Language Money 

10 Tools to Learn Chinese in the Warmth of Your Own Home

If you’re like me, you hate winter, and you’ve begun to start counting down the days until spring begins. That’s 63 days from today. (Typically when chunjie ends and school stars back.)

One of the hardest parts about winter is walking out of your front door. All of these apps that bring food and groceries and shopping items to your front door? They were totally created by winter-haters like me.

I’m not for embracing bone crushing winds or taking a deep gulp of dragon’s breath air. That’s why I typically just opt to stay inside.

Unfortunately, this can really dry out the momentum I have in learning language, since I tend to get a lot less personal interaction with locals. I’m also not that great of a hostess for friends, sadly. I just recently majorly failed Thanksgiving stuffing and before that ruined my children’s icing on their cakes for their birthdays.

Excuses aside, that has given me plenty of reason to find and test out several at-home learning options to keep my Chinese pronunciation 不错.

1. Yabla
This is by far my favorite way to learn Chinese.

Why? I like to laugh even if it’s on my own (if you couldn’t tell), and Yabla has funny and culturally relevant videos. They take native language videos, add a transcript, digital dictionary, and the ability to slow each video down. The videos range from beginner to advanced, advanced. Their review games are lackluster albeit helpful.  I suppose I can’t get everything I want for only USD $10 a month!

If you’re planning on signing up for this, please use my affiliate link. There’s no added cost to you, but it helps put jiaozi on my table.

2. The Chairman’s Bao
If you need to improve your reading skills, The Chairman Bao is the way to go. My man has greatly improved his reading skills from consuming these interesting news articles from all over the middle kingdom. Seriously, the articles they pick really are fascinating. Having worked in media, I’m really picky about what I find as interesting.

I love that they use skill level – so if you’re HSK 1, they’ll match you with articles that fit.

***Use my code mom20 to get 20% off on any subscription packages!***

3. Yoyo Chinese
Not to brag, but there aren’t many people who feel comfortable to learn like me. I just listen carefully and pay attention to what people say, even if I don’t understand. I try to make myself understood when I speak. I’m ok with totally losing face and messing up in the language. The downside is I’m a terrible grammar and language student since I find the classroom to be a snore.

Most people prefer to understand the language and think about it to form the words and sentences (like my husband). Yoyo Chinese is great for people who want clear instructions at a self-designated pace and accountability through quizzes. Their audio pinyin chart and Chinese word order videos are super helpful, even for a terrible student like me.

***Use the code “mom10” through my link to get a 10% discount off of Yoyo Chinese subscriptions.***

4. iTalki
If you prefer one-on-one tutoring but can’t bare to head out to a training center, this platform is perfect for you. The downside is if you want to pay with WeChat as a foreigner, you can’t. Strange rules, but don’t argue. Just find a Chinese friend who doesn’t mind being bothered for the millionth time. The plus side is you can use PayPal if you’ve got funds overseas.

This is literally the perfect option for one-on-one tutoring for moms. You can schedule lessons around your kid’s nap and bed time! We recommend Merry Song for those of you who are looking for a tutor who doesn’t speak a lot of English. I personally hate it when tutors use more English than Chinese. 

Her cost per hour comes out to around ¥117… you’re not going to find many in person tutors at that cost.

***Cool news, if you join iTalki through me and try out a lesson, we’ll both get a USD $10 credit toward lessons.***

5. Iqiyi
Wanna know how I survived some pretty lonely days in the smoggiest winter in Beijing (2013) as a mom of two? I was cooped up inside at home without a chance for fresh air. 

I watched Dora the Explorer in Chinese with my kids.

Break from the kiddo madness? Check
Extra Chinese study in? Check

Listening to Chinese language videos helps train your ear for the language even if you don’t understand everything word for word. It’s how babies learn.

Best of all, it’s free!

6. WaWaYaYa
If you don’t want to drown in cartoons, you can have Chinese books read to you instead. Best of all, many of the more simple books have pinyin text available. I even like this app for my kids since the words light up as the book is read to them, perfect for my struggling reader.

You can download this from an app store. Just search “WaWaYaYa.”  You can pay with WeChat or Alipay. You can use my friend code 6C96D to try the app for 7 days for free.

7. ChinesePod
These quirky podcasts are better than other bites of Mandarin in the podcasting world, at least in my opinion. I’ve listened to several others that I won’t recommend here because the hosts are just so slow in explaining phrases. Instead, this podcast leaves you with laughs. Just check out the cheeky dialogue above about Chinese Internet Celebrities overlaid with the story of Snow White.

Right now you can try out your first month for just USD $1. There are special deals for students too.

8. ChineseSkill
This is a great app for the really fresh, fresh beginners but it also let’s you test out of lessons if your skills are superb. It’s essentially a study app, so not super fun, but it’s better than twiddling your thumbs if you’re on an hour subway ride to work. It’s free with upgrades of course. 

9. Crazy Fresh Chinese 
Speaking of free and bringing it back to funny, check out Crazy Fresh Chinese by Bai Jie (aka Jessica Beinecke). I learned how to say 不是我的菜 which is slang for “That’s not my thing” or literally, “That’s not my vegetable dish.”

I actually use this phrase all the time and everyone laughs because it’s so surprising that I know this. Bai Jie is cute and funny, though it’s sad to see she hasn’t updated her videos in about 6 months. The good news is that there are plenty of videos waiting there for you to surf through for free.

10. Rosetta Stone
I like Rosetta Stone because it’s comprehensive and you learn through pictures. I don’t like that you can’t test out of lessons, though you can skip around. For beginners, this is a great software to learn and there is an additional game dashboard that let’s you study in a way that’s more fun. If you just don’t like tutors and studying, this might be a great option for you.

My tip is to sign up for their advertisements and wait for the annual Father’s Day sale.

How do you study Chinese at home and have fun?

Join the group of other China-focused parents on Facebook by clicking here  or on WeChat by scanning the QR code


Vanessa Jencks founded China Family Blog to connect internationally-minded parents through semi-humorous stories and China-life-and-parenting fails. She is the former managing editor of beijingkids magazine; see her previous work here. She is also the founder of the 600+ member organization, Innovative Educators

WeChat: vanessajencks

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