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.

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  • Deric

    Has anyone tried the service at http://www.ichineselearning.com/ My friend told me the classes there are also 1-on-1 with skype.

  • Kiki

    My son just did a trial lesson with eChineseLearning. They somehow mistook that I wanted tuition to prepare my son to sit for an IB exam and it took about 10 mins for me to explain that I just wanted weekly tuition for him who is studying IB Mandarin.
    Anyway once that’s clear, we continue with the trial lesson. The sale department joined in our Skype lesson immediately once it was over and quoted me a sum. She gave me no time to read through the quotation and try to persuade me to purchase the package. The alarm bell went off when I felt the pressure and told her I will get back. After calculating the figure, I discover that it is more expensive than having a top native tutor in HK. It cost US42.50/50mins (US2211/annum) if I signed and paid up for one year and US69.69/50min if it’s a month by month basis. and NOT US8 – 25 as claim on their website. I should really have thought it unreliable when they do not published their rates clearly.
    The reason I am sourcing for e-learning option was due to the high cost of native mandarin tutor in HK. I guess I should source locally now as there’s nothing beats a one to one in person beside the travelling.

    • http://yago.sg/blog Guus Goorts

      Thanks for sharing Kiki, I am generally a great fan of online options for the greater flexibility. But there’s a need for trusted providers – from both of our experiences, it seems like echineselearning isn’t in there to support their students for the long haul.

    • Lisa

      Oh, Really? I had a completely different experience.

      I signed up for eChineseLearning several months ago and I’ve been enjoying my classes. My teacher is Jenny and she’s helped me improve a lot. As for the price, what you were quoted does seem unbelievably high. Maybe there was some miscommunication? Because what I was quoted was quite different. I signed up for a year and I take 2 lessons a week because I’m quite busy with my work. The price that they quoted seemed quite competitive at $16/50 mins. They mentioned the price could be lower ($12/50 mins) if I can sign up for a year package with 3 lessons per week. I guess I will try it when I’m not that busy. Anyway, the price is definitely not as expensive as what you were quoted. Maybe you should get back in touch with them to double check.

      Overall, I agree with you, that it’s much easier and cheaper with an online teacher. That’s why I went with eChinese No need to travel to get to a center or their house, and they are pretty flexible about working around my schedule which is nice.

      • Paul

        Are you staff from echineselearning? I proposed this question because I have seen your name “Liza” appearing on many places describing “fancy things” about your company.

    • Deric

      I agree with you. I had a trial lesson on their website and after that the sales person just joined in the trial class and pushed me to buy the package (In my term, they recommend a 2 year with 5 lessons per week, about 3,000 dollars!) They pushed me so hard that i feel embarrassed. For me, it’s just too expensive.
      So, i chose another school – iChineseLearning that offer the same service. One reason is that they give me flexible options of packages. I did a 6 month package at a much cheaper price. Another reason is that I don’t miss classes that I can’t attend. I can as many (and as few) lessons as i like, as long as i can finish all the lessons within the valid date.

    • Paul

      It’s true! Its course is very expensive comparing to its peers. And the worst thing is they just want to push me to subscribe a long term like 1 or 2 years, but it’s really a big amount of money. It’s said(according to one of my friends who is using their service) most students at echineselearning ended up not using all their lessons purchased. He also warned me of the high frequency of teacher changes. The sales man Michael arranged him one tutor for the free trial, which is good, but get him another tutor, and changed 3 or 4 times within the next 2 months. No offense, but unfortunately, the tutors after the free trial class are all of average level.
      Taking all these factors into consideration, I finally decided to go with meetmandarin. They offer similar skype tutoring lessons and service that is more reliable. Their rates are clearly claimed on their websites and the cost is more reasonable than you described. P.s. I am currently at the end of my 3nd month of my light plans 2 lessons per week. I decided to try a longer term course based on my past experience.

  • Poisson

    I really like your blog and it’s very informative.

    I think this is a great way of learning Chinese too,poem is one of the best way to learn classical Chinese, it can definitely help you understand Chinese better in a deeper level.

    However I think most Chinese Learners would like to master conversational Chinese more, and this might be a bit difficult for them to understand. (to be honest, evene native chinese speakers may find reading poems difficult).

    I’ve discovered the 6 rules of Hanbridge Mandarin how to speak Chinese automatically and effortlessly, it’s been proven by countless research and I’ve seen countless examples(including myself) using thiss technique and master a foregin language, I think for anyone who would like to learn/improve conversational Chinese should definitely have a look.

  • VO

    eChineseLearning’s hard sell approach is explainable – all they are after is your money. Not even possible to cancel other than through Paypal. An experience here: https://www.reddit.com/r/ChineseLanguage/comments/4p86zg/my_sad_story_of_attempting_to_use/

    • http://yago.sg/blog Guus Goorts

      Yep. The whole on-boarding experience was a red flag because the only thing they cared about was locking me in as long as possible.