Nowadays there is no shortage of free resources for learning a language: websites, apps, forums, videos, podcasts, you name it.However, many people are still looking for a more professional Mandarin course, the type of course that is generally paid. Personally, in the past few years, I have bought a few of them. Why?
There are two main reasons for that:
- Often, you must pay if you want the best resources. Think of Chinesepod, FluentU or Skritter. Who would take the time to develop such a wonderful learning tools for free?
- The ultimate goal is to learn the language. And achieving this objective requires a long-time commitment. Personally I’m more likely to stick to my goals when I’m paying some money for it. No matter if it’s a good gym, a reliable server for my website or a language course.
The problem is that there are so many different Chinese courses and find the right one may be painful.
Given my experience with foreign languages – Mandarin is my sixth language – I thought I could help these people by listing the main Chinese courses in the market and highlight the difference among them.
Podcasts and Videos
ChinesePod is one of the most popular podcasts to study Chinese,
At the moment it offers almost 3,000 lessons of about 15-20 minutes each and a new lesson is uploaded every day. You can study on your laptop or download the files in mp3 format and listen to them on your favorite music player (this is what I do).
There are six levels of difficulty so this product also suits advanced learners. Every lesson comes with a pdf transcription and translation. Also, if you get the premium subscription you’ll have the possibility to access other advanced features such as the exercises and the app for iPhone.
ChinesePod costs 14 USD/month for a Basic subscription and 29 USD/month for a Premium subscription. Click here to read my full review of the software.
UPDATE: If you sign up to ChinesePod using one of the links on this page with the coupon “SAPOREDICINA” you get a 50 USD discount on the annual “Premium” package.
FluentU is an innovative platform that uses a broad selection of videos as its learning materials. The videos include both videos especially designed for them as well as a selection of ads, music videos and documentaries, among others, with subtitles in Chinese and English.
However, FluentU is much more than a selection of videos with subtitles, as the platform offers a ton of additional tools to get the most out of your studying time, like flashcards, tests and grammar lessons among others, all perfectly integrated.
A monthly FluentU subscription costs 15 USD for the Basic package and 30 USD for the Plus package.
Do you want to learn more? Click here to read our full review of FluentU.
ChineseClass101 is another complete platform based on podcasts. The platform offers hundreds of podcasts of around 15 minutes that are perfectly organized according to the subject and level of competency. Each of them is structured in the same way, starting with a dialogue from an everyday situation followed by a complete analysis regarding vocabulary, grammar and culture.
Just like the two previous platforms, ChineseClass101’s podcasts are integrated into a platform that offers numerous additional tools to maximize the learning of the concepts laid out. Among these tools are: flashcards, grammar lessons and a voice recorder to improve your pronunciation.
A ChineseClass101 Premium subscription costs 15 USD a month for a year plan.
If you want to learn more about this platform, I recommend that you take a look at our complete review of it by clicking here.
UPDATE: Limited offer for new subscribers of ChineseClass101: The first month you only pay 1 USD for the Premium subscription.
Writing and reading Chinese characters
Skritter is a software designed to teach you how to write Chinese characters and remember them.
As soon as you register, you can download a list of characters (there are a lot). Afterwards, you can start a study session. The software will show you a phrase with a character missing or the meaning of a word with its pronunciation. Your job is to reproduce the character with the right order of strokes by using the touch screen of your tablet or smartphone, a pen tablet or your mouse.
If you make a mistake or don’t know how to write the character, the software will suggest you the right stroke order. Thus the next time that you’ll see that specific character you’ll have more chances to remember it.
The interesting thing is that Skritter uses a SRS (Spaced Repetition Software) algorithm that shows you the characters with a clever scheduling. In this way you’ll remember a great ratio of the characters that you are studying (up to the 90% of the characters according to Skritter’s website).
I believe that this new technology is going to supplant the traditional method to study Chinese characters (at least among those people that start to learn Mandarin after the primary school) as keep writing the same characters over and over again is boring and ineffective.
A monthly Skritter subscription costs 14.99 USD. You can pay every month so you can stop when you want. Moreover, you get a weekly free trial.
Here you find my full review of the software.
UPDATE: If you sign up to Skritter using one of the links on this page with the coupon “FURIO3952” you get a 20% discount for the first six months.
The Chairman’s Bao
The Chairman’s Bao (TCB) is an online newspaper in Chinese whose articles have been simplified to be appropriate for people learning Mandarin. The newspaper publishes news on diverse subjects written by native Chinese professors using HSK vocabulary lists.
Nonetheless, TCB offers much more than that, and is turning into a complete platform for learning Chinese. Based on the articles, you will find extremely useful tools, such as an interactive dictionary for you to easily look up vocabulary that you don’t know, the possibility of listening to the audio track for the article, a customizable SRS flash card system, a tool to practice writing characters and the possibility of choosing between traditional and simplified Chinese.
TCB costs 10 USD per month or 80 USD if you buy it for the whole year. If you would like to know more about this platform, you can read our interview with Sean, one of its creators.
UPDATE: If you buy a subscription to The Chairman’s Bao through the link on this page and you use the coupon “sdctcb1523” you will get a 15% discount on all plans.
Remember the Hanzi
Remember the Hanzi is the method invented by James Heisig, the master of Kanji (the alphabet that Japanese people borrowed from China) and Hanzi, that is the typical Chinese characters.
The introduction of the book starts with the following sentence:
“The aim of this course is to help you teach yourself, as quickly and efficiently as possible, the meaning and writing of the 3,000 most commonly used Chinese characters.”
And the book does deliver what promised. However the method is quite controversial and, after I talked to several people that tried it (I did it myself), I believe that you should really understand what you want before to start using it.
The main issue is that the focus of this book is learning single characters, while speaking Chinese requires – beside reading characters – a whole set of different skills.
Remember the Hanzi costs 28.28 USD. Click here to read my full review of the book.
Multimedia Chinese Courses
Rocket Chinese is the first Chinese course I bought. It’s a traditional course meaning that each lesson features a short dialogue followed by an explanation in English, the transcription of the dialogues, the translation, some exercises and a forum where you can discuss with the other students and keep your motivation up.
Rocket Chinese contains 31 audio lessons, 29 cultural lessons, 29 writing lessons and 10 lessons devoted to the everyday life in China.
You can listen to the lessons on the website or download the mp3 files and listen to them on your favorite mp3 player.
I would only recommend this course to beginners as it really starts with the basis. Hence if you can already speak decent Chinese you’ll probably find it a bit too easy.
Rocket Chinese’s course costs 99.95 USD but you can get a free trial (the first six lessons if I remember well) following this link.
Rosetta Stone is one of the biggest companies that offer multimedia courses for learning languages.
Their approach is quite different as it’s based on the concept of “immersion.” At Rosetta Stone they believe that the most natural way to study a foreign language is to learn it without any external help (such as an English translation).
Therefore, for teaching you how to say “cup” in Mandarin they may show you the word 杯子 (which means “cup”), let you listen the correct pronunciation (“bēizi” in this case) and show you the photo of a guy who is drinking a cup of wine in a bar.
The basic idea is that you should learn the language the same way kids do, that is through the context and a trial and error process.
Rosetta Stone’s first level course costs 161.10 USD while the whole course (five levels) costs 374 USD. So the main downside of this course is the price. Click here to learn more about it.
The Pimsleur language method takes its name from Dr. Paul Pimsleur, who devoted his life to the study of language.
This method consists of a set of audio CD or mp3 files. There is no written material as Dr. Pimsleur believed that when you look at one text in a foreign language you tend to read using the rules of your mother tongue.
So if you are American you’ll read the Chinese word “pai” as the English verb “to pay,” even if in theory you know that in Chinese you should pronounce it differently.
Even if this philosophy sounds right to me, the downside is that if you are like me – I mainly learn through my visual memory instead of also exploiting my auditory and sensorial memory – you’ll feel limited by the Pimsleur method as there is nothing to “see,” only audios.
The majority of people learn using a balanced combination of visual, auditory and sensorial memory. However there are a few people (like me, for instance) that mainly exploit a particular physical channel during their learning process.
Hence I can only recommend this course to the people that have a predominant auditory memory. However, before opting for this method, I recommend that you take a look at the podcast and videos section, as in my opinion, they are more complete platforms for a better price, and which are specially designed for learning Mandarin.
Finally, the Pimsleur program (30 lessons) costs 203.23 USD, which is a lot of money. However you can get the conversational lessons for as little as 29.83 USD. I’m not sure why there is such a huge difference, maybe it’s a way to promote the main course. Click here to learn more about the complete course and here to learn more about the conversational lessons.
Modern Mandarin Chinese Grammar
Modern Mandarin Chinese Grammar: A Practical Guide is one of the best rated Chinese grammar books in Amazon.com. It’s also one of the most recent (it was released in 2006).
This book is divided into two sections. The first part is dedicated to traditional grammar items such as phrase order, nouns, verbs, adjectives and adverbs while the second part covers more general notions such as communication strategies, giving and seeking information or expressing feelings.
Modern Mandarin Chinese Grammar costs 36.45 USD. Click here to learn more abut this book.
[Cover Photo’s Copyright: Depositphotos.com]