Ten years ago, I embarked on my journey to learn Mandarin Chinese in high school.
I had a very high-energy 老师 (lǎo shī) — teacher that made learning this seemingly impossible language actually pretty fun and interesting.
Going to her class was something I looked forward to.
After I graduated high school, I decided to carry on with my Chinese studies alone to become more fluent. I didn’t have any Chinese friends to practice with and all I really had were my textbooks and notebooks from school to use.
I fell into a major funk. For three years, I learned nothing. In fact, I actually lost a lot of fluency that I gained while taking 巢老师 (cháo lǎo shī) — Teacher Chao’s class.
Some of us are what I like to call hands-on, face-to-face learners. Absorbing information from a book or website are great, but I really need the extra support of an actual person to teach me new Mandarin Chinese vocabulary words and to practice conversational Chinese with.
If you’re one such learner and you aren’t trying to go back to school (or you don’t have any friends who speak Mandarin Chinese), you have options. Skype is actually a great tool for learning Chinese face-to-face (or voice-to-voice) with another living, breathing person.
Why Should I Learn Chinese Through Skype?
- It’s like having a Chinese teacher but without the classroom. Being part of an actual class provides the learner with three main advantages: A skillful teacher with valuable knowledge of a subject, hand-picked resources and a grade (or something to show your progress). Because of the personalized nature of a Skype tutor, you can still get most (if not all) of these things.
- It’s convenient and sometimes free. Learn Chinese in my pajamas? Sign me up! You don’t have to leave the house to reap the benefits of learning Chinese from Skype. And there are some Skype language services that are free of charge.
- Make friends. Certain groups that provide Skype lessons may also offer forums or other chat services to connect you with other Chinese Skype learners. Who knows—maybe that language exchange partner will become a lifelong friend!
Tips for Maximizing Your Chinese Skype Lessons
Get set up first
Chinese Skype lessons and interactions don’t just involve downloading and installing Skype. You’ll need to install a keyboard with the capability to write in Chinese, a “script” of things you want to do or talk about for reference, a Chinese-English dictionary ready and a good internet connection.
You may also want to record your Skype sessions for reference later on, so the necessary application to do so should be downloaded.
Get your nerves under control
Meeting new people is hard. Keep in mind that Skype tutors are there to help you and language buddies are probably just as nervous as you are. Take a deep breath and take the plunge.
Plan for future Skype sessions
Once you’ve found a Chinese Skype resource and a tutor that you vibe with, you’ll need to make a plan. Schedule future dates with your tutor or buddy, figure out a regular time and plan for a specific duration.
Try an approach that suits you
Are formal tutors and teachers not for you? Prefer informal lessons? Figure out exactly what you want to learn and make a game plan.
If you’re trying to connect with native speakers and want a less structured approach, then you’ll need to figure out exactly what you want out of the interactions.
Do you want to improve fluency? Get tips and tricks? Are you trying to learn more about slang or culture? Once you’ve got this together, you’ll have an easier time finding someone who’s looking for the same thing.
Use Skype lessons in conjunction with other learning programs like FluentU
To maximize your learning with Skype, pair your lessons with FluentU.
FluentU takes authentic videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons.
Each video comes with interactive captions, flashcards and exercises to make sure you’re actively boosting your Chinese language skills while you watch. And since you choose what you learn, you can customize your experience to match what you’re learning with your Skype lessons.
5 Resources for Skype Chinese Lessons to Expand Your Horizons
This program is a great Skype-based language exchange program that connects you with native tutors. It has a very simple interface and an overabundance of tutors that are readily available to help you learn. If you really want to improve your conversational skills with a trained tutor, this would be a great resource to try.
It’s very easy to set up an italki account, too. Just sign up, select Chinese as the language you’d like to learn and tailor your search for a teacher based on your personal needs. Then you just need to select a teacher and set up an appointment.
Keep in mind that you’ll have to pay your tutors for their lessons and you can select a teacher with a rate that works for you.
Technically, HelloTalk isn’t a resource for learning a language through Skype. However, its interface operates almost identically to Skype and then some.
If you’re looking for extra bells and whistles, HelloTalk is definitely worth looking into. This app offers a giant community of students who are looking to teach and be taught, a text-only option, helpful tools and more.
You can’t really connect with tutors or teachers on HelloTalk, but you can connect with other learners and possibly make a new friend!
The HelloTalk app is available for both Android and iOS devices for free. It doesn’t cost money to get connected with a language buddy, but you can pay for extra features such as translation tools.
To set up HelloTalk, simply download the app and create an account! It’s seriously simple to use.
TouchChinese is a Skype-based language service that provides patrons with one-on-one “classes” with a tutor and uses a “live the language” approach that focuses on real-life interactions.
This resource is handy because after sending an application, you’ll receive a free Mandarin lesson. If TouchChinese isn’t your thing, you won’t have to pay a dime. Another great quality of this resource is the assessment. During your first free lesson, your current strengths and weaknesses will be evaluated and you’ll be enrolled in a course that’s tailored to you.
Using TouchChinese is a little pricey (10 lessons for $180) but it pales in comparison to how expensive formal college language courses are.
AllMandarin is almost identical to TouchChinese with a few key differences. They offer a wide range of different “types” of Chinese lessons, such as Mandarin for kids, HSK prep and business Mandarin, all through Skype.
AllMandarin’s faculty of teachers are also quite impressive. All of them hold a Masters or Bachelors degree in linguistics. If you want the high standards of a formal Chinese class, then AllMandarin is right up your alley.
They’re also a bit more expensive, but with such a diverse range of specialty classes, trying out AllMandarin is definitely worth it. Plus, you can try out their services with a free trial class. No commitment required.
VerbalPlanet helps users connect with native tutors for just about every language in the world.
This site isn’t quite as formal as the previously-mentioned Skype resources. Most of the Mandarin Chinese teachers aren’t exactly teachers, but are more like native speakers who are trying their hand at tutoring.
Don’t worry, though. You can read through honest reviews of each teacher and tailor your search for exactly the kind of tutor you need and can afford. You can even get free evaluations and “office time” outside of lessons, just like you would in a formal class.
A lot of VerbalPlanet’s freelance tutors offer a free or half-price deal for a first lesson. There’s not much to lose here!
Are you excited now about learning Chinese through Skype? Technology is pretty awesome. It’s easier than ever to learn new things online, especially when it comes to languages.
Now get out there and start your Mandarin Chinese journey! You’ve got this!
Em Casalena is a published author, freelance writer and music columnist. They write about a lot of stuff, from music to films to language.