According to Mill For Business, a company offering business solutions, about 380 new websites are created per minute.
And, as of January 2019, there were 1,518,297,412 websites in the entire world.
As for books, Forbes, the famous business magazine, tells us that approximately 600,000 to 1,000,000 books are published each year in the United States alone.
Needless to say, accessing information is easier than ever before.
All of this means that you can teach yourself a new skill, trade or language—even Mandarin Chinese—from anywhere.
But with so many resources out there, how are you ever supposed to decide on the best ones to use?
So, what’s the best way to approach learning it?
And which resources are actually worth your time and investment?
If you’re excited to start out on a brand new adventure to learn Chinese but have no clue where to start, listen up.
Here are the top 10 best resources to learn Chinese for beginners, as well as some useful tips and tricks to ensure that you start off on the right foot.
Tips to Learn Chinese for Beginners
Did you know that Chinese isn’t actually the most difficult language for English speakers to learn?
Even if you’re motivated enough to take on the challenge, you can rest easy knowing that it’s really not as intimidating as people make it out to be.
The grammar is relatively similar to English, there aren’t any verb conjugations and, heck, there aren’t even genders in Chinese!
In an article on the British Council’s site, Weicong Liang, a Chinese instructor and Teaching Supervisor at the Business Confucius Institute, University of Leeds, lists even more reasons why Chinese is actually fairly easy for English speakers to learn.
However, regardless of whether a language is considered easy or not, you’re going to need to know a few tricks of the trade to ensure the smoothest sailing possible.
Before getting into the best resources to use to learn Chinese, let’s talk about some simple tips that will be critical to your success.
Learn Pinyin First
(Estimated time: 30 minutes)
Pinyin is basically the Chinese alphabet in romanized letters. In other words, it’s the Chinese learner’s best friend.
Instead of using Chinese characters, pinyin uses the Latin script to spell out words so learners know how to pronounce them. For example:
我 (wǒ) — I/me
天空 (tiān kōng) — the sky
你好吗 (nǐ hǎo ma?) — How are you?
If you want to learn Chinese the easy way, learn the basics of pinyin before learning lots of vocabulary.
Decide to Learn Simplified or Traditional Characters (or Both!)
(Estimated time: 5 minutes)
Chinese has two writing systems: simplified and traditional characters. Traditional characters are used mainly in Taiwan and in various parts of China, while simplified characters are used in nearly all of China.
Before 1949, the traditional script was the only one used. However, once the Communist Party of China took over, they invented the simplified script in an attempt to revolutionize every aspect of the country.
Deciding which writing system to learn might sound like a frightening task. Which one is easiest? Which one is the most beneficial?
The answer boils down to this: Why do you want to learn Chinese?
If it’s because you want to go to China, learn simplified. If you want to go to Taiwan, learn traditional.
Or, you can do what I’m doing: Learn both!
When I first started learning Chinese, I stuck to simplified characters. Seven years later, I introduced traditional because I found most of the media I was watching (such as music videos) were from Taiwan, and I couldn’t read the characters.
If you want to learn both, perhaps learn around 100 characters in one script and then gradually introduce the next.
Introduce Characters into Your Learning Routine… Slowly
(Estimated time: 2 weeks)
It’s important to get a grasp on pinyin and some basic Chinese vocabulary before diving into characters.
Chinese characters might look like chicken scratch with no pattern at all, but trust me, there’s a method to the madness.
Characters consist of radicals, which place the word into a category. For example:
湖 (hú) — lake
游泳 (yóu yǒng) — to swim/swimming
海 (hǎi) — sea
All three of these words have the same radical: the three little dots on the far left-hand side. This radical is called 三点水 (sān diǎn shuǐ), which literally means “three drops water.” This radical puts these words into the “water” category.
There’s a logic behind Chinese characters, but it’s important to get a grip on the basics of the language before starting to learn them. After about two weeks, you can begin introducing characters to your Chinese learning journey.
Don’t Put All of Your Eggs in One Basket
(Estimated time: 10 minutes)
Put simply, you need more than one resource to learn Chinese effectively. You can’t rely on one course or textbook to take you from zero to hero.
While following a structured course is an essential step to learning Chinese, you need to have other materials reinforcing or occasionally adding to the information you’ve learned.
So, here’s what I want you to do with the list of 10 resources I’m about to give you: Pick several.
Diversify your resources.
Choosing a few good resources shouldn’t take much longer than 10 or 15 minutes.
Set a Budget
(Estimated time: 10-20 minutes)
News flash: Not all Chinese learning materials are free.
While it’s definitely possible to get started learning Chinese for free, it’s not going to last over the long run, especially when you’re ready to move beyond basic conversation topics.
Therefore, it’s important to set a budget.
People can easily spend way too much money on learning resources they’re not even going to use just because they’re advertised as $5/month.
It’s also important to set a realistic budget. If you’ve never learned a language before, you’re going to need to do some research to figure out what a decent price is for a good resource.
Divide Your Time Wisely
(Estimated time: 5 minutes)
Once you’ve gathered your resources, you’ll need to decide which ones you’re going to dedicate the most time to.
You only have 24 hours in a day, so to make the most out of the little time you have to spare, establish your priorities.
For example, if you’ve chosen to take an online course, you can dedicate 30 minutes a day to it. If you download an app, spend five minutes a day using it. If your third resource is a textbook to help you learn characters, spend 10 minutes a day studying it.
Set Daily or Weekly Goals
(Estimated time: 5 minutes)
Now that you have your priorities figured out and a good collection of resources on hand, set some goals for yourself.
This can be as simple as “I want to study Chinese for 30 minutes a day” or “I want to finish two chapters in my textbook each week.”
Setting goals is also a good way to select your resources, as resources should support, drive and help you achieve your goals.
Establish a Good Study Routine
(Estimated time: 1 week)
After about a week of using your resources and dividing your time wisely, you can get a basic idea of what works best for you.
Based on your first week, refine a solid study routine that makes you excited to learn the next day but also doesn’t wear you out.
Many learners get super motivated in the beginning and then suffer from burnout a few weeks later. Your study routine should prioritize balance.
Chinese for Beginners: 10 Fun Resources to Brighten Up Your Study Routine
You just learned how to create a roadmap for successful Chinese learning, even as a beginner.
Now, let’s dive into the fun part: what you’re going to use to get there.
Whether you prefer textbooks, online courses, apps or YouTube channels, these resources are great places to start!
Pimsleur is one of the most popular audio courses for language learning and has lessons in over 50 languages. Their Mandarin Chinese course contains five levels, each of which consists of 30 lessons.
The course takes you from beginner to a solid intermediate level, and each level can be completed in just 30 days.
Pimsleur courses are solely audio, which makes them convenient for learning while driving or doing chores around the house. Each lesson is approximately 30 minutes long and features a relevant dialogue at the beginning.
If you want to learn real-life Chinese, gain exposure to authentic Chinese culture and learn with fun videos, FluentU is the best option for you.
You can also customize your learning program with video and audio playlists, vocabulary lists and flashcard sets. Then, test your knowledge with fun quizzes.
Each lesson highlights new vocabulary and grammar, and there are a variety of topics for everyone, from absolute beginners to advanced learners.
If you like free video lessons, check out Mandarin Corner.
They’re one of the few Chinese learning resources you can use for absolutely free and still get high-quality learning. The video lessons are organized by subject, such as HSK, Conversation, Reading Practice, Stories in Slow Chinese and even vocabulary lists in video format.
Each lesson comes with a transcript and flashcards. Lessons are divided into three levels: beginner, lower intermediate and upper intermediate.
One of the most popular Chinese learning resources is ChineseClass101.com, and it’s easy to see why.
With over 1,490 audio and video lessons, tools and flashcards for learning new vocabulary, plus downloadable PDF lesson notes and an app, it’s hard to feel stuck or unmotivated.
They offer lessons in four levels—absolute beginner, beginner, intermediate and advanced—and each level comes with different “learning paths.” The learning paths tell you which lessons to complete in what order and are basically mini-courses within ChineseClass101.com.
If you upgrade to Premium Plus, you even get access to a personal tutor.
Everyone loves short videos with clear explanations. Yoyo Chinese strives to teach Chinese in plain English from an English speaker’s perspective, making their lessons extremely easy to digest.
They offer three conversational courses and three Chinese character courses for beginner, intermediate and upper-intermediate learners.
If you’re struggling with pinyin, Yoyo Chinese offers an incredible video-based pinyin chart that many learners find helpful.
“Reading and Writing Chinese”
When you’re ready to start learning Chinese characters, the “Reading and Writing Chinese” textbook is one of the best resources to start with.
The book contains over 2,000 characters and 4,500 vocabulary words, tips for memorization, a diagram for stroke order for each character and forms used in China, Singapore, Hong Kong and Taiwan.
If you’re a textbook person, the “Integrated Chinese” series is one of the best out there.
The Level 1 Part 1 book contains 20 lessons, learning objectives at the beginning of each lesson, review and reinforcement sections at the end of every five lessons, modern and relevant vocabulary words and engaging pictures and illustrations.
Thanks to its easy organization, “Integrated Chinese” makes creating study plans easy and lays out a clear learning path.
The ChineseFor.Us YouTube channel is a perfect place to start learning Chinese online for free.
On YouTube, their beginner series has 30 lessons and prepares learners for the HSK (Hanyu Shuiping Kaoshi) Level 1 test. The videos range from three to 10 minutes long and have a colorful, well-organized layout that makes it easy for learners to follow along.
You can also access their complete beginner Chinese course on their site. It consists of 40 lessons, 52 videos and 40 quizzes.
Want to learn Chinese with an app? LingoDeer is one of the most well-known apps for learning not only Chinese but also Korean, Japanese, Vietnamese and more.
LingoDeer boasts over 200 lessons, a well-developed curriculum for learning grammar easily and recordings of native speakers instead of robotic audio.
To ensure you remember everything you learn, LingoDeer also features a flashcard function, a “Target Trainings” feature that allows you to practice vocabulary and grammar questions you get wrong and downloadable “Knowledge Cards” that help you review key grammar points.
Another popular app for learning languages is Memrise.
You can use Memise completely free either online or on your phone. It uses spaced repetition to ensure the vocabulary you learn is put into your long-term memory, and the lessons are similar to fun flashcard sessions.
While there’s a large number of beginner Chinese courses on Memrise, the best one to start with is likely the Mandarin Chinese 1 course. It teaches vocabulary using pinyin and introduces simplified characters every few lessons.
If you want to take the HSK 1 test, you can also start with Memrise’s HSK Level 1 Introductory Mandarin course.
And there you have it—the top 10 best resources to learn Chinese for beginners! Pick a few of these resources, and you’ll be on your way to Mandarin mastery.
In combination with the practical tips, we know you’ll have many fun and effective learning sessions and a straightforward learning path. Happy learning!
Brooke Bagley is a freelance writer and passionate language learner. She’s learned Mandarin Chinese for seven years, Spanish for three and Indonesian for one. Aside from languages, Brooke runs her freelance writing business, Writing & Thriving, and specializes in B2B copywriting, content marketing and holistic health and wellness.
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn Chinese with real-world videos.