Whenever I search for terms like “Best Chinese teacher”, “Best Tutor for Mandarin Chinese”, “Best ways for learning the Chinese language”, I always end up on commercial websites.
In other words: I never find any objective and true information. All these articles have been written with one single goal in mind: to sell their course or to get people to hire THEIR tutors.
That’s why I wanted to change that landscape. I really hope for the sake of the “learning Chinese community” that this article will be found on top of Google soon.
In this article, I will be very straightforward. Over the last years, I have spent time and money to hire 6 or 7 different Chinese teachers. I will explain to you what you should look for in a good tutor – and what you should, at all cost, try to avoid.
This article will teach you several important things to make sure that you learn Chinese quickly and in an efficent way:
- What you should look for in a good teacher
- What type of teacher you should AVOID at all cost
- Why establishing a learning plan is important from the first day you learn Mandarin Chinese
- My take on whether or not your teacher should be offline or online
- Apps and Youtube channels that have helped me progress A LOT
- Frequently asked questions
Why am I the right person to talk about finding the right Chinese teacher?
I am the right person to write this article because I have a lot of experience. Not only do I have a lot of experience in hiring the RIGHT teachers. I’ve also hired some really bad ones.
In other words: I have done the mistakes so that you don’t have to do them.
Also, several things in my profile suggests that I should know what it takes to learn Chinese in a good and efficient manner:
- I have succeeded with HSK4 and am halfway through the HSK5 curriculum.
- I hired Chinese teachers both offline and online.
- My Chinese teachers have been everything from 20 year old students to experienced 60 year old teachers.
- I have spent hundreds of hours on different apps and using different text books*, apps and other methods to find the most efficient way to learn Chinese. And I believe I have cracked that code already.
*= If you want to know about which textbooks I recommend for learning Chinese quickly, you can head over to this article. It will help you out a lot if you’re on a beginner level.
What is important when finding a good Mandarin Chinese teacher?
Let me give you a brief overview of what is ABSOLUTELY required. You should not go on compromise with any of these below-mentioned points when you hire your tutor.
Experience in teaching their language
It’s extremely important that you’re not their first student.
When I first came to China, I accepted being a “language partner” with some young Chinese students. They were very super eager to learn English and offered Chinese tutoring in exchange. On paper, that’s a good concept.
No. It’s not.
I would say that the time you spend with an inexperienced teacher like that is more or less a waste of time. If you want to teach something as complex as the Chinese language, you need to have a lot of experience. 20-year-old students in Tsinghua university have no idea about what foreigners struggle with when it comes to learning Chinese.
Save yourself a lot of trouble and get someone experienced.
No grammar nazis please…
From my experience, about 40 % of all the Chinese teachers are very busy teaching grammar. Let me put it this way: grammar has ZERO relevance when you learn Chinese. The most important thing is that people understand you.
I’ll be the first to raise my hand and say that my grammar is horrible.
But I’ll also be the first to say that Chinese people understand me perfectly well when I speak their language.
Tones and characters matter a lot. It’s super hard work to learn them, but they are of absolute significance.
Grammar is not important – not even when you’re aiming for HSK6.
Video: This is why Mandarin grammar isn’t important for beginners
And the reason why grammar isn’t a very important topic when you’re learning Chinese?
It’s partly because the grammar rules are so freaking easy. In more than 80 % of all Chinese sentences, you use this simple structure: Subject – Predicate – Object.
If you have the time, this video below will explain more in detail what I mean:
Focuses on what’s important for you & your needs
The concept of “learning Chinese” is more complex than you think. My first teacher told me that “characters are not important at all….all you need is to learn some basic words and use them”.
My second teacher said that it’s impossible to learn the Chinese language without learning the characters.
And there you go. What is important to you? WHY do you learn Mandarin Chinese?
- Are you learning Chinese so that you can show off to your friends and family members on your next trip to Beijing?
- Or are you looking to learn Chinese so that you can read what’s on the menu at your local Chinese restaurant?
- Do you want to say “Ganbei / 干杯” (cheers) correctly on your next business trip to Shanghai?
- Or are you simply curious about the language and want to learn everything?
This is an invitation for you as a student to actually take a bit control of your own development. I am saying that because I was dragged around by all these different teachers that were telling me what was correct for me and my progress.
It turned out that they all had different meanings on what was needed by a foreigner who learned Chinese. And that slowed down my progress quite a bit.
In other words: be very vocal about your goals and hopes for the future. And find a teacher that will help you reach these goals – not a teacher that just puts you on a general learning pattern.
Should you hire Chinese tutor online or offline?
Two of my Chinese tutors have been online. Four or five of them have been offline face-to-face tutors.
Let me quickly explain the advantages and disadvantages of both methods.
Offline Chinese tutoring
Finding a local Mandarin Chinese school that can help you to meet a teacher face-to-face shouldn’t be too difficult. If not, I guess there are many Chinese students in your area that might help you out.
- It’s easier to efficiently use textbooks and other reading materials face-to-face.
- Practicing handwriting is definitely more convenient. A big part of writing the Chinese characters correctly is to start at the right end of the character. That is much easier to deal with when the teacher can be in the same room as you.
- The human connection is so much better. Having a conversation face-to-face is always much more efficient compared to doing it online.
- You might actually show up to a certain location every time you will practice Chinese. Or pay the teacher to go to your place.
- Offline Chinese classes are, from my experience, priced a lot higher.
Online Chinese tutoring
There are many schools and teachers who operate online from different places in the world. Online Chinese tutoring has become a huge niche for several schools – and I have personally tried it with two different teachers.
- Online teachers are usually cheaper.
- Bigger pool of teachers to choose from.
- It’s easy to find useful reviews on the different platforms. But please make sure to read objective articles – many online schools tend to pay website owners to write positive reviews about their business.
- In most cases, you will be offered one free language session if you sign up. That could help you to eliminate a bad teacher without any financial risk.
- You can literally sit and learn Chinese from anywhere in the world. Your teacher can be in Beijing and you can sit in New York – without any problems.
- If your teacher is located in China, the infamous Great Red Firewall might make the connection unstable and slow. Fluent communication is key when you learn a complex language.
- From my experiences, most online teachers are not as committed to their students’ progress as the one you meet in person. This might differ from what other people have experienced, but that’s definitely a problem that I have encountered.
In general, I am a huge fan of meeting my teacher face-to-face when learning languages.
From my perspective, it makes things so much more convenient. Chinese is a super complex language to learn – and you should do everything in your power to make the learning climate as smooth as it can be.
App & Youtube recommendation: To speed up your language skills progress
Of all the many apps and Youtube channels out there: there are only two that I really want to recommend.
Both of them have helped me a lot to speed up my Chinese progress.
#1: Duolingo app
Many people already know the Duolingo app. What I think is different with this app compared to other apps, is that it’s free.
You do indeed have a premium version. But I would say that you learn A LOT from the free version of Duolingo. PS! If you are above level HSK4, there is no point for you to download Duolingo Chinese. It’s too easy.
But for beginners, this is the best app for practicing Chinese through your phone.
Why is it good for learning Chinese?
- It’s free
- The app focuses on pronounciation, character learning as well as remembering the most useful words in Chinese
- Duolingo can be useful for those who are total beginners up to those who study for HSK4
- Did I mention it’s free of charge? 🙂
#2: Youtube channel: Lele Farley
One of my absolute heroes is Lele Farley. He is a comedian and Youtuber with more knowledge about China than most Chinese people themselves.
After working for the Chinese Communist Party for many years, he was eventually blocked by the Chinese government for “inappropriate behavior”. All he did was uploading some video about mocking the current dictator Xi Jinping.
Anyway: his Youtube channel is a hidden gem. He speaks so good Chinese that I am literally flabbergasted every time I watch his videos. Imagine talking to native Chinese people about stuff like religion and politics – without saying a single word wrong.
Why is Lele Farley Youtube channel useful for learning Chinese?
- Because he should be a living motivation for anyone that try to learn the language
- He puts subtitles on all his videos (so that you can learn new words
- He discusses real-life problems in China. Lele Farleys’ videos help you to understand more about the Chinese society, culture and history.
- His understanding of China and its society is second to none
Tips to learn Chinese quickly (self study + tutoring)
Progressing in learning Mandarin Chinese is not only about finding the right teacher or teaching methods.
I have gathered several useful tips from my own Chinese journey that you should read very carefully. They might end up saving your a lot of stress and time.
- Don’t have too high hopes for your teachers’ motivation to teach you Chinese.
You need the right mindset in order to succeed. The teacher is not going to teach you Chinese if you are passive. You are teaching yourself Chinese by being a proactive and good student.
I have seen many of my friends give up learning a language because “it was too hard” or “the teacher was bad”.
First of all, about 1,4 billion people speak Chinese (according to statista.com). If they can do it: so can you. And secondly, if you got a bad teacher, hire another one. There are literally thousands of Chinese teachers that are looking forward to teach you their language.
- Make your own flashcards.
On one side, write the Chinese character. On the back, write what the character means + the pronounciation in Chinese.
Use these flash cards to memorize the characters every day. Just browse through them before bedtime. And once you think you have remembered them, repeat. And repeat again. And again.
Believe me: using flashcards as a memory activity is one of the best ways to remember Chinese characters.
- Surround yourself with Chinese culture.
If you’re really interested in Chinese culture, you should try to do an effort in order to consume Chinese culture. Buy a book about Mao Zedong. Download some random Chinese TV Show. Watch “Mulan 1” and “Mulan 2.
Another idea could be to book a trip to China, Taiwan or Hong Kong in a year or so. That would also give you some good motivation in order to learn more Chinese.
Finding a Chinese teacher is super easy. They’re everywhere.
Finding a good Chinese teacher is extremely hard. They’re like diamonds in nature; very hard to find.
However, by using what you’ve learned in this article, your chances of succeeding with your Mandarin journey has increased a lot. I am quite confident when I write that – but it’s true. Over the years, I have hired so many bad Chinese teachers that I have started to see a pattern.
Make sure that you use what you have learned in this article when you’re going to hire someone. All my tips and tricks can be applied to both online and offline tutors.
I have paid everything between 5 $ to 25 $. The salary is dependent on the experience level as well as where the teacher is geographically located.
In other words: I paid more for an experienced teacher in Norway compared to what I paid a young student in Beijing.
Even though I am not a big fan of picking teachers based on their cost, I will give you the answer. Go online.
Online classes are significantly cheaper compared to face-to-face classes. However, if you purely think about cost saving, you’re not gonna find a good tutor. That’s for sure.
I prefer teachers who have a very “clean” dialect close to pu tong hua (普通话). That’s the official language of Mainland China.
My very first Chinese teacher came from Taiwan. Even though she was super great, intelligent and smart – she had a bit of a dialect that heavily confused me.