So you have made the decision to start learning Chinese.
Or maybe you just decided to take your Mandarin abilities to the next level.
Either way, you need some serious Chinese lessons to reach your full potential!
But don’t rush out and sink hundreds—if not thousands—of dollars into expensive private courses.
There’s a much better way: online Chinese language lessons.
Across the internet there’s a vast number of sites dedicated to teaching Chinese to anybody who wants to learn. What’s more, almost all of them are incredibly affordable, if not completely free!
4 Free Online Chinese Lessons and Other Resources That’ll Make Learning a Breeze
What to Look for In Online Chinese Lessons
Of course, while there are indeed a huge number of Chinese lessons available online on myriad different sites, not all are created equal.
Quality can vary significantly between the sites, with some offering a huge amount of rich and well-thought-out content and others featuring somewhat rudimentary site designs and very restricted lesson options.
Look for breadth and depth in lessons
The first thing to look out for when choosing a site to begin learning on is the number of lessons which it has available. There’s little point in starting with a site that only has enough lessons to get you past a beginner level, as you’ll quickly run out of material and be forced to chose another new site. Therefore, the best lesson sites to use are those that have a wide range of lessons, starting from the beginning and ending in quite advanced territory.
Another thing to look for is the breadth of content these sites are teaching. While some keep strictly to vocab lists based on the HSK test, better sites have a wider range of lessons. These lessons include words and sentence patterns that may only be used in specific circumstances, but nonetheless are very useful to know.
Multimedia is the best indicator of quality Chinese lessons
One very easy way to judge the quality of a Chinese learning site is whether it has its own multimedia content.
Whether it be audio or video accompaniments, these features take a lot more time to make than standard text lessons. As such, they indicate that much more time has been put into producing an effective learning program. Furthermore, such content is integral for improving your spoken Chinese and your listening ability. Knowing this, you should at least consider audio to be a minimum, must-have feature when choosing which site to use.
Sites to avoid
In terms of things you want to avoid when looking through online lessons, you’ll need to identify which sites are poor quality and which exist to simply scam you out of your money. Most sites which make amazing promises like “learn Chinese in just 1 month!” are generally sites with poor content that have to rely on claims like this to pull you in.
Tips for Learning Chinese with Online Lessons
Just because it’s online, doesn’t mean you can avoid written work
One of the biggest mistakes that people make when learning any language online is thinking that all of their learning should be done on the computer. Of course, this simply doesn’t work. In order to recall everything you learn online for more than just a few hours, you need to go back to old-school techniques.
Yes, that means the good old pen and paper. While it might not seem like fun (and well, it often isn’t) actually writing things down is a very effective way of getting things to stick in your long-term memory. Vocabulary, new sentence patterns, grammar rules and tones are all things which you should be writing down as soon as you come across them—and, of course, if you don’t remember them the first time, write them down again!
Keep to a schedule and always test yourself
The biggest disadvantage which a learner faces when they’re studying Chinese lessons online is that they lack structure and imposed discipline. This means that there’s no teacher or classmate there to keep things moving at a constant pace, and there are no mandatory tests forcing you to study up. As a result, it’s very easy for your learning to stagnate.
For this reason, self-discipline is critical when learning Chinese online. A learner should set a fixed schedule whereby they finish a set number of lessons or units per week, and then keep to this schedule no matter how busy they are. Furthermore, it’s also a very good idea for learners to continuously test themselves on their Chinese to make sure that they’re retaining their knowledge and keeping up with the course material. Many sites make this aspect easy, by providing learners with pre-made tests.
Compliment your learning with apps and online resources
As good as many online Chinese lessons are, there’s no one site or online course which can satisfy all of your Chinese learning needs.
With this in mind, it’s a very good idea for learners to compliment their online study with a wider range of freely-available apps and online resources. From dictionaries to flashcards and even video sites, there are a huge number of these resources just waiting for you to pick them up and use. Some of the best include:
This app is freely available for Android and iOS smartphones and is one of the best Chinese dictionaries on the market. It’s very simple to use, and words can be entered in a number of ways. Pleco also features useful audio, allowing you to hear the pronunciation of the word you have looked up.
Flashcards are nothing new to Chinese learners, but this program is probably the most effective out there. It makes use of the spaced repetition effect to help users rapidly learn a large number of Chinese characters. A user can easily search for premade HSK decks to review characters at their current learning level.
While many online lesson sites have their own AV material, once this is exhausted there’s no better place to go than Youku, China’s answer to YouTube. Full of Chinese videos, a learner can easily find something interesting to watch and learn Chinese in a more entertaining and fun way.
The 5 Best Sites Online for Amazing Chinese Lessons
Rather than spending hours, if not days, trying to find out which Chinese lessons online suit you the best, check out these recommendations which we believe are the best out there!
On the topic of state broadcasters, British network BBC also has a superb program of Chinese lessons available online. Their lessons, which are mainly based around text and video combinations, are arranged in an easily-accessible, long-term lesson plan, supplemented with the broadcaster’s own Chinese language news content. In addition, BBC also has built a fun game to help learners master the 5 tones of Mandarin Chinese.
FluentU takes authentic videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons.
Here, you’ll find video content to suit any skill level, learning style and personal interest. You can choose to learn with Disney movie clips, wildlife documentaries, theatrical trailers for “The Hunger Games,” music videos, street interviews and much, much more.
Each video comes with interactive subtitles to help users thoroughly learn new Chinese language, as well as gamified lessons based on the video’s language content. Learn mode provides active learning tools to practice and reinforce newly-learned Chinese, such as multimedia flashcards and running vocabulary lists.
The videos themselves cover the entire range of Chinese skill levels, ranging from raw beginner all the way up to highly advanced and fluent learners looking to maintain their skills. With FluentU you can be sure that you’ll have great, authentic material to keep you going through every step of the learning process!
You’re welcome to try FluentU for free. The basic plan costs $8/month and the plus plan costs $18/month, and each of these packages allows you unlimited access to even more great features.
CCTV Learn Chinese
Chinese state-run broadcaster CCTV is well known for its comprehensive news broadcasts.
This being said, its Chinese learning program is a totally different kettle of fish. Comprised of over 2000 individual videos, this series has some of the best Chinese learning content online, doing a very good job at teaching Standard Mandarin in an easy-to-understand and fun way. The videos are structured into four lessons and each has accompanying dialogues and vocab lists.
Coursera is an online platform whereby universities can upload their courses for free for anybody to begin learning.
Peking University, China’s top educational institution, has created a Chinese language course aimed at teaching the basics of Mandarin to any learner in a matter of hours—once you’re on the site, just search for “Peking University” or “Chinese” and you’ll see it pop right up. Each lesson is broken down into easily-digestible sub-lessons, and they’re all rendered in a very user-friendly interface. This is a great first course for beginners who are reluctant to start on more daunting video or audio lessons.
That said, there are many more Chinese courses offered on Coursera, from Peking University and others. Explore to see what’s out there, and what’s right for you! Each course has instructional videos, followed by quizzes and exercises you can take to make sure you understood the materials. There are a few peer-rated (graded by your fellow students) assignments, so it’s a good place to exchange information with other students who are learning just like you.
Coursera has a huge number of partners, institutions and universities offering courses. More are constantly being added, so it’s worth checking back regularly to see if anything interesting has popped up. Take a look at what's available now by clicking here!
While these are our recommendations, there are tens—if not hundreds—of other Chinese lesson sites available online. The important thing to remember is that if you’re unsure which is right for you, it’s always better to try than to just procrastinate and go nowhere.
Get online, get some lessons and get studying!