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Review of Beginner Mandarin Chinese Courses

I have mentioned that different courses are suitable for different people, and suit different study methods. I am developing my own course, Survive in Chinese, an intensive course for the independent language learner to gain a rapid foundation in Mandarin, however I often like to work through several beginners courses in detail, in order to build a solid base, revise key elements, and gain confidence in using the language.

TextbooksHere are some Mandarin courses that I like:

FSI Chinese: A Modular Approach – Teaches Mandarin in themed sections, with loads of drills and practice. The best thing is that this course is freely distributed and there is a LOT of audio, although the recordings are old and the language is quite dated in places. Scripts are not really designed for the self-learner but are very comprehensive. The course is designed for the US diplomat in China, so some vocabulary and dialogues not relevant.

Pimsleur Chinese – An audio only course, that drills down basic phrases and grammar structures. The advantage is that it provides a lot of audio and practice. It is however quite slow, and because nothing is written down, everything has to be repeated more. Good for getting you to a stage where you can open your mouth and use the language, but lacking in vocabulary. No Pinyin or Chinese characters.

Teach Yourself Chinese – Traditional style dialogue and grammar course, dialogues are practical and grammar is explained clearly, if you have commitment and you like traditional courses, this could be the one for you.

Assimil Chinese – I personally am a fan of the Assimil method – language presented in small chunks, suitable for studying for 20 minutes a day. Lighter grammar notes, and some of the texts are quite fun.

And some others:

Colloquial Chinese 1 and 2 – An alternative traditional dialogue and grammar course, that explains the basics clearly and provides extra texts

Rosetta Stone – The hype is that you learn through pictures and natural recall, just like a child learning his/her first language – it has some advantages and is quite easy going. This course has been improved a lot in recent editions, however the pace is a bit slow for my liking.

Linguaphone All Talk – Audio only – not tried this one, perhaps somebody could comment on it

BBC Chinese – A bit of a mess of resources, hasn’t been updated in ages, but the resources are free, so worth a look

Living Language Chinese – I hear this is a good resource for people who already know the basics of Chinese but is not easy for beginners to follow.

Earworms Chinese – This one is not a full course – it’s a simple phrasebook, set to music. It gives you some useful phrases for your travels, and setting it to music with a pulse might makes it effective for some people. Short and also cheap, a great little extra.

Language Guide (Mandarin) – Again, not a course but a picture vocabulary guide, with audio for each piece of vocabulary. Whilst I never advice learning vocabulary in isolation, this is quite fun to try out.

Podcasts in Chinese

Serge Melnkys – Good series with useful beginner dialogues and easy to listen to. Serge is a Czech guy, but a great Chinese speaker and a good teacher. The earlier podcasts had Serge speaking Chinese, so not native speaker audio, which puts some people off. I think native speakers have been added to the later podcasts.

Chinesepod – Subscription based, try a free trial before you commit to anything. The basic lessons are quite fun but a lot of English chat, not a very quick and effective method, but to pick up some phrases it is usable. The intermediate, advanced and media podcasts are good for the intermediate learner, good listening material.

I have seen that there is also an Open University Chinese course available on iTunesU, if anybody has tried it please let me know.

Whichever course(s) you choose, your commitment and determination is what will get you the furthest on your path to speaking fluent Mandarin!  Get hold of a course, and stick through it as far as possible. Only change to another half way through if you are really finding the learning method difficult. Best of luck !!