Champagne Chinese Lessons on a Beer Budget! 6 Affordable Mandarin MOOCs

There’s nothing like getting a sweet bargain.

Don’t you just want to brag to all your friends when you find that perfect trendy sweater for half off?

Can you ever resist slapping a coupon on the table when it’s time for the check?

Of course, the more valuable your purchase, the better your bargain.

And what’s more valuable to Chinese learners than expert-taught, university-level language courses?

You can get them affordably (sometimes even for free!) with Mandarin MOOCs.

MOOC sounds like a weird alien word, or maybe something a pissed off cow would yell—but it stands for Massive Open Online Course. It refers to an online course that anyone can sign up for, often provided by universities and other educational institutions.

They come with their own schedules and guidelines, but generally speaking, you’ll be communicating with professors and classmates just like you would in a regular online college course. We’ll show you six great options that Mandarin learners can start exploring today!

Be warned: MOOCs are intensive. If you’re looking for a more casual online Chinese course, then a MOOC may not be for you. These types of classes are ideal for beginner, intermediate or advanced Chinese learners who want to do some serious work to kick their language skills up a level.


The Benefits of Taking a Mandarin MOOC

  • Many of them are free or low-cost. MOOCs vary widely, but for the most part they tend to be less expensive than a traditional college course, especially from a university.
  • MOOCs are excellent alternatives to traditional college online classes. Because of the open nature of MOOCs, you usually don’t have to jump through hoops to be able to take the class. Rarely are application forms, placement tests or credit requirements ever needed to join a MOOC.
  • Because there are more students and teachers involved, tutoring and peer support are much more readily available. Say goodbye to being in the dark! Think of a MOOC as a more “communal” form of the typical online college course.
  • MOOCs are fun to take. Learn Chinese at every level towards travel-ready fluency while meeting networking connections and fellow Chinese learners? Sign me up.
  • There’s no pressure when it comes to grades or failing. Those who enroll in MOOCs generally do so for the knowledge. In this case, one would enroll in a MOOC for its reputation as a great tool for learning Chinese. If you want or need college credits, then maybe a traditional college course would be preferable (although some of the courses below do have academic credit options).

Bring the Classroom to You: The 6 Best MOOCs for Mandarin Learners

MandarinX: First Steps in Chinese

If you’re a beginner looking for a course that can help you build a strong foundation in Chinese, then this course is for you.

Any Chinese language learner knows that the first steps—from undoing what we know about language from a Western perspective to mastering tones—can be tough roadblocks to get over. This MOOC from MandarinX can give you the tools to learn all the basics the right way.

What’s taught:

  • How to figure out tones
  • The basics of 拼音 (pīn yīn) — Chinese romanization, and 汉字 (hàn zì) — the Chinese character alphabet.
  • Character-syllable relationship
  • The basics of sentence structure

If you enjoy this course, there’s plenty more where it came from! This class (and several mentioned below) is offered through EdX, a popular free MOOC resource where you can access courses from prestigious universities across the globe.

If you’re looking not only to learn but also to boost your resume or academic opportunities, EdX is a great place to find MOOCs that culminate in certificates or university credits. There are dozens of courses on Chinese language, culture or other subjects taught in Chinese.

Peking University: Intermediate Chinese Grammar

This 12-week course from Peking University is fantastic for intermediate and advanced learners to perfect their Chinese grammar. Students should already have a hefty stockpile of Chinese vocabulary and should be comfortable with course content delivered in Chinese.

What’s taught:

  • Complex Chinese grammar concepts
  • Syntax, semantics and pragmatics in Chinese
  • Ways to improve reading, writing, speaking and even translating with quickness and fluency

Shanghai Jiao Tong University: Chinese for Beginners

Shanghai Jiao Tong University is a revered school that offers in-depth MOOCs for learning Mandarin Chinese. Their beginner course is heavy on the details.

This five-week course focuses on getting you ready for basic real-life situations in Chinese. You can expect to learn 150 words by the end of the course, and can earn a certificate of completion. If you prefer to learn by example and want to focus on verbal proficiency in Chinese, then this MOOC may be worth checking out.

What’s taught:

  • 150 words
  • 20 language concepts
  • Real-life conversational tutoring

You’ll have access to lesson materials as soon as you enroll, but you’ll need to wait for the next formal class session (offered regularly) to take advantage of teacher support and peer reviews.

This course is offered through another well-known MOOC platform called Coursera.

What’s great about Coursera are the virtual classroom tools like interactive textbooks, subtitles in dozens of languages and more. Coursera classes, which are provided by major educational institutions, are also easily accessible on mobile devices so you can truly learn anywhere. There are a number of Chinese courses for beginners, HSK prep and more.

Tsinghua University: Start Talking with 1.3 Billion People

Another fantastic self-paced course in Chinese would definitely be this introductory language course from Tsinghua University.

This class is split into themes including dialogue, Chinese characters, listening comprehension, music and a nice wrap-up section called Tea Time. It’s especially designed for students interested in learning Mandarin for business or academic purposes.

What’s taught:

  • Colloquial Chinese vocabulary
  • Practical Mandarin expressions with context
  • Listening skills for added fluency
  • Some basic Chinese characters
  • Resources for following this course alone

As we mentioned, this course is self-paced so you can enroll at any time. Oh, did we mention that it’s free as well? You can add a certificate of completion for a $49 fee if you please.

World Mentoring Academy: Mandarin Chinese

Don’t be put off by the World Mentoring Academy website, which frankly looks a bit fishy at first glance. In reality, this MOOC collective offers inexpensive or free courses for those planning on going to college to help round out their skills beforehand. Additionally, this particular course is recommended for diplomats or government employees that travel to Mandarin-speaking countries.

New York University’s School of Professional Studies accepts this course in the form of credits, but other universities may not. Google+ Hangouts are used for student-teacher interactions.

What’s taught:

  • Formal and informal speaking
  • Mandarin Chinese basics of writing, reading and speaking
  • College credit prep resources
  • Vocabulary
  • Info on life in China

World Mentoring Academy: Mandarin Chinese MIT

So what’s the difference between the regular World Mentoring Academy Mandarin Chinese course and the MIT variety?

This course is a bit more intensive and condenses the four-semester pace of a typical two-year college program. This course is meant to get beginners up to an HSK 3 level of speaking, understanding, reading and writing in Chinese.

There are also various cultural learning sections and a crash course on how to properly (and quickly) learn a language.

What’s taught:

  • Basics of reading, writing and speaking in Mandarin Chinese at a high-speed level
  • Chinese culture and history


How cool are MOOCs? If you’re passionate about learning functional Chinese and don’t really care about getting a piece of paper that says you did it, MOOCs can be a great option. Plus, they’re steadily growing and expanding. What do you have to lose?

Emily Casalena is a published author, freelance writer and music columnist. She writes about a lot of stuff, from music to films to language.

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