We can’t deny that studying abroad is a life-changing experience.
If you can travel to China or Taiwan to immerse yourself in the Chinese language, you should go for it!
However, not every Chinese language student has the time or money to go overseas.
And you shouldn’t feel like you have to travel abroad to learn Chinese. In fact, there are a multitude of ways to become fluent in Mandarin without even leaving your house.
You may be wondering, “Where can I learn Chinese without flying overseas?”
What Are the Benefits of Taking a Chinese Class Without Traveling Abroad?
- Local classes are much cheaper. Traveling abroad provides a unique, immersive experience. But this experience isn’t totally necessary for learning a new language. You can save quite a bit of money by learning Chinese from home or close to it.
- You have the benefit of a licensed, experienced teacher on hand to give you personalized attention. You can certainly get this when you travel abroad to learn Chinese, but many immersive study courses contain a massive amount of students all vying for their instructor’s attention. Online classes and local classes are typically one-on-one or just smaller in size.
- Online classes are extremely convenient. Learning anything online is super easy. You just have to roll out of bed and walk to your computer. You don’t even have to change out of your pajamas!
Where Can I Learn Chinese? 8 Affordable, Convenient Places to Become Fluent
1. Try Coursera’s online Mandarin courses.
Coursera is a handy website for learning anything, not just Mandarin. But if you’re trying to learn Mandarin from home, it’s one of the best resources out there for finding online Chinese classes.
Universities in China and Taiwan use Coursera to post classes they offer online. While each course costs money, you can apply for financial aid to help cover the costs.
We suggest trying out one of these popular courses:
- Chinese for Beginners – This course from Peking University tackles all the beginner concepts, from basic grammar to tones to vocabulary words.
- Mandarin Chinese for Intermediate Learners: Part 1 – Are you stuck in the weird limbo of being neither a beginner Chinese speaker nor an advanced one? This course from Shanghai Jiao Tong University is for you.
- Learn Chinese: HSK Test Preparation Specialization – If you want to pass the HSK (Chinese Proficiency Test) for levels one, two or three, this Peking University course will help you ace it.
2. Look up your city’s local Chinese cultural center.
In numerous cities around the world with a substantial Chinese or Taiwanese immigrant population, you’ll find a Chinese cultural center.
A Chinese cultural center is a place where you can sign up for cultural events and classes. Typically, these centers have restaurants, places to shop and services for Chinese speakers who don’t know much English, plus tons more.
Most Chinese cultural centers offer a class that teaches Mandarin for free or at least for a very low cost. Your local Chinese cultural center isn’t guaranteed to have language classes available, but it’s certainly worth looking into.
3. Search your local community college’s Chinese courses.
Just about every city in the United States has a designated community college. A community college is essentially a substantially less-expensive university, and you can easily apply for financial aid to cover the costs. Community colleges are great for getting the full class experience—complete with peers and one-on-one attention from your teacher—but at a substantially cheaper price.
Not every community college offers Chinese courses, but because Chinese is such a widely-spoken language, a lot of them do.
Unfortunately, community colleges only offer associates degrees at most. If you want to transfer to a four-year university to major in Chinese, you can certainly do that.
4. Watch Chinese videos with FluentU.
Like learning Chinese with music and fun videos? Then you’ll love FluentU!
Each video has annotated subtitles 拼音 (pīn yīn) — Chinese romanization, 汉字 (hàn zì) — Chinese characters and English translations, so you get to follow along with the dialogue and work on your reading and listening skills. If you come across a character or word that eludes you, clicking on it will take you to a more in-depth definition page.
FluentU also offers progress-tracking tools and video suggestions based on what you’ve already watched. It even creates personalized quizzes. This means your experience will be 100% unique!
While FluentU isn’t exactly a traditional course for learning Mandarin, it’s certainly a useful tool to use if you prefer to learn languages in a hands-on way rather than by sitting in a lecture hall.
5. Use Thumbtack to find Chinese tutors near you.
If you haven’t heard of Thumbtack, you definitely need to check it out!
Thumbtack is an online service that connects learners with professionals who get jobs done for them. There are plenty of Chinese tutors and teachers Thumbtack can connect you with.
With Thumbtack, you’ll receive a price estimate (usually per hour) for lessons, as well as ratings and reviews from previous customers. Many Mandarin tutors offer to teach you Chinese in your home so you don’t have to go to them. It’s definitely convenient!
6. Use Yelp to find group classes near you.
When all else fails, try Yelp!
Yelp can help you find resources to learn Chinese that you would’ve missed otherwise. You’d be surprised at how many hole-in-the-wall places offer language classes in any given city. Plus, you can check out ratings and reviews of different places to help you find a reputable Mandarin teacher.
7. Use language apps for convenient, slow-paced learning.
As great as FluentU is, it’s not the only language-learning app out there! Language apps are definitely taking over the language-learning industry, and many of them are totally free to use.
Here are a few of our favorites:
- Duolingo (Android/iPhone) – This free language application has been making waves for its simple interface, self-pacing feature and pleasant visuals.
- Busuu (Android/iPhone) – Similar in form to Duolingo, you get a more substantial Chinese education but for a higher price.
- HelloTalk (Android/iPhone) – Connect with other Chinese speakers for the purpose of language exchange in simple, SMS-style chat rooms.
- Hanping Chinese Lite (Android) – This has to be one of the best app-based English-Chinese dictionaries out there.
8. Look up language exchange groups near you via Facebook.
The best way to become fluent in a language is to talk with people in that specific language. Some Facebook communities use language exchange groups to connect a speaker in one language with a speaker of another language so they can become language exchange partners. Plus, you get to make a new friend!
To find relevant groups, you can try searching for keywords such as “Chinese language exchange,” “language exchange” or “language swap.” Click the “Group” section under your search to look exclusively at groups.
Why spend a ton of money on traveling abroad to learn a new language? Mastering Mandarin just got a whole lot easier.
Em Casalena is a published author, freelance writer and music columnist who writes about a lot of stuff, from music to films to language.
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn Chinese with real-world videos.