what’s the best way to learn Chinese

Best Way to Learn Chinese? University? Tutors? Online?

In our years of Chinese teaching, we’ve come to realize that the vast majority of people would rather pay for someone else to take the responsibility of charting their study map. It’s a big time-saver, after all figuring it out on your own is tricky & time-consuming. So after you crack open the wallet, what are your choices? What’s the best way to learn Chinese?

University? Tutors? Online? Which is BEST to Learn Mandarin?

Best Way to Learn Chinese: Universities

Universities are far & away from the most expensive option for learning Chinese, with the cheapest being universities in China itself. Sichuan University, where Phil got his degree, has tuition of approximately $1500 per semester. This means that getting a four-year degree will end up costing you $12,000. Bearing in mind that this is the cheapest option (we don’t even want to think about how much it would cost in the States), so is it worth it?

University Advantages

  1.  At Least Has a curriculum

    Curriculums at least give you a “do this then do that” linear sequence to learn Chinese. Without knowledge of what to do after you succeed at a given task, you consistently run the risk of making a wrong turn that leads to wasted time or giving up.

    2. Exposes You to Chinese On A Daily Basis

    The fact that you need to show up every day at 8:00 AM in a classroom holds you at least somewhat accountable. Even if the Chinese spoken in class is overly formal and too academic, it’s still a form of immersion.

University Disadvantages

  1.  Has a BAD Curriculum

    Sure, having one takes the stress off of you to decide what part of Chinese to learn next, but what if the materials are ONLY based on passing an exam? Real language acquisition occurs unconsciously, but good luck testing that. If you want to run a university, you better have exams so you can measure the efficacy of your learning materials. As a result, universities become measurement-focused. There is a HUGE difference between having exams & not having exams when it comes to how you will approach the teaching of language.

    2. It Shouldn’t Take Four Years

    We’ve already established that university curriculums suffer from the necessity of exams, and a negative consequence of such a system is that you move SLOWLY. The unconscious acquisition may not feel as concrete as “learning a grammar point,” but it’s WAY faster in the long run. I

    Conclusion: NOT worth it.

Best Way to Learn Chinese: Tutors

“Fine, fine,” you say, “So universities rely on tests and therefore waste a lot of time, but tutors don’t need exams!” Right you are! We’re heading in the right direction.

Online tutors tend to cost $10-$20 per hour, and so if you have a 1-hour tutoring session every weekday, that’s $200-$400 a month or $2400-$4800 a year. Why once a day? That’s the somewhat conservative minimum you’ll need to be sure you stay on track. Remember, tutors don’t necessarily have a set curriculum, so once a week ain’t gonna cut it to learn Chinese. You’ll likely move more quickly than university, so after three years of keeping this up, you can expect to be at the same level as after finishing university, bringing your total expenditure on learning Chinese with tutors from zero-fluency to a range between $7200-$14,400. Is it worth it? Is it the best way to learn Chinese?

Tutors – Advantages

  1.  No Exams

    Exams force teachers to teach for the test, which in turn discourages natural language acquisition. You know when you get “tested” with language acquisition? Basically, when you need to communicate with someone in the real world, and you succeed or you don’t. Not having this dead-end requirement is a big relief when learning Chinese.

    2. One-on-One attention

    While some things are universal about language acquisition, personality will dictate which aspects of the journey are most attractive to you when learning Chinese. Your tutor can roll with this, but a university cannot.

    3. You Make the Schedule

    This can be a disadvantage too if you’re a fan of procrastination, but we’ll keep it in the advantage column for now. It’s important to remember, however, that the onus is on you to remain disciplined about attending your tutoring session every day. Your tutor is not going to put up any fuss if you frequently cancel class, so if you are somewhat undisciplined, then the freedom of schedule may work against you when trying to learn Chinese.

Tutors – Disadvantages

  1.  Massive Variation in Quality

    In the early days of learning, it’s hard to tell how competent a tutor is. It’s possible they aren’t aware of the necessity of a curriculum, or perhaps they do understand the need for a curriculum, but they use TEXTBOOKS (barf) to serve as their guide. Textbooks are the natural enemy of language acquisition, do not fall for their false promises of fluency!

    2. Unlikely to Have Review Materials

    Universities will give you (bad) review materials, and online courses may even give you Spaced-Repetition Softwares to review, but until now we’ve never seen a tutor who provides good reviewing materials based on the newest technologies. Most Chinese nationals are unaware of the existence of such software. Guess what? You have to review! If your tutor isn’t helping in this realm, you’re on your own.

    3. “The Search”

    Because of the massive variation in quality, tenuous curriculum, review materials, and even potential personality clashes, it may take quite a long time to find the tutor that is right for you. That search isn’t free. Sure, sometimes tutors will offer a trial session on the house, but if it doesn’t work out, it’s still a waste of time. How long the search lasts is partially luck, but the fact is that the percentage of tutors who are excellent is very low, and their price is therefore probably a lot higher than $20/hour.

Conclusion on Tutors

If it is the ONLY way you are approaching Mandarin learning: NOT worth it
If it is a supplement to an Online course: Worth it. It brings the price down substantially because you don’t need to have a class every day. So is it the best way to learn Chinese?
Overall rating: Partially worth it.

Best Way to Learn Chinese: Online Learning

These days there are loads of APPs, websites, listen & repeat programs, podcasts, etc., devoted to Chinese learning and it’s growing all the time. You’ve got character learning APPs, pronunciation courses, graded readers, podcast transcripts; you name it! From a cost perspective, however, you have to bear in mind that they are not all in one place and most of them are subscription services.

If you want to have pronunciation, characters, vocabulary, grammar & output all covered, you’re going to need at least six of these services. That’s a minimum of $60 per month. Remember, however, that tutors are still necessary. You don’t need to see them every day if you are using these services, so we’ll give it the bare minimum of once a week at $10/hour equals $40 a week. Overall, you’re looking at a $100/month minimum.

Online Learning Advantages

  1.  Way Less Expensive Than Universities or Relying Entirely on Tutors

    2. No Time or Location Restraints

    Even a daily online tutoring session still requires you to be on your phone or computer at a particular time, but online learning happens entirely on your schedule. Again, this could be a disadvantage if you are undisciplined, but on the other hand, online learning APPs tend to set up incentives to use them every day.

    3. More Likely to Have Built-in Reviews

    Reviewing is essential, and the majority of online Chinese learning services provide a Spaced-Repetition review section.

Online Learning Disadvantages


There is a lot of great learning material out there, but it’s what we call a “pile of content.” Great content, sure, but apart from a general “beginner” pile, “intermediate” pile or “HSK 5” pile, you’re going to have to sift through it on your own. There are several inherent problems:

Are you going in the right order? You don’t know, and probably not.

Is the content based on what you already know? You’ll get lucky sometimes, but the material wasn’t designed with your specific knowledge in mind.

Are these different services integrated? Nope.

In the end, the onus of responsibility for figuring out what to do next is primarily on you, which brings us back to what we said at the beginning of this article: Most people would rather pay for somebody else to take responsibility for charting their study map.

Conclusion on Online Learning

You should use some of these services at some point if you have the means to do so, but because of the lack of curriculum, we’d recommend avoiding seeing online learning as your PRIMARY focus of study.

Well, Sounds Like All of These Options Are Lacking

Exactly! That’s why we made The Mandarin Blueprint Method to fill this gap in the market. Here is what you get:

Best Way to Learn Chinese:
A Charted Out Curriculum

Universities have this, but it’s based on teaching to the test. Tutors almost definitely don’t have this, but even if they do, it’s likely driven by a textbook. Online learning resources have a niche focus, but are mere “piles of content.”


The Mandarin Blueprint Method offer complete integration between Pinyin->Character Components -> Characters-> Vocabulary-> Grammar in a patent-pending system.

Universities fail at this miserably. They bring up all of the above topics, but instead of introducing new characters that contain previously learned character components, vocabulary that contains previously mastered characters, and grammar materials that use already mastered vocabulary, it’s usually just based on the whims of whoever wrote the textbook. It’s loosely integrated if at all, thus facilitating frustration and doubt in the student.

As for tutors, even if we grant that you found the perfect tutor who totally understands the necessity of integrating these different layers of Chinese and she or he brilliantly presents this to you each day (aka a pipe dream), their hourly rate is higher than the monthly rate for The Mandarin Blueprint Method.

Online services 呢?As mentioned above, they aren’t integrated *at all*. Overall they are more expensive than TMBM, and they put the onus on you to figure out what to do next.

Best Way to Learn Chinese:
So How Much Does It Cost?

Just a reminder, this is the most integrated, enjoyable & fastest way to learn Mandarin ever devised. It’s a game-changer. We want everyone in the Chinese learning world to say “What? You aren’t using The Mandarin Blueprint Method? Do you also still use a horse & plow to till your field?” So if we want everyone to know about this, the best way to learn Chinese is to make it affordable.

Click here to start your Free-Trial.