Starting anything new is overwhelming.
Taking on a new job? The anxiety for the first few shifts is paralyzing.
Going to the gym every morning? You’ll probably hit snooze more often than you’d care to admit.
Learning a new language? You probably don’t even know where to start. You may think it’s just too hard.
While all these anxieties are valid, they all have one thing in common: They’re all in your head. Doubts are natural, and needing a period to adjust to a new commitment is very common.
If you’re brand-spankin’ new to learning Chinese, we wouldn’t be surprised if you had no clue where to start. Most of us, even the borderline-fluent speakers, were all scratching our heads during our first lesson. It’s normal, and you’re not alone!
To make things a bit easier on you, we’ve put together a list of 10 fantastic online resources for beginners to use for learning Mandarin. Check them out!
10 Top Tools to Learn How to Speak Mandarin Chinese for Beginners
We’ve split this list up into two sections.
The first section will cover great online resources that include courses, lessons and classes. The second section will include supplementary resources or tools you can use to practice outside of your regular lessons.
Chinese Courses and Lessons for Beginners
Studying from a textbook can be good, but using more authentic resources will definitely give you a leg up. FluentU takes real-world videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized Chinese language learning lessons.
Videos are conveniently organized into lessons, so you can easily work towards a particular objective, topic or skill. FluentU’s enhanced video player comes with interactive captions: Click any word for an instant definition and native pronunciation. Each video also comes with flashcards and exercises to help you remember the words even after you’ve finished watching.
FluentU’s lessons grow with you: Personalized quizzes take into account what you’ve already learned and test you on areas you haven’t mastered yet. This means each user’s experience is 100% personalized!
Just be sure to select “beginner” when searching through our Chinese section.
You’ve probably heard of Duolingo at some point. It seems like everyone’s using it nowadays, and it certainly makes sense why.
This totally free app for iOS and Android devices packs a punch at teaching newbies Mandarin Chinese (as well as many other languages) through compact, comprehensive lessons.
Duolingo teaches you how to read, speak and listen to Mandarin in as little as a few minutes per day. This is definitely an attractive and unique aspect of Duolingo—you can plan how often and for how long you actually want to learn Chinese each day. If you’re super busy and don’t think learning a new language is possible with your limited schedule, give Duolingo a try!
Shanghai Jiao Tong University’s Mandarin Chinese 1
Coursera has a ton of great Chinese courses available, but this specific course for beginners from the reputable Shanghai Jiao Tong University takes the cake. If you really enjoy traditional courses but would rather study online instead, you’re in luck.
This course utilizes video lectures, plays, interactive lessons and cultural insights to teach beginners everything they’ll need to know about Mandarin Chinese. Expect to learn 150 words (both spoken and written) and 20 language points during class time. There are no prerequisites to apply, and the course lasts approximately five weeks.
Tuition costs come directly from the Coursera membership, which is approximately $50 per month. You can cancel anytime, and once you graduate, you will receive a certificate of completion. Financial aid is also available for those who qualify.
Fluent in 3 Months
The phrase “fluent in three months” may have you rolling your eyes. Yeah, right, sure I can learn a complicated language like Chinese in three months!
Believe it or not, it is indeed possible. Just be prepared to work very hard in those three months.
Fluent in 3 Months is an online course that focuses on “language hacking” or using tips, tricks and shortcuts to learn Chinese quickly. You can expect to find language challenges, interactive lessons and a language journal for you to use during the course. The premium course costs a flat tuition fee of $97.
Innovative Language Chinese
Innovative Language is quite the powerhouse website for Chinese language resources. Here you’ll find courses, lessons, Kindle books, apps, audiobooks and much more. We’re going to focus on Innovative Language’s courses in this section.
You can try out their free Chinese online course to get a feel for how Innovative Language facilitates their lessons. If you’re a fan, you can purchase their full premium course version for $25 per month. This course includes weekly audio lessons, an “absolute beginner” option, PDF lessons notes, transcripts, mini-lessons, 2,000-word lists and much more! If you like bells and whistles, this is the course to check out.
Another great part of Innovative Language is their wonderful community of learners, whom you can interact with via the site’s forums. Learning a new language alone, especially as a newbie, can be tough! This community will make you feel a little less alone.
If you’re a beginner looking to focus more on written Chinese, this awesome app from Skritter is worth looking into.
This lesson-based app is available for all smartphone and tablet devices. It utilizes handwriting recognition, smart flashcards and efficient reviewing to really help you get the hang of 拼音 (pīn yīn) — Chinese romanization and 汉字 (hàn zì) — Chinese characters.
You also gain access to hundreds of textbooks and flashcards from other users to use during study time. This app is designed with all levels of learners in mind, from the total newbie to the near-fluent learner looking to brush up on their stroke order. You’ll also receive personal progress stats as you learn and access to a support network.
There are plenty of payment plans available, as well, starting at $14.99 for one month. Each payment plan offers a seven-day free trial, so you won’t risk too much!
Supplementary Chinese Resources for Beginners
Chinese Language Subreddit
This subreddit forum is incredibly handy for new people to peruse. Not only is the community funny and inviting, but the resources available in the sidebar for beginners are super useful.
If you hit a roadblock in your language-learning journey and have a question, just post it on Chinese Language. You’ll definitely get some constructive replies!
This may seem like a weird addition.
Most seasoned Chinese learners will tell you that Google Translate is unreliable and often incorrect in its translations.
While this is true in some instances, there’s an element to the Google Translate app that’s very handy to have on hand: the “scan” feature.
This tool allows users to take a picture or video of a block of Chinese text and translate it in real time. While the translation may not be incredibly accurate, it does have its benefits. If you’re a beginner who will be traveling abroad to a Mandarin-speaking country, this app can help you travel, purchase food and do other things while you work on improving your Mandarin. Plus, it’s free!
Semanda Beginner Flashcards
Remember how useful flashcards were when we were kids? They helped us memorize everything from multiplication to spelling to dates for our big history tests.
In reality, there’s nothing childish about them—flashcards really work at helping people learn language vocabulary!
This resource from Semanda can help you associate Chinese characters with pinyin, English and visual depictions of words. Choose from a ton of subjects, including countries, food, numbers and more. If you’d like, you can even print them for on-the-go use for absolutely free.
Pleco Chinese Dictionary App
If you only choose one tool from this section of supplemental resources, let it be this one! No novice learner should be without a good Chinese-English dictionary. Luckily, this one from Pleco is available for just about any device.
Like the Google Translate app, you can scan words through your camera and look up their translations. This app also features a document reader, handwriting look-up feature, multiple dictionaries, audio pronunciation and flashcards. Plus, it’s impressively speedy!
The internet has countless awesome resources for learning just about everything. And it definitely doesn’t disappoint when it comes to options for learning how to speak Chinese for beginners.
We hope this list of ultra-useful tools can be part of your permanent study plan, even when you’ve graduated from novice to intermediate Chinese learner!
Em Casalena is a published author, freelance writer and music columnist. They write 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.