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I recently sent out a survey asking what people were MOST worried about when it comes to traveling in China. I have to say, I wasn’t too surprised when I saw the number one response:
“I’m worried about the language barrier”
“How do I survive in China without speaking Chinese?”
“I’m moving to China for a year and I don’t speak Chinese. Help!!”
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While it is possible to get around China without speaking any Chinese, it’s not very easy or ideal. You can follow all the tips and tricks, which should help you in China’s larger cities. But if you’re moving to China or traveling China off the beaten path, you’re probably going to get into a few situations where you wish you knew the language.
That’s where learning a bit of Chinese comes in handy.
You Can’t Just “Pick Up Chinese”
So many of my friends who are fresh off the plane have told me that their plan is to “just pick up Chinese” while living in China.
You know what I say? Good luck with that.
It might sound a bit sarcastic, but Chinese is not just something you can “pick up” like French or Spanish. If you want to learn Chinese, you’re going to have to study it.
If you don’t know the basics like pronunciation, tones, and general grammar, it’s going to be absolutely impossible for you to learn more than just a few words.
This is why I always, always recommend taking a Chinese class or finding a Chinese tutor.
Why Language Books Don’t Work for China
Chinese is difficult. The pronunciation is hard, the tones are impossible, and if you manage to get those down, you still have to worry about Chinese characters!
While I went over some of the basic survival phrases in my Quick Guide to Mandarin Chinese, this speedy lesson is probably not enough; especially if you’re moving to China.
If you really want to feel more comfortable with your Chinese, you’re going to have to take a language class.
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What Types of Classes Are There?
The more traditional method of learning Chinese involves heading to a classroom or meeting up with a tutor at a cafe. This can be a great option for those living in China, who have plenty of time to schedule a class. It can also be perfect for those studying in China because it can be quite easy to find a cheap and willing tutor on campus.
Option 1: Taking a Chinese Class
The great thing about taking an actual class at a center is that the teachers are actually trained in teaching Chinese as a second language. In order to teach Mandarin, many teachers have to undergo an “accent test” ensuring that they speak the perfect, standard form of Mandarin. These teachers will also create lesson plans, assign homework, and keep you motivated.
The best way to find these classes is by word of mouth and online research. Look for reviews online, or ask your friends who they use.
Option 2: Meeting a Chinese Tutor
Chinese tutors are a great option for many language learners because they tend to be cheaper and more casual than an actual Chinese class. Meet on campus or at a cafe, and casually learn spoken Chinese with a friend.
This is a very common method for many language learners in China. Tutors may not be quite as professional and organized as an actual language school, but they’re still a great, fun option. Many of my friends in China are now very close with their language tutors!
Option 3: Studying Chinese Online
The two above options are great, but what if you just don’t have time to meet a tutor or attend a class? What if you want to learn Chinese before you go to China?!
Thankfully, the internet is here to rescue you! There are some really great options for online Chinese classes out there, and all you need is an internet connection and Skype.
Personally, with my job as a college counselor, I just don’t have time to take an in-person Chinese class. The free lessons at my company were a bit of a joke, considering all of us foreign teachers are at completely different levels; and while I wanted to improve my stagnated Chinese, I just couldn’t justify the amount of time needed.
While I never have time to run out to a Chinese class or meet a Chinese tutor, I DID have time to take an online Chinese class. Long story short: it was great!
A few weeks ago I took a free trial class with eChineseLearning, an online language center that teaches Chinese via Skype.
I was extremely impressed by the free 30-minute Chinese language class they provided… so impressed that I had to share it with all of you!
Custom Designed to Your Skill Level
Firstly, I had to let eChineseLearning know my Chinese skill level. I told them that I had minored in Chinese in college and that I’ve been living in China for the last four years. While I studied Chinese intensively for 3-hours a day when I studied abroad in Beijing and Xi’an in 2012, I’ve forgotten a lot of my grammar structures and basically all of my characters.
To sum it up, my spoken survival Chinese is great but very casual, and my writing is atrocious.
Overall, I was a big fan of how the lesson was customized to my level. We only spoke in Chinese the entire lesson, and my teacher had me practicing my reading, speaking, tones, and grammar. She even taught me a joke in Chinese!
Awesome Skype Technology
I’m not quite sure what technology eChineseLearning uses, but whatever it is, it’s amazing! When my teacher typed into the skype chat, she was able to type Chinese characters that also automatically featured pinyin with tones. At first, I thought she was copying and pasting segments, but then I realized that it must be some sort of special program eChineseLearning installed.
For someone who struggles with Chinese characters, having both pinyin with tones and the characters typed together was amazing. I don’t even know how to get pinyin with tones onto my computer, let alone with characters in a Skype chat.
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One-On-One Live Classes
The best part about eChineseLearning is that they have one-on-one live classes that you can fit into your personal schedule. They have plenty of teachers to choose from and are available 24-hours a day 7-days a week. It doesn’t matter what time zone you’re in, they have a Chinese native-speaker teacher available.
As a person that’s a little TOO busy, it was very easy to schedule a 30-minute session on a Sunday afternoon. All I had to do was set up my computer, grab a pen and paper, and put pants on. Actually, come to think of it, you don’t need pants for Skype…
Not to throw my old company teacher under the bus, but this teacher was miles ahead of the tutors and teachers I’ve had these last few years. She was very professional, had extremely easy to understand Mandarin and a flexible lesson plan she could adjust based on my level. This girl really did her homework!
Her teaching really brought me back to those years I spent studying Chinese in college, and those months I spent studying abroad. Having a professional language teacher really does make a HUGE difference.
So… How Does This Work?
If you’re interested, I highly suggest signing up for a free 30-minute one-on-one trial session. No money down, no questions asked.
If you love the class, you can sign up for weekly (or daily?) lessons with your teacher. If you don’t love it, at least you got a free 30-minute class!
Which Levels Can eChineseLearning Teach?
Great question! eChineseLearning can teach any level and any age group. They have classes for complete beginners all the way up to those studying for the HSK exam. They can teach business Chinese, survival Chinese, or even academic Chinese. They also have specialized lessons for teens and kids!
I was shocked when I scrolled through the website and saw that they specialize in training teens for AP, IB, and GCSE/IGCSE Chinese! Seriously, they have everything under the sun.
While my teacher and I only spoke to each other in Chinese during the lesson, we did have a chance to chat in English at the tail end of the session. Her English was borderline-perfect, so I definitely wouldn’t be worried about getting stuck with a teacher who can’t communicate with you.
How Much Does eChineseLearning Cost?
While the demo lesson is free, I’m sure you’re wondering: how much is this going to cost me?!
eChineseLearning actually doesn’t advertise their costs prominently on the website, so after my Chinese lesson, I looked up how much these lessons might cost me. To be honest, after the quality of my lesson, I was a little worried these courses might be out of my budget. I was expecting them to be around $30-$40 USD an hour. But when I heard the price, I was absolutely shocked.
Lessons cost anywhere from $9-25 USD per 50 minutes.
Basically, depending on your level and the number of classes you purchase, you can get 50-minute classes for as low as NINE DOLLARS. What?!!!
I’m such a huge fan of this price tag, I’m going to sign up for classes once I quit my job in September and things start to settle down. I’ll be sure to update the review later this year with my opinion after I’ve been taking classes for a few weeks.
Who Are These Lessons Best For?
I’m sure you’re wondering: are these lessons for me?
Personally, I’d recommend eChineseLearning for you if you’re…
- Traveling off the beaten path in China and want to feel more comfortable
- Moving to China to work for a year or more
- Studying abroad in China and want to brush up on your language after a school break
- Living in China and need to improve your Chinese
- Working with Chinese clients and want to learn some business Chinese
- Raising a child and want to give him/her a fun class with plenty of songs and stories
- Taking any sort of Chinese test
- Interested in the idea of learning Chinese for professional development or as a life goal
Get Your Free Chinese Lesson!
If you’re at all interested, I really recommend you sign up for a free 30-minute Chinese lesson. What do you have to lose?
Are you interested in learning Chinese? What’s holding you back? Let me know in a comment below!
Heads up! I’m an affiliate of eChineseLearning, so if you decide to sign up for classes I will make a small percentage at no cost to you.
12 comments on “The Best Way to Learn Chinese”
As far as our experience with learning Chinese goes, we both did way better with an actual in-person class with trained teachers. We both tried meeting tutors as well, but found that they can often by flakey at best and have no idea how to teach you Chinese at worst. For those in Beijing, Shanghai, or Xi’an (maybe another city or two.. I forget), Tailor Made Chinese Center is a great place to learn. There is definitely tons of great stuff online as well, a lot of it for free – but these are better used as supplemental materials. Shameless plug for the blog I run (blogs.transparent.com/chinese). We also have a YouTube channel and word of the day you can follow. My Chinese is pretty rusty after being gone for 2 years, but I still have to keep up the blog. Might have to check out this eChineseLearning and take a few classes to get back up to par! Thanks for the great post!
I totally agree with your about the tutor thing. To be frank, the Chinese lessons I received at work were a joke. I did really like the Skype class because it was exactly the same quality as when I took in-person Chinese classes. I would love to take an in-person class, but I’m SO busy with work and this site that I have no spare time. However, meeting up with a teacher over Skype is much easier. I don’t have to worry about actually getting myself to the class- I can just open my computer.
I had to laugh when I read it is important to know tones and pronunciations – give me a Pinyin dialogue and I sound like I was born speaking the language. Unfortunate, the way lessons were done when I was taking my first year university class only provided a crutch. I am terrible with characters and never did learn the importance of radicals. That said, I can go off the beaten track without becoming a complete fool – as a former preschool teacher it is fine to be silly. Yes, by all means learn some simple words and phrases; however, with so much out there to help there is no excuse to say, ‘I can’t go to China because of the language.’
I totally agree! To be honest, I did learn the characters but I took a backseat on them once I moved to China to live and work. I’d rather be able to actually communicate, and there are so many translation apps that can help with writing. Knowing the characters a bit helps with life here, but speaking is definitely more important!
This sounds interesting, I’ll look into it! I’m going back to university next year (in Xining), but I think a little brushing up would be good. I spend most of my days communicating in Chinese only, but the people I talk to (my husband and his family) have learnt what I know wordwise. So whilst my Chinese isn’t getting rusty, it’s definitely not improving much. Will at least do the 30 minutes class!
Yeah that’s exactly how I am! I’ve been kind of lazy and I haven’t been improving much. I’m sure you’re love the 30 minute class!
I’ve been looking for a way to get back into studying Chinese for years. Every season I tell myself, “This is when I’ll start seriously studying,” but I have no motivation to self-study. I considered taking a class, but those can get so expensive. I just signed up for a free trial! Can’t wait!
Hey Lauren! I totally understand where you’re coming from. Classes are so expensive and self-studying is impossible. I hope that these online classes work out for you!
this is really the best way to learn the Chinese. If anybody wants to learn the chinese you must read this blog post.
Thanks so much Niial! I’m so glad you think so :) I definitely think having an actual tutor is by far the best way
I loved my time in China, I actually learnt Chinese for a couple of semesters in university in Sichuan, which I thought was great. Now I learn online, which is interesting and also I find it very useful.
That’s awesome Aiden! What company/ teacher do you use to learn online?