit for your learning style before you jump in.
The Verdict for YoYoChinese
For those who are absolute beginners, want to begin learning conversational Chinese, or need to add structure to their Chinese learning, I really can’t recommend YoYoChinese enough. I attribute much of my (relative) language-learning success to discovering them prior to visiting China for a second time. Without getting too mushy, I don’t think I would have been able to hold conversations with my Chinese family if I didn’t discover YoYoChinese. So, thank you Yangyang and the team – keep up the great work!
Before entering into the language-learning world, one company that I actually was aware of (besides Rosetta Stone) was Pimsleur. In short, they focus on teaching you a new language with daily, 30-minute audio recordings that you will listen to and interact with verbally. They do not recommend note-taking or multi-tasking even, but rather just giving it your full attention for the 30-minutes everyday for 30 days. By doing so, you will successfully complete an entire level of Pimsleur’s curriculum. Currently, there are 5 levels and I have completed the 5th level myself.
Progress in Just 30 Minutes
Pimsleur does a lot of things right with their model. The 30-minute lessons are a great way to make a commute feel more productive, the daily doses make me feel like I’m making progress and building Chinese-learning momentum, and the focus on audio sharpens one’s listening and pronunciation, since you do not have pinyin or characters to use a crutch with. When I was looking for a course to help change up my study schedule and break through my previous routine, this was a perfect solution.
Admittedly, the lessons can feel very long, even though they are just 30 minutes. You know how you go to the gym and do a 1-minute plank and time seems to freeze? Yeah, it’s sort of like that. Bluntly, it can be boring at times to listen to the entire recording. But, learning Chinese doesn’t have to be explosions and excitement every minute, and the results really do speak for themselves. Although difficult to measure and directly attribute, I did feel like I understood more than I could previously and did receive more compliments on my pronunciation after finishing the course.
The Verdict for Pimsleur Chinese
If you are looking for a change-up to your study routine, maybe you have a long commute that you would like to get more out of, or you want to elevate your listening and pronunciation, I highly recommend Pimsleur and believe it to be worth the investment. They offer free trials on their website and have even begun to expand to new areas of technology with a new mobile app and online interface. I haven’t looked too deep into it since I had already completed their materials prior to them being available, but they seem very promising and I feel confident for the future of Pimsleur and confident to recommend them to new learners.
ChinesePod is a little bit different from the rest on the list as it isn’t necessarily a “course” like the others. ChinesePod is essentially a podcast focused around Chinese, separated into different levels like Newbie, Elementary, Pre-Intermediate, Intermediate, Upper-Intermediate, and Advanced.
Learn Chinese in Short Episodes
ChinesePod’s strength, in my opinion, is that it is episodic in nature. In other words, the lesson you listen to doesn’t require you to have listened to a prior lesson. For the most part, as long as your Chinese is loosely within the right level category, you will be able to listen to and understand what the presenters are saying on that topic. They may talk about food, shopping, or even something like Game of Thrones. With each episode lasting ~20 minutes, it’s a nice way to make a drive more productive.
The Verdict for ChinesePod
ChinesePod is a great option if you are looking to for a fun way to mix up your Chinese learning. The episodes are long enough to keep your attention, the presenters are skilled at explaining the topics, and there is a massive library to listen to. And, so many episodes available for free, there’s no reason not to give them a try and add them to your study plan today.
There are so many online Chinese courses available. I hope you have some new ideas and some new avenues to explore when it comes to learning Chinese. I’ve personally tested and used all of these and believe they will truly help you on your journey. If there is a resource that is not listed here that you think is worthy of being on the hall of fame list, send me a message at firstname.lastname@example.org – I’m always on the lookout for more ways to learn Chinese.
Thank you for your time in reading and I hope that this was helpful to you! Happy learning!