The Ultimate Guide to Learning Chinese Online 

best ways to learn Chinese online

Embarking on the journey of language learning can be an exciting yet daunting endeavor, especially when it’s Mandarin Chinese. The unique Chinese characters, intricate tonal sounds, and distinct grammar rules set it apart from most Western languages.

However, the rise of the digital age has unveiled some of the best ways to learn Mandarin online, simplifying the process significantly. With a huge range of resources, ranging from online Chinese courses to interactive Chinese dictionaries, available at your fingertips, mastering this language has become more accessible than ever before. 
Whether you’re a complete beginner or an advanced learner, this guide will help you navigate through the most efficient ways to learn Chinese and improve your language skills, focusing particularly on how to learn Mandarin Chinese using online platforms.

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This ultimate guide covers resources for:

  • Pronunciation
  • Pinyin
  • Characters
  • Vocabulary
  • Grammar
  • Listening
  • Chinese TV and Movies
  • Speaking.

There are plenty of resources available for learning Chinese online, and for the purposes of this article, we’ll focus on Mandarin Chinese and simplified Chinese characters.


What resources do I need to learn Chinese?

The resources and methods you choose to use for your Mandarin Chinese learning journey will vary based very much on your current level as well as your language learning goals. Basically, learning Mandarin Chinese online can be as interactive and engaging as you make it.

Now, while it may vary from person to person, learning Mandarin Chinese can be challenging without the literacy side of things. Here’s a quote from another answer I gave, emphasizing the importance of learning Chinese characters:

“You need to learn characters for two reasons — one practical, the other philosophical.”

Practical: Mandarin Chinese has approximately 409 independent syllables (not accounting for tones), leading to a high number of homophones throughout the language. Compared to English, which has around 15,000 independent syllables, this can be a hurdle for language learners. However, from a visual perspective, characters with the same pronunciation often are visually distinct, aiding your brain in pattern recognition.

From left to right: 市 shì, 是 shì, 式 shì, 示 shì, 十 shí, 时 shí, 事 shì, 使 shǐ, 湿 shī

All of these characters are pronounced “shi” in various tones (five of them are the fourth tone). 

From an auditory perspective, this becomes very hard to distinguish, but as you can see, they are visually nothing alike. Starting to see how learning characters will give your brain a huge pattern recognition advantage?

Philosophical: Mandarin Chinese is not a bad-sounding language at all, I actually quite like it, but it isn’t exactly in the running for the most pleasant-sounding language (here’s looking at you, French and Italian). However, I would argue that the Chinese writing system is by far the most interesting, culturally relevant, and rewarding system to learn in the world. You will open your mind to ways of interpreting reality that will make your brain, quite simply, better at thinking. 

But most importantly, reading is incredibly effective for acquiring a second language. The only reason people avoid this with Chinese is that they are intimidated by the writing system (more on why they feel this way below). Effectively, if you don’t learn characters, you are handicapping yourself massively in the acquisition process.

Anecdotally, I find this to be the case — the more I read, the faster the right word comes to my mind in situations of speaking or writing.


Pronunciation resources

Assuming your goal is to be fluent in speaking as well as literate in writing, the path should begin with a solid understanding of the order in which to approach these skills. 

Note that pronunciation is the first step, and while the relative energy you need to spend on it diminishes over time, it never goes away entirely. It’s akin to swimming for a water polo player. No matter how much you learn about water polo technique or strategy, you always have to swim.

So however extensive your Mandarin vocabulary becomes, you’ll always have to pronounce new words. A lot of these ideas were inspired by Gabriel Wyner’s book and website, Fluent Forever, a fantastic resource for language learners.

Resources for learning Pinyin

Starting on your path to learn Mandarin Chinese can be exciting, and an essential step in this process is mastering Pinyin. Fortunately, there are loads of top-quality resources available to aid in this endeavor. Let’s explore some of the best online Chinese courses and tools dedicated to Pinyin learning.

  • Pronunciation Mastery  — A distilled Mandarin program that’s been honed over 4 years, this has been designed for learners who prefer straight-to-the-point, no-nonsense instructions. By its completion, you’ll be pronouncing like a native, nailing tones, comfortably conversing with locals during your Chinese escapade, and even typing in Chinese. Alongside sound production, you’ll master over 200 words and phrases, and elementary grammar. This all-access, flexible learning solution sets you on a fast-track to Mandarin proficiency.
  • Pinyin by All Set Learning — A stellar resource, particularly for iOS users. All Set Learning stands as one of the leading platforms for Mandarin Chinese learners, offering a rich array of resources for those eager to learn Chinese. Their interactive Pinyin chart is just one of the many invaluable tools they provide.
  • All Set Learning Pinyin Chart Yabla Pinyin Chart — This is a standout resource and among the best online Chinese courses for learning Pinyin. The chart offers an interactive, easy-to-navigate design that is perfect for beginner course learners as well as intermediate and advanced learners. The chart showcases the characters in a comprehensive manner, which allows learners to enhance their understanding of Chinese characters. With this resource, Mandarin Chinese learners can boost their language skills, particularly in reading and writing.
  • ChinesePod Pinyin App — Yet another remarkable resource from ChinesePod, the link here leads to the Android version, providing an alternative for those who can’t access iOS-only resources like All Set Learning. This app encapsulates the benefits of online Mandarin Chinese courses, making Pinyin learning easily accessible and engaging.
  • Yabla Pinyin Chart — This online Pinyin chart comes highly recommended. Its standout feature is the contextual pronunciation of the majority of the third tones, as opposed to how they are pronounced when isolated. It’s an excellent tool for those who are keen on learning Mandarin Chinese in a contextually relevant manner.
  • Yoyo Chinese’s online audio/video Pinyin chart — This is another great resource to enhance your language learning process. Yoyo Chinese has crafted a superb online audio and video tool that takes an interactive approach to Pinyin learning. This resource is perfect for those aiming to enhance their listening comprehension and speaking skills while studying Pinyin.

Remember, the best ways to learn Mandarin online are likely to vary based on your learning style and preferences. So consider exploring these resources to find what works best for your unique language-learning journey.


Resources for learning characters

Gee wiz, I don’t want to sound like a broken record here, but learning characters is the single most important layer to learning Chinese. Frequency is key here. Learn the important characters first.

Unfortunately, despite this layer being the most important aspect of learning Chinese, there is sadly not nearly enough out there to help people properly learn characters. 

There are resources available, but they tend to be unsystematized; essentially just a collection of facts about character components or individual characters that may or may not be relevant to what you need at any given stage of your learning.

Sure, you can find books that talk about character components, but so what? Can you use it right away? Do you understand the context in which it will be used? I’m not arguing these types of books aren’t useful, but rather that there are more efficient ways of going about learning through systems.

Helpful books for Chinese characters

While traditional textbooks might seem the obvious choice for learning Mandarin Chinese, they often fall short when it comes to teaching Chinese characters. I’ve read countless textbooks throughout my academic journey, including my graduation from a Chinese university, but found none that effectively tackles character learning. It’s as though they sidestep this vital learning component due to the challenging nature of teaching it.

A renowned resource that attempts to address this gap is the book Remembering the Simplified Hanzi by James Heisig and Timothy Richardson. I will forever appreciate these two pioneers of character learning, despite some shortcomings in their methods, as I’ve highlighted previously.

For example, the book doesn’t provide a technique to learn the pronunciation of each character. While you can master writing them and understand their meaning (arguably the most crucial aspect), the inability to pronounce them hinders the application of the knowledge you’ve just acquired. It’s like having a Chinese dictionary without the audio, limiting your speaking skills.

And due to the premise that characters cannot be fully learned in their totality, they often introduce characters quite late, most likely because they consider a lot of the components of Chinese characters too complex to get into.

For instance, because the left side of the character 那 nà is comparatively intricate, it’s not introduced in the Heisig sequence until after you’ve learned over 1400 other characters. This approach presents a challenge because 那 is the 33rd most frequent character in Chinese.

So, if you’re a language learner who prefers learning languages in context and quickly, you may find the Heisig book rather frustrating.

The book promises, “You’ll thank me later for accumulating this knowledge.” While this statement holds, boy oh boy, it demands a significant commitment to learn a set of characters that aren’t immediately applicable. If you’re looking to learn Mandarin online, consider integrating online Mandarin Chinese courses with resources like Heisig’s book for a more rounded learning experience.


The Hanzi movie method

It is in this area that I can confidently say that our project Mandarin Blueprint really is the best option out there for learning Mandarin Chinese characters. Using the MB method, you can learn all aspects of a character in one visualization exercise. The pronunciation, meaning, components, and even writing can all be imagined in one “movie scene” — this is why we call it the “Hanzi movie method” (Hanzi being the Chinese language term for characters).

The Hanzie Movie method is akin to an immersive movie that allows you to learn Mandarin online effectively. It engages your senses and imagination, making Mandarin Chinese learners not only able to memorize characters but also truly understand each of them. It’s like taking online Mandarin Chinese courses but with a creative and interactive twist.

By integrating this method into your language-learning journey, you’ll be able to maximize your language skills and make learning Chinese characters more enjoyable and less daunting. This is what makes the Mandarin Blueprint one of the best ways to learn Mandarin online.

The best part is that it covers the most frequent 3050 characters without waiting too long to get to them, and it’s also systemized with words and sentences. Put simply, after you learn a character, you can instantly see it in the context of words and sentences that you understand.

We’ve had students learn the top 500 characters in under a month using this method, and that alone is going to take literally years off your Chinese study time.


Resources for grammar acquisition

First of all, remember that learning grammar rules is not the key to acquiring grammar. It’s simply a matter of having massive amounts of comprehensible input. In other words, you need to engage in listening comprehension and reading activities frequently, ensuring they’re at or slightly above your level.

This is a fundamental aspect of language learning often overlooked by language learners. As you embark on your journey to learn Mandarin Chinese, it’s vital to listen to native Mandarin speakers and read Chinese dialogues. By doing so, you’ll naturally absorb Chinese vocabulary and grammar patterns.

For what it’s worth, the real answer to how to acquire grammar is to immerse yourself in the language. If you want motivation, go to Khatzumoto’s All Japanese All the Time blog and read everything on the “Best of Ajatt” side panel. Your motivation levels will skyrocket.


Input before output

However, while you are in the process of immersing yourself, graded readers are one of the best ways to get input that is at your level. Graded readers are simply stories or articles that have been simplified to use vocabulary that suits particular levels. Often they are organized by HSK levels. There are many possible resources for this, but I’m going to give you two main recommendations.

If you are looking for physical books, you can order graded readers from Mandarin Companion or Chinese Breeze. I would still recommend using something online that tracks your progress, but hey, if you like to have the real book in your hand, go for it.

Finally, if you’re interested in learning Chinese grammar rules, the All Set Learning Chinese Grammar Wiki provides loads of Chinese grammar explanations in plain English with lots of good examples.

Resources for listening

Podcasts to search for in your podcast app:

  • Slow Chinese — Great for pronunciation, and transcripts are on the website, so it’s great for putting sentences into Anki.

Resources for Chinese TV and movies

TV and movies are incredibly effective ways of learning real Chinese. Here are some great websites to find content on:

  • Youku and Tudou — Basically Chinese YouTubes. Worth signing up for the paid version to get loads of full movies with no ads.
  • Youtube — Check out the practical Chinese reader’s channel and Yoyo Chinese, as well as loads of other Chinese content.
  • 爱奇艺 (ài qí yì) — Chinese video website and APP. Almost unlimited relevant video content of many different categories and lengths, including news clips, TV shows, movies, and random clips.
  • Fluentu — Website and app that collects loads of Chinese adverts and TV shows with interactive subtitles. Excellent and worth paying for.

Tip: When you’re using a TV show to help you learn Mandarin, you might encounter words or phrases that are new to you. Instead of stopping and looking it up immediately in your Chinese dictionary app, just snap a screenshot of that scene. Later, you can take your time to study these unfamiliar parts. You could even share the screenshots with your tutor during your next class.

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Resources for speaking practice

It goes without saying that having a conversation in person with native speakers is the best situation possible, but if you aren’t in China, it’s easier to find native speakers than you think. We’ll provide more examples below, but consider using the “People Nearby” function in WeChat; Chinese people are all over the world and you never know if a native speaker is nearby.


If you aren’t in China, or you’re just rather introverted and have trouble breaking the ice, you can use some of the following resources and ideas.

  • Language exchange partners: Language exchange platforms can pair you with native Mandarin speakers who are learning your native language. This way, you can help each other practice speaking skills.
  • Social media and online communities: Joining Chinese language learning groups or forums can provide opportunities to practice speaking and writing Chinese characters. You can also follow native Mandarin speakers on social media platforms and engage with their posts.
  • Language cooking classes: Join an online or IRL cooking class where the instruction is given in Mandarin Chinese. You’ll learn new recipes and practice your language skills at the same time.
  • Voice-over practice: Find your favorite Chinese movie or TV show, mute the audio, and try to dub the voices of the characters. This can be a fun way to practice your pronunciation and speaking skills.
  • Create a Mandarin-only zone in your house: Designate a specific area in your house where only Mandarin is spoken. Every time you enter this zone, challenge yourself to think and speak only in Mandarin.
  • Mandarin karaoke: Singing can help with your pronunciation and rhythm in a new language. Find Chinese songs with lyrics (preferably in Pinyin), and sing along.
  • Chinese language board games: Play board games but with a twist — all the instructions and communications must be in Mandarin. This way, you’re not only learning but also having fun.
  • Digital pen pal: Find a Mandarin-speaking pen pal and communicate through voice messages. It can be an enriching experience as you learn about each other’s cultures while practicing Mandarin.

Remember, the key to mastering Mandarin Chinese, or any language, is consistency and practice. Make sure to utilize your online Chinese courses and tools like Mandarin Blueprint and Chinese dictionaries to facilitate your learning. Most importantly, have fun while learning.

Start learning today

This is by no means an exhaustive list, and of course, there are always new resources coming out each year. I recommend that you use these resources with a few basic principles in mind:

  • Characters are the most important layer of analysis in the early days.
  • Not having fun will make you quit, so use these various resources in tandem and in a way that suits your mood.
  • Something is better than nothing. Not sure which resource to use? Just try one. Learning in a fun way is better than learning in a boring way, but coming into contact with Chinese at all is better than zero.

The resources available to Mandarin learners now are truly amazing, so 祝你成功.

Learning Chinese FAQS

How can Mandarin Chinese learners effectively study Chinese characters?

Mandarin Chinese learners often find studying Chinese characters to be a challenging task due to the unique nature of the written language. One of the best ways to learn Mandarin online is to use comprehensive resources like The Blueprint, which combines the teaching of pronunciation, meaning, components, and writing of each character into one visualization exercise.

Of course, regularly practicing writing Chinese characters can help reinforce this learning and increase your language skills. For additional practice, consider using a Chinese dictionary to explore more characters and their usage.

What’s the best overall Mandarin course for beginners?

For complete beginners, a structured course is always going to be useful for building a solid foundation in Mandarin Chinese. The Blueprint offers beginner courses that encompass all aspects of the language, including listening comprehension, speaking skills, and writing Chinese characters. We also offer interactive exercises to apply what you’ve learned in a practical context. 

How can I improve my Mandarin Chinese listening skills?

Improving your listening skills is crucial when learning Mandarin Chinese. You can enhance your listening comprehension by consistently exposing yourself to the language through audio sources and videos. Listening to Chinese dialogues in different contexts and levels of complexity can also help you understand conversational Mandarin better. 

What are the best online Chinese courses for advanced learners?

Advanced learners looking to take their Mandarin skills to the next level are likely to find online Mandarin Chinese courses like The Blueprint beneficial. We offer advanced Chinese courses tailored to suit your learning style, with interactive exercises and complex dialogues to help you refine your speaking, listening, and writing skills. 

Resources like the New Practical Chinese Reader can also be very beneficial for advanced learners looking to expand their Chinese vocabulary and grasp complex grammar structures.

How can I practice speaking Mandarin Chinese?

The key to practicing speaking Mandarin Chinese is immersion and consistent practice. Online Chinese courses like The Blueprint offer numerous opportunities to engage in conversational Chinese and practice speaking with native Mandarin speakers. You can also consider taking private classes or group classes to improve your speaking skills in an interactive setting. 

How can I improve my Mandarin Chinese writing skills?

Improving your Mandarin Chinese writing skills involves consistent practice and a good understanding of Chinese characters. Our online Chinese courses provide ample opportunities to practice writing, with resources dedicated to understanding and writing Chinese characters. You can also use a Chinese dictionary to learn more about each character’s composition and usage.

I’m visiting China soon; how can I prepare myself linguistically?

That’s great news! The best way to prepare is to make an effort to learn Mandarin before your trip. This can be done through online courses like The Blueprint, language learning apps like Super Chinese, and practicing conversational Mandarin with native Chinese speakers.

Can I really learn Mandarin through online resources?

Absolutely! You can learn Chinese online through various platforms that offer comprehensive courses, like The Blueprint. These courses can help you understand Chinese characters, improve your listening comprehension, and practice speaking Chinese.

How often should I practice speaking Chinese to become fluent?

The more, the better! Practicing speaking Chinese on a daily basis with native Chinese speakers can tremendously improve your fluency. Make use of online platforms to connect with language exchange partners.

Why is it important to learn vocabulary in Mandarin?

Learning vocabulary is essential in any language-learning process. By knowing more words, you can express your thoughts more accurately and understand more of what’s being said in Mandarin.

What’s the best way to speak Chinese like a native?

To speak Chinese like a native, it’s crucial to practice with native Chinese speakers. They can correct your pronunciation, teach you common phrases, and expose you to different dialects.

How can I practice Mandarin if I don’t know any native Chinese speakers?

There are many online platforms where you can connect with native Chinese speakers for language exchange. This allows you to practice speaking Chinese and also helps the other person practice your native language.

Can learning Mandarin online be as effective as traditional classroom learning?

Definitely — online learning has the advantage of learning at your own pace, revisiting lessons as many times as you want, and accessing a variety of resources. Plus, you can practice speaking with native Chinese speakers from all over the world.

Remember, the key to learning Mandarin, or any language, is consistency, patience, and lots of practice! Learning a new language requires dedication and consistent practice, so try to make time each day to review and practice your language skills. Whether you’re a complete beginner or an advanced learner, online resources can provide you with the tools you need to improve your Mandarin Chinese skills.