Your Top 5 Tips to Learning Chinese Online in 2021

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Are you a budding Mandarin learner? Maybe a consolidated Chinese linguist? Perhaps you’ve just started your Chinese language journey and looking for a concise, well-researched list of some of the best online study options around?

While opportunities for in-country learning remain limited due to COVID-19, new opportunities have arisen in the already large and well-regarded online Chinese language learning market.

We’ve done the research, so you don’t have to. With something to suit every learning style and language level, this concise list including personal testimonies will help you get a realistic idea of what’s out there to help you on your learning journey.

Take this list as a guide and do your own exploration. Combine courses, complement with tertiary study or integrate into your work schedule – everyone learns language differently. The increase in online opportunities provides limitless possibilities for hybrid study and accessible learning. 加油!

1. Confucius Institute

Our beloved Confucius Institute. Provider of scholarships, host of China Bridge, an important cultural link for universities and on top of all that– a formal online language learning platform!

Confucius Institute (CI) at the University of Melbourne offers a diverse and well-established range of Chinese courses – all taught remotely over Zoom. Courses cater to the beginner learner through to “one of the only truly advanced Chinese courses available in Melbourne”.

A more formal option, CI classes have professionally trained teachers, textbooks, online course manual and course material included in the price. These courses will set you back just over AUD$400 for a ten-week term (20 hours) – there’s also a 20% discount for Uni Melb staff, students and alumni!

CI term dates for 2021. Courses tend to fill up so good to book your spot early.

The transition to an online platform from traditional courses brings increased accessibility and reduces the barrier for participation meaning more people studying Chinese.

1-on-1 private tutoring is also available, but the ‘classroom feel’ of CI courses and learning with likeminded peers are one of the major benefits of CI learning.

The most comparable to a university course or overseas exchange – CI’s reputation and professionalism means you won’t be disappointed with the quality of teaching, valuable resources and progress of your language.

2. Coursera (free)

Looking for the Chinese University learning experience without paying for airfares? Peking University’s (PKU) online courses taught via online learning provider Coursera might be for you.

Completely free (with an option to pay for a certificate) and completely online, PKU’s Coursera offers a wide variety of Chinese courses to suit the adaptable learner.

Chinese for Beginners, Chinse for HSK 1-4, Chinese Characters for Beginners and Chinese Test Preparation are some of the options available. These courses offer the flexibility of learning at your own pace and will be familiar to those who have ventured onto online learning platforms before.

Peking University is perennially ranked as one of the top academic institutions in China and the world

With reduced accountability, flexible deadlines and video playback, the flexibility of the Coursera platform can be moulded to your unique needs, learning speed and areas of focus. According to Paulina Morozova, a current PKU student studying remotely in Melbourne:

“The HSK courses particularly aren’t too difficult, and it’s a good and easy way to check what you need to work on, like xiezuo (writing), tingli (listening) etc”

Paulina Morozova

3. italki

Another common and highly effective option for online language learning is one-on-one virtual tutoring.

italki is one popular option for many Australians. It is a flexible online platform where you can choose from nearly 1,000 Chinese teachers for 1-on-1 lessons based on your goals and interests.

You pay per lesson and schedule them as you need through the app or website. Set up consistent weekly lessons or on specific dates that suit your schedule – the choice is yours.

Prices range from $7 through to $60 an hour with the option to watch an introduction to each teacher before you book to get an idea of their teaching style and personality.

Is it worth it? I spoke with long-time italki user and student of Chinese, Brandon Maday, who says yes!

While it can be more expensive depending on who you choose and frequency, I think the benefits outweigh the costs. I was getting one on one lessons targeted at my skill level and interests.

Brandon Maday

Brandon particularly appreciates the instant feedback you get from italki saying,

One thing italki has over pre-recorded online courses is the constant stream of feedback – you are talking to a real person, in real-time. So positive reinforcement and being able to correct bad habits as soon as they start happening is a huge plus for me.

Brandon Maday
Teachers offer individualised learning and will give you homework to suit your level.

A great option to improve your spoken Chinese, however, this may not suit everyone. If you are looking to pass HSK, perhaps try looking at another option as Kate, a long-term italki user and long-distance language learner told me:

“italki really helped me work on my general Chinese conversation, but they weren’t up to date with the changes to the HSK. I have seen other companies with a specific HSK focus and I will probs go with one of them once when I am getting ready to take the test”

Kate M.

italki is the ideal complement to your university study or while undertaking another option on this list. Read a comprehensive Asia Options review of the platform here

4. Chinese Zero to Hero

So maybe you ARE looking to pass the internationally recognised Chinese standardised test – HSK (Hànyǔ Shuǐpíng Kǎoshì).

You COULD do 100 practise tests OR you could look at doing a specialised and popular hybrid online course like Chinese Zero to Hero.

Courses are delivered via video, have scheduled homework and require a separate textbook to be purchased. These courses are affordable and start from around $20 for each course or you can rent it for a shorter amount of time around $10-15 a month. Take a look at the course previews to see if this suits your learning style.

Each level of HSK takes around 3-4 courses to complete with each course compiled of around 70 videos or 15 weeks of study material. Chinese Zero to Hero has also just added courses for the newly introduced HSK 7-9.

Chinese Zero to Hero has courses for every HSK level – including newly introduced 7-9.

For those looking to pass a certain test, there is a bulk buying options available. Marketing with lines such as “258 videos (20 weeks worth of study material) – double your vocabulary and pass HSK 4.” living up to what they promise. I spoke with Stefan Peterson who had just completed the HSK 4 course:

“Chinse zero to hero is fantastic for passing the HSK – helped me heaps”.

Stefan Peterson

5. Duolingo (free)

A well-known platform from the early days of app learning, you are probably familiar with Duolingo and its pesky little owl. You may have given it a stab in the past or are currently closing those circles and collecting your crowns on the way to language glory.

Learning with Duolingo is fun and addictive. You earn points for correct answers, race against the clock, and level up. Lessons are short and sweet with a focus on vocabulary building, sentence construction and listening comprehension.

Duolingo’s mascot owl (named Duo) provides helpful encouragement and motivation along the way.

Duolingo will start you from the very beginning of Chinese learning or you can take a quick virtual test to place you at a suitable starting point.

Using app learning alone has its flaws and it won’t help your spoken language, but nothing beats sitting on the tram doing unit after unit to that satisfying little *di-ding* as you get another one right.

Cheap (free), cheerful and a great way to keep your language sharp or gain a familiarity with characters and pronunciation for the very beginner.

As a Chinese language learner, your time is now.

A recent article looking into Chinese language ability in the upper echelons of diplomatic dialogue between the two countries clearly demonstrates the value of Chinese speakers to Australian society – and we need more of them!

China is Australia’s largest trading partner with growing regional influence. Being able to communicate effectively in Chinese will help improve bilateral understanding and cross-cultural communication on all levels of society. It’s also a great way to make new friends, keep your brain active and will help your career prospects.

There is a plethora of other ways to boost your Chinese out there. Chat with a Chinese friend on the net, read some articles in The Chairman’s Bao, enrol in the Tsinghua Global Summer School, or CET custom language course. Remember to keep an eye out for opportunities with ACYA, ACYPI, ACYD and other groups to meet others who are studying and going through the same journey with no doubt the same questions and worries as you.

Whatever platform or combination of methods you choose, the most important thing is to keep it up – studying Chinese is a lifelong journey, enjoy it!

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Zach Eggleston

Zach works in communications at both the Australia China Business Council and the Australia China Youth Dialogue. A Mandarin speaker with an Asian Studies major from La Trobe University in Melbourne, he has spent extensive time studying in Shanghai, Chongqing and Taiwan.

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