Learning Chinese Online: A Comparison of 3 Services

Girl with laptop - thumbs up

If she’s going to learn anything, she better switch on her laptop…

Online language learning is gaining traction in the USA. While I taste some resistance here, I am sure it’s going to become very big in Singapore, too.

There is no lack of Chinese teachers in China. By taking lessons through video conferencing, you can rely on a qualified personal Mandarin for learning Chinese online between S$ 8 and S$ 40 per hour.

The market rate for an in-person private Chinese teacher in Singapore is upwards of S$ 60 / hour, not even counting transportation expense.

Call Singaporeans conservative all you want, I’m sure that just the price difference will make this teaching method catch on here.

Most online Chinese schools offer trial lessons. In the past two days, I have done a test-drive of 3 online Chinese learning services: eChineselearning, Chinesehour, and Speak Mandarin.

Before I give you my views on each of them, I should say this:

  • This is purely my point of view, and of course I am biased. My situation: I am at the upper intermediate level for Mandarin, and my learning style is associative. My assessment is coloured by this. Besides, Speak Mandarin is a Yago client, and the others might become clients in future;
  • Let me first say as well that all three provided very decent teachers. Where I am critical of a teacher below, it’s a relative assessment, all three of them absolutely make the mark.

Ok, to the comparison then.

eChineselearningEchineselearning Logo

Price: S$ 8 – 45 / hour

Pros:

  • + The cheapest provider among all (if you take long term package)
  • + Presumably the largest provider (~2000 students in USA, HK, SG – total of 50 countries)

Cons:

  • – They take a rather hard sell approach: high discounts for signing up for 1-2 years regular lessons
  • – Package prices are not openly available
  • – Skype only – no use of electronic whiteboard

On the hard sell approach, this worries me. Because if I sign up for a 1 or 2 year package, and while the lessons are delivered, they are not great, chances are that I will drop out. And that will be in eChineselearning’s advantage. So it’s almost a disincentive for them to provide the best they can.

But on to my lesson, which we should consider separately. My teacher was Blanche. After introducing herself, she spoke with me to assess my Chinese level, and then had me have a go at chapter of their intermediate materials. What I felt missing in her needs assessment, though, was deeper questioning on what I was going to use my Chinese for, what skills I wanted to focus on (reading and writing) and my preferred learning style.As she pulled out the materials, it did feel a bit run-of-the-mill.

Perhaps that’s a bit of an ego-issue as well. Everyone likes to be considered special. But then again, in one-to-one lessons, it’s important that the teacher makes the student feels special, and gives the lessons a customised feel. While Blanche was technically fine as a teacher, she could make her students work harder and more dedicated if she made them feel more special.

Chinese Hour

Price: S$ 10-23 / hour

Pros:

  • + Electronic whiteboard system
  • + No need for huge time commitment to get to the lower fees (as compared to eChineselearning)
  • + Relatively cheap

Cons:

  • – Whiteboard system not user friendly (I was lost for the first 10 minutes)

My teacher was Samantha. I feel that she could have spent a bit more effort to understand my particular interest, motivation and learning style for learning Chinese. This is the biggest difference an experienced teacher and a less experienced one.

Had she asked me more questions, she would have had to face the consequence of those questions: using different materials, which she may not be familiar with.

Then again, to be fair, she did a decent job explaining and getting me through the materials. And Chinesehour is among the cheaper providers, so it’s to be expected that their teachers may be less experienced. Which may not be a problem if you’re a beginner or simply happy with the teaching provided by default.

Speak MandarinSpeak Mandarin

Price: S$ 30 – 38 / hour

Pros:

  • + Extensive course materials
  • + Experienced teacher
  • + Pay as you use

Cons:

  • – Relatively expensive
  • – User experience of the platform can be improved

I had a trial lesson with Shengnan (Rachel). I could feel that she is a VERY experienced teacher, because she made me feel confident, and fearlessly asked what my interests and learning style are, what kind of book / materials I would like to use. She tried out some written materials until she found something that was at the right difficulty level for me.

Speak Mandarin is the only provider that makes use of Webex, which is sort of a standard in business for virtual presentations, and that, plus the fact that there was an obvious wealth of materials readily at hand, made me feel that these people are educators at heart.

I also like the fact that you can buy course credits and then pay for classes as you go. It inspires confidence, because the teacher will have to keep working hard to keep you taking lessons. That said, their platform and website could be tweaked in little details. The functionality is all there, but it can be hard at times to find the right link / button to click.

My choice

Based on my limited experience, Speak Mandarin’s service definitely came out as the best among the three. Since their Mandarin courses are listed on Yago, I may work out something with them since I really consider them the best school.

If price were a consideration, I might go with eChineselearning, although, as said, I am resistant to long term contracts. It’s just like gym memberships: sounds like a great deal when you sign up for it, but you often end up not using it.

Have you ever taken Chinese lessons through Skype? Or learned another language online? Together we can get a better picture than I alone can. If you have learned Chinese online, do share your experiences / verdict below!

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About Guus Goorts

Guus has traveled widely and has lived in The Netherlands, Ghana, Belgium and Singapore. In descending order of fluency, he speaks Dutch, English, Mandarin, German and some rudiments of Spanish, French and Italian. Guus lives in Singapore with his wife and two young children. He settled in Singapore in early 2006 from his native country The Netherlands. After working in a job for corporate training, he founded Yago Languages, Singapore's guide to language learning.