When chatting to students, we find ourselves often giving recommendations of products to learn Mandarin Chinese with. So, even though we don’t teach Mandarin on LinguaLift, we thought it’d be useful to compile a list for your reference.
This masterful list was compiled by Michael Dubery, an education enthusiast currently teaching in China. He is passionate about open minds, lifelong learning and movement culture and is one of the few people on the internet without a blog! If you want to get in touch, write to us and we’ll pass the message.
The list is broken up by category. Everything on this list deserves your attention, but resources we’re particularly fond of, the kind we’d use ourselves, are additionally marked with a little star.
- Mandarin courses
- Grammar resources
- Audio & video
- Vocabulary building
HSChinese is one of the best websites out there to prepare you for the HSK tests, with all vocabulary clearly grouped by topic into neat courses for each level. It has a great system of rewarding your work done on-site with ‘Hansheng Coins’, their virtual currency which can be used to take mock tests, have your writing proofread, and even have lessons with qualified teachers. Of course if you are really working towards an HSK exam you might prefer to pay for some of these services; lucky for you it’s a simple matter of buying yourself some more Hansheng coins on-site and you can study to your hearts content.
A diverse selection of courses to learn Chinese by the Glossika audiovisual method, based on thousands of sentences to be used as comprehensible input. One great feature of Glossika is that they offer courses both for mainland and Taiwanese Mandarin, as well as a number of other lesser known dialects.
A self-professed ‘Duolingo style’ app which gamifies the basics of the language. Also worth noting is the writing component, which allows you to learn character stroke order and practice your handwriting (similar to Skritter).
It might not be the first place you’d think to look, but Coursera offers an increasing number of MOOC’s teaching you Chinese, teaching you about China, and even teaching you in Chinese! (for the advanced/brave among you only). The courses are from Universities and other higher educational institutions around the world and are free to access, all you need is the time and the discipline to keep up with lectures. There is also an option to pay a small fee to have your hard work formally accredited.
Though a little bit dated, the BBC offer a very comprehensive and accessible introduction to the Chinese language, including a vocabulary list, a quiz, cultural context and a short video clip for each topic. It also links you to a number of Chinese-language media sources, so you can try and put what you have learned to use right away.
Udemy is a platform for professionals to offer their expertise independently of educational institutions. There are courses for everything under the sun, including (luckily!) Mandarin Chinese which has a number of courses taught by professors at Chinese universities. Just be sure to investigate the course descriptions carefully and check reviews to be sure that you find the right course for you.
Fluenz is a complete learning model that loudly compares itself (favourably) to Rosetta Stone. It offers a similarly rich and immersive learning environment with a focus on listening and speaking, but is different in that it does use English to help you grasp the new language. It is a very well designed and thorough course to take you upwards from absolute beginner, the main downside is the price.
This is a very thorough beginners course of podcasts, delivered by one Serge Melnyk. Whilst not a native speaker himself, he has the experience and the qualifications to make this a trustworthy source. Listening to these podcasts alone does not guarantee you’ll understand native speakers with ease, but his pronunciation is very clear and measured which can particularly help to demystify this quite different language (eg. the four tones) for beginners.
Advanced learners, listen up. Here’s a website which provides access to recordings of countless academic lectures and free courses/MOOC’s, comprising entire modules offered at various Universities around China. There is really no end to how far you can take your Chinese on this website, and how much you can learn besides. Perfect for learners preparing for full term study at a Chinese university or looking to work in a specialist field.
An incredibly valuable collection of authentic texts sorted by level from beginner to advanced. The blog author includes interesting introductions to each piece which touch upon cultural notes and possible difficulties for learners, and provides an English translation for every one. The collection is not that extensive but there is great variety, from kids stories to essays, songs to news articles.
A brilliant initiative which translates the best of online writing in China today to make it accessible to all. Beginners, immerse yourself in Chinese culture by reading English translations of authentic texts; intermediate students, challenge yourself to work through the articles in Mandarin, using the English translation as a reference; and advanced students, enjoy reading fresh content from the mainland and consolidate your understanding by translating articles for others to enjoy.
With the number of Chinese websites rapidly growing, there is no shortage of things to read. Rather, the problem is finding material suited to your level. TCB is a simplified newspaper, accessible across platforms, which offers you articles which are written with the vocabulary up to the HSK level indicated and nothing more. Their site has a range of features to assist in your learning such as word lists and grammar explanations, and their blog will keep you updated on all things China. Do sign up and have a look through some of the free articles to get a taste of their premium service.
A brilliant approach to reading practice which sets the stage with an article brief, provides context with a relevant video, explains particularly difficult language items, and works through the necessary vocabulary with games and flashcards before sending you off to the article. Preparing yourself in this manner means you are able to really push yourself to understand real-world articles at and above your level, a great way to get out of your comfort zone and improve.
Chinlingo is a new website which teaches Chinese through bilingual articles and podcasts as well as providing a Chinese culture/news blog updated daily. The website also offers video courses and flashcards, but I’d say that their rapidly growing archive of articles is most worth your attention.
Qidian is a fantastic stepping stone before buying your first real books in Chinese, with swathes of original novels and other light reads ready to read in-browser or on your devices. Their innovative business model means that you don’t have to pay $10 dollars up-front for something you never get round to reading, instead you pay as you read, and even then you only pay if the book is above a certain threshold popularity.
The BBC news Chinese language site is of course intended for a Chinese audience, meaning it is not intrinsically learner-friendly. However more advanced learners can benefit from the array of world news presented in well written articles from the familiar perspective of the BBC.
Whilst being a pretty bare-bones website that won’t win you over with it’s design, this is actually a fantastic collection of many culturally important texts and excerpts which can really help enrich your understanding of the language and progress towards true literacy.
Enjoy the usual high quality journalism of the New York Times in Chinese. Most suitable for advanced learners (and perhaps brave intermediate learners with pop-up dictionary in hand).
Here’s a great little collection of short stories broken up into short, manageable chapters and audio clips to go with the text. The level of each story is indicated, from beginner to intermediate-advanced, but with the majority being suitable for elementary learners.
Here is a website which allows you to set either the basic English Bible or the King James Bible (an undeniably important work of literature in the English language) beside the Chinese translation in either pinyin, characters or both. Now reading the bible may not teach you a lot about Chinese culture, but if you simply want to practice your reading skills then here is the longest parallel text your are likely to find that is both well written and free.
Decipher Chinese is the perfect app for your daily dose of reading practice, with bitesize news articles graded from HSK 1-5. You get access to 30 or so articles in the free version, so this is definitely one to give a try.
A great app offering new graded texts each week with an inbuilt tool to translate words, phrases and whole sentences reliably. As well as practicing your reading, you can listen to a native recording of each text and follow along with the audio. It is a little expensive to go premium, but there is a large collection of articles which will remain free to access, so you can give it a decent trial before making up your mind.
The Chinese Text Project states their goal is to make ‘pre-modern Chinese texts available to readers and researchers all around the world’. Short of purpose built learning materials, this leaves us non-advanced learners without much to do beside bookmark the site and get back to studying, but for advanced learners this is a treasure trove of reading to help better understand the roots of China; it’s history, dominant philosophies, and literary styles.
Note: A good pop-up dictionary can help with the traditional characters, if needed.
Audio & video
ChinesePod is a complete learning resource built around thousands of situational podcasts and clips. The main selling point is that you don’t have to trawl through hours of lessons on, for example, buying fruit and vegetables when what you really want is to learn to ask for directions, since you can select precisely the lessons that you want to study (not often an option in curriculum based courses). Each lesson includes a vocab list, expansion activities, grammar descriptions and practice exercises, which makes it a great place to do a lot of your learning.
Popup Chinese provide bitesize podcasts that are based around amusing situational dialogues, along with an on-site spaced repition software that automatically prompts you to review vocabulary from studied podcasts. The podcasts do a good job catering to all levels, with English descriptions and full translations of everything at the beginner level giving way to mixed explanations and finally podcasts in full Chinese. There are numerous other perks, including a free handwriting practice tool and additional resources for premium users, but in particular I recommend it for the team themselves who are always quick to respond to emails and comments in the forums to help us learners.
This is the perfect source of audio to bridge the gap between purpose-built learning materials, where you understand everything, and media intended for a Chinese audience where you understand next to nothing. Slow-Chinese, as you might guess, provide interesting podcasts delivered entirely in slow, well enunciated Mandarin by a team of native speakers. Each podcast has a transcript which you can follow to practice your reading, and most have translations into 3 or more other languages. This is somewhere to spend a lot of time as an elementary-intermediate learner!
A fantastic collection of basic Chinese podcasts intended for young learners, meaning the speech in all of the podcasts is slow and easy to understand and the tones are very clearly pronounced. The lesson topics are clearly intended for children (having a snack, elementary school subjects, going to bed) and the cutesy voices have the potential to become a bit grating for us grown-ups, but it’s an all-round beginner-friendly resource nonetheless.
ListeningPractice is a website that does exactly what it says on the tin. You simply: choose your level and listen to sentences spoken by native speakers, type out what you hear and check your answer, test your understanding against a translation into English (or a number of other languages). Whilst admittedly not the most beautiful website around, it’s a simple and effective tool that can make a great addition to your learning schedule.
Though produced as a supplement to the 1-on-1 lessons offered on the site, the podcasts offered on iChinesePodcast are a great way to practice your listening in their own right, with short realistic dialogues and transcripts and grammar points clearly laid out for you to follow and review.
Beginners: If you are using this as a free resource then the lack of spoken English language explanations can be off putting, but the clear, logical layout is definitely a plus.
Yep!Chinese offer another podcast-focused learning method, with their content helpfully categorised under: learning, discovering (intriguing language points put into a broader context), or exploring (authentic news and content related to China today). It’s a service still in development, but there is a free app to play with, and all lessons are arranged by level as is to be expected. Certainly a resource worth trying out.
Though famously pricey and somewhat limited as a learning resource in terms of vocabulary, the pimsleur system claims with a fair degree of certainty that you will remember everything in their audio-centric courses without too much difficulty. Specifically for this reason, Pimsleur Chinese would be worth trying for absolute beginners (who are prepared to shell out), since getting used to the phonemes, tones and the general sound of Chinese can be a real barrier to progress in the early stages of learning. Though I can’t speak from my own experience, I imagine this could go some way to helping avoid the pronunciation and intonation issues which plague even some advanced learners.
FluentU teaches you by immersing you in their selection of the best Mandarin content available online. The audio/video clips are all organised by level (from Newbie up to Native) so it’s easy to learn. Just pick out something that looks interesting, learn all the new words and phrases while you watch, and then review what you learned when their SRS system prompts you to.
YiXi is the Chinese version of TED, offering a huge collection of talks given by erudite specialists on a huge variety of topics. The language here is typically quite advanced, and the talks are generally longer than their TED counterparts (usually coming to around 45 minutes), so I wouldn’t call them light viewing, however if you can set aside the occasional hour or two aside then there is really a lot to be learnt here.
Yangyang Cheng has had a lot of success with her bite-size youtube classes teaching numerous useful phrases and grammar points at the beginner and intermediate levels. With membership you get access to all of the 500+ videos, word lists, anki decks and a study schedule (among other perks).
This Youtube channel collects together the interviews of one of China’s most prized and influential journalists. The interviews are as a rule well produced, with clear audio and a sufficiently engaging format, and of a decent length to cover numerous themes and go into a bit of depth. Each of the videos has Mandarin subtitles, allowing you to read along at the same time, and some of the interviews are conducted in English which gives you a chance to compare to the subtitles and get a sense for how discussions are translated.
Another prolific vlogger, this time more rich in travel vlogs, tours, fashion and games. Videos are in Chinese or English with Chinese subtitles where indicated, and though you won’t have any tricky language ‘taught’ to you per se, these sorts of channels make for fantastic listening practice, providing you with a steady flow of the natural everyday Chinese that people really use.
italki is a fantastic website which allows you to connect with private language tutors who offer lessons (typically) through Skype, as well as socialise and find language exchange partners. The italki marketplace hosts hundreds of tutors offering particularly competitive rates, and the website is dominated by users learning English meaning you have good odds of finding Chinese exchange partners if you speak English at an advanced/native level. The friendly system of community corrections can also be helpful if you want a blog/article you’ve written corrected, or you want to ask a question.
Hanbridge Mandarin are quite a well known language school that have been offering immersion programmes in China for a number of years, and they also offer online courses with their professional teachers covering Business Chinese, HSK prep and Chinese Grammar among other topics. By offering complete course plans and providing a teacher to monitor your progress they take a lot of the hard work away, but of course you have to pay for the privelege. Free trial available.
Speaky is a fairly new social media platform to help you find conversation exchange partners and start talking with them right away. The finer details of the website seem to be changing month by month, but one of their best ideas is to offer an in-browser video-call tool, allowing you to get practicing without the fuss of scheduling and exchanging Skype ID’s (though personally I have faced some technical difficulties here!). Their website also streamlines the whole ordeal by making it easy for you to find language matches who are really online, sat at their computer, and ready to start a conversation.
A great language exchange app which allows you to connect with native speakers (both nearby and abroad) and text, call or video call language partners from the app itself. It is a well kitted out and modern IM which allows you to share and manage all sorts of media with ease. This can make for much more relaxed and natural language practice than eg. hour long skype calls once a week, you just have to stay active and find the right partner(s) for you. They also have an excellent translation/transliteration feature (for a small premium), so you can freely change messages from characters<->pinyin<->English.
Verbling is a well designed site which connects you to qualified native-speaking teachers for 1-to-1 lessons through google hangouts. It’s easy to see reviews, to check the schedules of teachers and to get in contact with them to discuss your options. There are not quite as many teachers for Mandarin as there are on italki, and the lessons are generally more expensive, so I would suggest interested learners do a couple of trial lessons on both sites and see what works for them.
Though pinyin is a pretty reliable guide to pronunciation in Mandarin Chinese, there is no substitute for native speakers. Forvo gives you free access to recordings of over 75,000 words and short phrases pronounced by just such native speakers. A great resource to enrich your understanding of new vocabulary.
To enable screen reader support, press ⌘+Option+Z To learn about keyboard shortcuts, press ⌘slash
Memrise is essentially a spaced repetition system which enables you to use mnemonics created by other users (or make your own) to help the words/sentences stick. The huge number of mnemonics already available in, for example, the HSK1 and 2 vocabulary courses are incredibly helpful for beginners, since it can be difficult to know where to start with memorising and recognising characters. The majority of courses are created by users which means that they aren’t always as complete or logically structured as one might like, but it certainly gives you a lot of freedom to customise your learning experience.
Anki is probably the biggest name in SRS, offering a fantastic (if minimal) program with a huge array of features totally free of charge. It fully supports inclusion of Chinese characters, audio and even video into flashcards so it can be a very rich source of learning. It can take a bit of time to create your perfect flashcard deck, so if you prefer you can have a look online for pre-made decks, many of which are shared by other learners just like yourself.
One of my proudest finds recently, Shawn’s channel is a goldmine of minute-long videos each clearly explaining just one word with a number of typical examples. This is the perfect resource to consolidate your understanding of need-to-know vocabulary whether you are a beginner working your way through HSK lists for the first time or an intermediate learner wanting to patch up any gaps in your repertoire. And with videos this short, the excuse that ‘I don’t have time’ just doesn’t hold water anymore.
This is a brilliant resource specific to understanding cheng yu (four-word idioms), which are typically a major barrier to understanding native speakers and colloquial speech. Even more useful than a simple dictionary is their collection of the short stories traditionally used to explain each cheng yu, to put it in context. Feel free to explore the stories which are interesting in their own right, or bookmark and return when you next come up against an unknown example in your studies.
Probably the most comprehensive online dictionary around, offering definitions and example sentences in not just Mandarin and English but also a host of other languages including Spanish, French and Russian. Multiple definitions are offered coming from a number of sources, including the Modern Chinese Dictionary (an equivalent of the Oxford Dictionary for English), academic papers and multiple other websites, which allows you to corroborate your understanding of meaning and usage.
By far the best dictionary application. Besides the extensive and reliable definitions offered which make this a must have for any student of Chinese, Pleco has a number of perks ideal for beginners.
First is the flashcard system allowing you to group, organise, review and otherwise keep track of new vocabulary. Second is the ability to search similar characters based on the radicals present in each character, which can be really useful to see how radicals connect groups of characters by meaning and/or pronunciation. But most useful is the huge number of search options, including scanning the character with your phone, selecting the character from an image, and even drawing it on screen (very tolerant of errors in stroke order). Highly recommended!
This is, for me, a must have extension as a chrome user. A very reliable pop-up dictionary which provides you with the meaning of the character, word and/or phrase (including all Chengyu I have come across to date!) as well as colour coded pinyin to give you the pronunciation. It has a number of useful features besides, including a wordlist which you can easily add new vocabulary to and which integrates with Skritter. (A tip for those who don’t like to read full instructions: if there is text for which it is ‘not working’, try holding alt.)
Zdic is the perfect dictionary to complement the use of Youdao, offering less information in English but providing vital information for beginners such as a native speaker recording of each word and the stroke order of the character. It also holds a wealth of information just waiting for you intermediate and advanced learners to explore, such as common collocations (for single characters), etymology and even readings in other dialects.
This is an excellent website for getting a sense of how to use new words/phrases (a very different matter from just learning what something means). When you search a word (/phrase/sentence part) it returns authentic Chinese sentences with your search item indicated and an English translation above. It works as a translation tool too, in that you can search what you want to express in English and find out the most natural words used to do so in Mandarin. It also displays statistics indicating the most commonly used options; brilliant!
Baidu is the Chinese answer to Google. Besides being the perfect place to explore the Chinese internet at your leisure, Baidu can be a brilliant dictionary encompassing modern colloquialisms and internet slang terms. I’d recommend searching ‘–search– + 是什么意思?’ under the tabs 知道 and 百科 to find the best results.
Another handy dictionary which focuses on grouping words in which the character appears by frequency and on breaking characters down into their radicals and stroke components. This would not be my first stop when looking for a definition, but it makes it really easy to find similar characters and to browse collocations (which you can understand and translate using one of the pop-up dictionaries we’ve mentioned).
Skritter is the biggest name in Chinese handwriting practice online and on iOS/Android. Their SRS combines with a handwriting input tool to help you learn the meaning of new characters at the same time as learning how to write them through tracing and copying. Also offering audio recordings, radical breakdowns and integration with other learning tools such as Chinese Pod and zhongwen, this is definitely one to at least trial.
Lang-8 is a now famously useful website, allowing you to submit your writing for correction by native speakers. Be it the first scribblings of a beginner or an essay you are nervous about submitting, Lang-8 has you covered, though you will have to correct the submissions of other users in your native language for the privilege.
A rich learning system, useful for Chinese learners and teachers alike. They offer too many tools to list here, but features include a Skritter-like application to practice handwriting, animated stroke orders and native recordings for all standard characters, and a great dictionary which indicates the HSK level of common words. Teachers and kinaesthetic learners ought to investigate the huge range of tools they have for creating real-world paper flashcards, worksheets, characters sheets and more.
Simply, this is a freely available font for Chinese with stroke orders indicated. It is currently limited to HSK 1,2 and 3, but if you are still learning to write these 600-odd everyday characters, it’s by far the quickest and simplest resource to learn how.
ChineseSkill is another cute app that gamifies the basics of Chinese. Some of the features are reported not to function very well, namely the speech recognition feature, however the app offers good tools to practice handwriting, listening and reading through a serious of short-and-sweet lessons. As is to be expected nowadays, they also incorporate an SRS to help the content stick. It may be a little childish for some, but for those that like to play to learn this is worth a look.
The blog of John Pasden, the saint responsible for the Chinese grammar wiki already mentioned. Here you can find a host of original resources for particular learning difficulties, as well as thousands of articles covering everything you might like to know about learning Chinese and life in China.
This is a great blog/magazine that teaches you about interesting language points (including slang) and travel in China, as well as turning a critical eye on Chinese current affairs. Their stated mission is to ‘bring China- the China that we see, live and breathe every day- to readers who share our passion for learning’. If that sounds like your cup of tea, then definitely take a look
This is not a dedicated Mandarin learning blog, but as a renowned polyglot and interpreter of Mandarin Chinese Vladimir is a fantastic source for motivation and general strategy advice when it comes to learning a language. But he has made a number of posts and videos specifically discussing how he reached an advanced level in Chinese and how to overcome various difficulties along the way, and in the upcoming future he will be releasing a book to explain how to understand Chinese characters, widely agreed to be one of the hardest aspects of learning Chinese
Youku is commonly referred to as the youtube of China, but in fact Youku goes a lot further than it’s western counterpart in providing feature length films and entire TV series free of charge; you only have to sit through a couple of minutes of adverts before each video (like in the dark ages of TV before Netflix), but even this can be viewed as practice since ads are in Chinese. Browse to your heart’s content, enjoy endless recommendations, and join in the discussion in the comments section. You are one step closer to living in Chinese.
For the futurists among you. Influent is a crowd-funded language learning game, which teaches you various basic words (primarily nouns) by giving you tasks to complete by exploring and interacting with a virtual environment. A brand new project in 2016, they have so far created something which is only really useful for beginners, but this is definitely a project to keep your eye on as they continue to develop the game and release expansions.
A wonderful channel holding some of the best of modern Chinese music, including some more niche and indie material. Subtitles abound, as per tradition with Chinese music videos. If a particular artist catches your eye then do also check for a vevo, as you may be in luck.
WeChat is at the heart of social media and smartphone use in China today, offering a dizzying array of features such as: a comprehensive IM, articles and blog posts, a ‘wall’ of your friends’ updates and even an e-wallet function. Think of it like WhatsApp, Facebook and PayPal all in one. If you are living in mainland China you are probably already using WeChat but for the rest of you, know that this is probably the most useful app to keep up to speed with social media trends and make contact with the Chinese internet generation.
Whilst being no replacement for listening to native speakers, this is a fantastically useful tool that will read out any Chinese webpage in a more or less natural sounding voice. It provides you with another approach to many of the reading resources we have recommended, where for example a popup dictionary can become somewhat tedious if there are many characters that you don’t know how to pronounce.
It is easy to reach out to people and make new contacts through QQ, and if you live in China you’ll find it very useful for it’s email service and for interacting with certain businesses, among other things. It can be a bit of a nightmare to install since multiple parts of the installation process are completely in Chinese, so if in doubt search for an article to guide you.
Though there are some other competing sites in the mainland, this is your best bet and will allow you to stay abreast of trending topics, political commentary and (oftentimes cryptic) internet slang terms. Probably best for intermediate and above, but courageous beginners can sign up with the help of an English language guide to the process.
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