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!
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.
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.
With this recommendation, I felt it was a great opportunity to address a question you may be wondering in your head – are online courses superior to offline courses? If you had the option to take a class locally or online, which should you choose?
Prepare yourself for a total cop out answer. It depends.
Online or Offline Chinese Courses?
To explain my opinion, let’s take a quick peek at how I learned Chinese. I started off taking in-person classes at college. After two years of classes, I went to China and studied for about a month in Beijing at an intensive institute. I was enrolled in YoYoChinese courses after about my first year of college classes and was also meeting with online tutors on and off for years after graduating from college and finishing up at the intensive language school.
So, which was the best? Well, they all were the best. Let me explain.
I see Chinese classes similar to a workout program, with the most important characteristic of both being adherence, e.g., staying committed to doing it. At the beginning, I don’t think I would have “fallen in love” with learning Chinese if it weren’t for my amazing Chinese teacher at college (thanks Zhang Laoshi!), I don’t think I would have kept learning Chinese after I graduated from my college classes without YoYoChinese, and I don’t think I would have stuck with it this long if I didn’t have different avenues I could experiment with and learn Chinese with, like Pimsleur. They all served a particular purpose and helped me keep the language grind up.
I really think it comes down to knowing yourself. There are thousands of people that have seen success with in-person classes, online classes, and even studying completely on their own. Chinese learning is a sort of “choose your own adventure” game and it may be most valuable to start by asking yourself, “which one will I actually start” and then “which one will I actually keep doing”? If any of the recommended resources checks those boxes for you, then start there and you can also switch later. In fact, I have found that a blend of these courses has been helpful in learning different aspects of Chinese, if not solidifying concepts I may not have learned deeply enough the first time.
So, What’s GoEast?
Okay, with that explanation out of the way, what exactly is GoEast? Well, it’s not quite an online course, but it is an online offering that is something I wish I personally had known about earlier (and I think is the right solution for me in my current language level). In short, GoEast is an online (and also in-person) online Mandarin school that connects you with a professional teacher that guides you through a custom curriculum based on your needs. From business Chinese, HSK prep, beginner Chinese, free group classes, and more, they are a great option for someone that needs the interaction between a real instructor for their learning.
You may be wondering (and I wondered the same thing when I first signed up) – what is the difference between GoEast and a service like iTalki that connects you to professional teachers/tutors? As a past user of iTalki (I loved using iTalki) and a current student of GoEast (I also love using GoEast), the main difference for me is that GoEast teachers are top-tier and they have curriculum that they can guide you through, whereas on GoEast you (typically) have to be more proactive in letting your teacher/tutor know what you want to cover. That isn’t to say that you don’t have a say on what you cover on the lessons for GoEast, but it is more similar to a class that has been well-organized and structured based on your needs.
In my case, I wanted to learn business Chinese, but couldn’t find an online course on the topic, so I reached out to GoEast to get a custom plan that would prepare me for a business trip to China. I was impressed with how prepared my teacher was to class. She was extremely friendly, made me feel very comfortable to speak Chinese in front of her, and was supportive and very focused on helping me reach my language-learning goals.
The Verdict for GoEast
If you are someone who learns better getting personalized, 1-on-1 instruction, then look no further than GoEast. I have been working with them for less than half a year (and am currently still an online student with them) and highly recommend them.
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!