Rent. Student loan payments. Car repairs.
We all have financial responsibilities that can stress us out and stretch us thin.
Learning Chinese doesn’t have to be just one more financial commitment.
Learn Chinese for free and receive a high-quality education… on your own terms.
I know we often equate higher costs with higher quality.
But here’s the thing: You can learn Chinese for free without compromising on quality.
Don’t believe me?
Check out these seven ways to learn Chinese for free courtesy of our good old friend, the internet.
What you’ll get: Free Chinese lessons
Website | iOS | Android
Not only is Duolingo more affordable than a Chinese course at your local college, but it’s more entertaining too!
Duolingo teaches Chinese through gamification. By memorizing vocabulary and answering quiz questions correctly, you earn points to unlock new categories and reach new levels.
This app focuses exclusively on vocabulary, and it divides words up by topics like school, work and food. It’s fantastic if your main goal is memorizing vocab and characters. But if you want to focus on skills like listening comprehension and speaking, I’d recommend downloading one or two more apps to accompany Duolingo.
What you’ll get: Free Chinese character writing practice
Website | iOS | Android
Writing is an important skill when you’re learning any language, but especially with Chinese.
Unlike romance languages, Chinese involves learning characters. Recognizing characters can be tricky enough, but learning to write them (and the correct stroke order) is a whole other ball game.
Skritter’s main goal is helping learners learn to write Chinese characters… and write them correctly. It’s basically like having a writing coach in the palm of your hand.
You can try Skritter out on the website for free, and the app is also free to download. If you do decide that you want to use Skritter long-term, you can sign up for a membership.
What you’ll get: Free Chinese videos
Talk about a powerful free learning tool. Your options with YouTube are practically endless! You’ll find dozens of quality channels for people who want to learn Chinese for free.
Watching YouTube videos is a great way to improve your listening skills. Many channels also teach you about Chinese culture, which is a crucial but underrated part of learning a language.
Not sure where to start? Meet some of my favorite Chinese teachers and vloggers!
Lost in Translation
This channel is geared toward Chinese-language students and Chinese-American people. It’s fun to watch Chinese-American participants interact with the language and culture.
For example, watch American-born Chinese people (ABCs) call their parents in “ABCs Call Their Parents in Chinese for the First Time.” (They’re terrified, and it’s hilarious!)
The videos are entertaining and lighthearted. The perfect example of their style is the video “North Americans React to Chinese Movies.”
Lost in Translation videos are in a combination of English and Chinese, and the creators provide both English and Mandarin subtitles for everything. That makes this the perfect channel for beginners!
Krysti Naaa is your typical cool, pretty YouTube vlogger.
One of the most addictive genres on YouTube is the makeup tutorial. That’s Krysti’s specialty, so if you’re obsessed with creating the perfect smokey eye, you’ll like Krysti. She also produces funny videos on topics I never would have thought of, like reviewing Costco foods.
Krysti’s videos are probably best for advanced learners. She speaks quickly and doesn’t provide subtitles. She also uses specialized vocab related to food, makeup, weight loss and appearance. They’re also fairly long at over 20 minutes each.
Oh man, Mamahuhu is a hilarious channel! Follow a multicultural group of friends who live in China and provide commentary on the culture.
Mamahuhu videos are mostly in English, and when people do talk in Chinese, they provide English subtitles. That makes the channel great for beginner learners. However, intermediate and advanced learners still might like the show because you learn a lot about Chinese culture.
Want to learn about Chinese customs? Watch “All About Chinese New Year.”
How about things that are becoming popular in China? Try “We Rented a Fake Chinese Dad.” (Yes, you can rent a parent!)
The group provides hilarious insights into everyday life in China. Learning about culture has never been so enjoyable.
What you’ll get: Free Chinese movies
Finally, a way to watch Chinese movies that’s truly free! You don’t have to pay to watch movies on AsianCrush, and you can watch films from all over Asia.
Looking for a movie that’s a bit more serious than the ones I’ve covered? You might like “The Jade Pendant,” a movie about a young woman who flees China to get out of an arranged marriage. But when she lands in America, her life takes a turn for the worse.
Looking for a dramatic watch that’s not so dark? Watch “Switch of Fate,” a TV show about two women who were switched as babies—and the switch had some pretty huge consequences.
What you’ll get: Free Chinese music
There are numerous reasons to listen to Chinese songs! First of all, who doesn’t love music? Secondly, it’s definitely one of the more entertaining ways to learn. Thirdly, learning through songs can really push you because a sentence can sound completely different when it’s sung than when it’s spoken.
If you don’t already have a Spotify account, you can create one for free as long as you don’t mind the occasional advertisement.
You may choose to create your own Spotify playlist with whichever songs you like. But if that sounds like too much work, there are some great pre-made Chinese language playlists.
The “Top Chinese Songs 2020” playlist features 46 well-known Chinese songs by famous artists, making up three-and-a-half hours of listening content. “Chinese Songs Top 100” actually features over 100 songs for six hours of content. You’ll definitely never be bored!
Want a little help following along? KKBOX is a fantastic tool for finding lyrics to Chinese songs. Copy and paste the Chinese title into the search bar, and KKBOX will bring up the song lyrics. You have the option to translate them into English, which is super helpful for beginners.
6. Arch Chinese
What you’ll get: Free Chinese exercises
This is a freemium Chinese learning site with a bunch of good resources, even for non-premium users.
I particularly appreciate their free Hanzi Grids and the Mandarin Chinese Tone Drill game.
As a beginner Chinese student, nothing was more difficult for me to grasp than tones. After a few weeks, I could finally identify which tones my teacher was using when reading texts aloud. But if we went off script, I had no idea.
I wish I had known about the Mandarin Chinese Tone Drill then.
I know, I know, nothing with the word “drill” sounds like a game. But the activity is actually pretty enjoyable!
This game randomly selects Chinese words and has you identify which tones it’s using. Beginners can start with single-syllable words, and as they grow more confident, move onto multi-syllable words.
What you’ll get: Free Chinese games
This is an incredibly fun website (and app) that totally gamifies your Chinese practice, created by Olle from Hacking Chinese.
To get a taste of this site, check out my favorite game: The Magistrate’s Gallery
This upper-intermediate game is definitely unique. It’s a mystery storytelling game!
In The Magistrate’s Gallery, you’re an artist who has to save a woman who’s trapped inside a painting. You jump into painting after painting, hearing stories from the characters who live in them. Their stories will lead you to the lost woman.
The game involves 691 Chinese characters, so you’ll definitely be learning some new vocab along the way.
What you’ll get: Free Chinese courses
Have you heard of edX?
This edX offshoot provides several free Chinese courses. You can audit the courses for free or pay a fee if you want to receive a certificate. Courses are self-paced, so you can easily fit them into your schedule.
Here’s the list of free edX Mandarin courses:
- Mandarin Chinese, Levels 1-3
- Mandarin Chinese Essentials
- Mandarin Chinese for Business
There’s also a Mandarin for Business professional certification program, but you’ll have to pay several hundred dollars for this course.
What you’ll get: Free Chinese courses
Coursera is a platform that connects students to university courses all over the world. They offer tons of free courses taught by top instructors from prestigious academic institutions. You can audit classes, enroll in specializations, earn professional certificates or even work towards an online degree.
Coursera offers a lot of free Chinese courses through Peking University and Shanghai Jiao Tong University. (If you’re a beginner, I recommend starting with Chinese for Beginners.)
On Coursera, you’ll find courses for beginner, intermediate and advanced students. You can also enroll in classes targeted toward specific HSK levels or take ones that focus on Chinese characters.
Like edX, these courses are fairly flexible. Assignments do have set deadlines, but if they don’t work with your schedule, you can request to have them moved.
What you’ll get: Free Chinese language exchange (local)
Chinese language tutors can be great, but you also have to pay for them. A fantastic alternative is pairing up with a language partner.
Typically, language partners are people who want to learn each other’s language. You could pair up with a Chinese person learning English, and you’d spend 30 minutes speaking in Chinese, then 30 minutes talking in English.
You could also find another English speaker who’s studying Chinese and meet to practice together.
In both cases, it’s helpful to find someone whose language skills are about as far along as yours. If your language exchange partner is Chinese, you don’t want to talk about American literature for 30 minutes if your Chinese conversation is going to be limited to your favorite pets and types of food. And, if your fellow Chinese-language learner is advanced but you’re a beginner, one or both of you is going to be disappointed.
So, where can you find a language exchange partner? Try creating a free Meetup account for your city. There may be a Meetup group for language exchange partners or for people studying Chinese. And if there isn’t one yet, create one yourself and wait for people to join! If you build it, they will come.
What you’ll get: Free Chinese language exchange (online)
Striking out when it comes to finding someone to meet with in-person? That’s what your computer is for! Check out MyLanguageExchange.com.
On this site, you can search for a partner who speaks Mandarin and is looking for someone to speak English with them. Everyone creates a profile, so hopefully you can find someone you really click with.
You also might be able to find a Facebook group dedicated to Chinese-to-English language exchanges, especially if you live in a big city.
You’ve got your free resources.
You can tuck your wallet back into your pocket, safe and sound.
Now there’s nothing stopping you from learning Chinese!
Laura Grace Tarpley is a freelance writer based in Nashville. You can find her work at outlets such as Business Insider, Roads & Kingdoms and The Write Life. Follow her on Twitter @lgtarpley.
And One More Thing...
If you want to continue learning Chinese with interactive and authentic Chinese content, then you'll love FluentU.
FluentU naturally eases you into learning Chinese language. Native Chinese content comes within reach, and you'll learn Chinese as it's spoken in real life.
FluentU has a wide range of contemporary videos—like dramas, TV shows, commercials and music videos.
FluentU brings these native Chinese videos within reach via interactive captions. You can tap on any word to instantly look it up. All words have carefully written definitions and examples that will help you understand how a word is used. Tap to add words you'd like to review to a vocab list.
FluentU's Learn Mode turns every video into a language learning lesson. You can always swipe left or right to see more examples for the word you're learning.
The best part is that FluentU always keeps track of your vocabulary. It customizes quizzes to focus on areas that need attention and reminds you when it’s time to review what you’ve learned. You have a 100% personalized experience.
Start using FluentU on the website with your computer or tablet or, better yet, download the FluentU app from the iTunes or Google Play store.
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn Chinese with real-world videos.