To learn Mandarin online is convenient, easy and cheap. But what is the best way to learn Mandarin online?

Many people studying online do not improve as fast as students who take face to face classes at a school or travel to China, Taiwan or Singapore for a Mandarin course.

However, this does not have to be the case.

As long as you do it the right way, you can improve your Mandarin online as fast as you can with face to face classes.

Emma proved it can be done – passing HSK 6 with mainly online study

It is possible to achieve Mandarin fluency with online classes only, but it takes a bit more effort and discipline from the student. Let us tell you how to study Mandarin best online.

Tip #1 – Time Management

Tip #2 – Intensity

Tip #3 – Nail The Basics

Tip #4 – Tones First

Tip #5 – Use It, Everywhere

Tip #6 – Make It Fun

Tip #7 – Utilise the HSK

Tip #8 – Get a Great Teacher

Tip #9 – Exploit Apps


TV Shows are a great way to relax and learn at the same time
Watch YouTube videos with TWO sets of subtitles

Tip #1 Best Way to Learn Mandarin Online – Time Management

The first one is obvious, but many people tend to forget about it.

When you think about how long it will take you to learn Mandarin, do not think about it in the months or years that you are pursuing the task, but in hours that you are actually studying or practicing your Mandarin.

To learn Mandarin online means that you will not have to travel to a school or China to study. It does not mean you will not have to put in the hours.

This includes everything, from taking online lessons, to reviewing vocabulary and practicing to chat. However, you will need to get those hours in to learn Mandarin, whichever way you study.

Tip #2 – Intensity

It does not matter if you study online or offline, to progress in Mandarin you will need to spend time studying it.

However, it is not only about how many hours you spend studying, but also how far they are spread apart.

Spending an hour every week studying Mandarin will just not get you ahead, whichever way you study and for however long you will do it.

To learn Mandarin is very different for an English speaker than studying for example Spanish, German or French. It is a lot tougher.

Chinese words sound nothing like English ones and they are very easy to forget even after you learned and remembered them. If you do not regularly hear a word again and again after you learned it, you will simply forget it and all your previous learning effort was wasted.

Tones and characters work in a similar manner.

With many other subjects you can simply study a little bit every week and as long as you keep doing it for long enough you will still get there.

That is not how it works with Chinese for English speakers. For the best result you will need to repeat vocabulary very regularly for quite a while until a word moves from short term to long term memory.

This varies for each student but from our experience six hours a week is an absolute minimum, but for real progress you need at least 10.

Note: If you know a language similar to Mandarin, like Cantonese, Japanese, Korean or Vietnamese, this can be different.

Tip #3 – Nail The Basics

Sounds obvious again, right? Hear us out!

To learn Mandarin you do not necessarily need a teacher for everything, but for some things it is definitely best approach.

Tones for example you need to study with a teacher who can listen to your tones, correct you and help you how to say tones correctly. 

The same course goes for pronunciation and conversation practice.

Chinese characters and to a lesser extend grammar, however you can study relatively effectively yourself with the help of apps and books.

So the ideal Chinese online course should be a combination of Chinese online lessons with a teacher, review, and self-study with apps.

Note: For online classes to be effective you do not just need a fluent Mandarin speaker, but a trained and professional teacher.

You can practice to chat and talk with any Chinese speaker, however to actually learn Mandarin properly you need an experienced and qualified instructor.

Tip #4 – Tones First

Following on from point 3 nicely into point 4 here. Basics means tones, a big part of it anyway.

Students who learn online often focus on vocabulary, characters and grammar first and do not pay enough attention to pronunciation and tones. This can backfire later.

While characters, grammar and vocabulary will simply improve over time, tones and pronunciation tend to stay the way you got used to them at the beginning.

The best way to learn is to get your tones and pronunciation right at the beginning and not only later in the course.

Note: Tones are essential for speaking Mandarin. Differently to what some people on the internet say, it is not possible to speak intelligible Mandarin without correct tones. If you do not hear them, that is not an as big problem, but you need to be able to say them correctly.

Tip #5 – Use Mandarin, Everywhere

Just studying is not enough, you need to practice and use your skills in real life.

This can be more difficult when you are not in China, however it is possible to create a Chinese language immersion environment at home as well. 

Make sure you pay attention to this.

You can be the best student in the world, spend endless hours practicing characters and have a fantastic teacher…

However, if you do not apply what you learned, you will not become fluent.

Tip: Do not get frustrated when people do not understand you. Most likely your tones were wrong. This happens to the finest students. Keep trying.

Tip #6 Best Way to Learn Mandarin Online – Make it Fun

There is no better teacher than fun. One of the problems of studying Mandarin online outside of China, is that you are less likely to achieve the “little victories” that make you feel that you are actually progressing and all the hard study is worth it.

When you can finally order a dish in Mandarin, have a little conversation with the school receptionist for the first time or successfully manage to open that Chinese bank account – these are unparalleled moments of success when all the things you learned suddenly come to live.

They might seem small to others, but to us learners of Mandarin they are cherished memories that keep us going on our path to fluency.

However, it is possible to have these at home too. Find Chinese speakers around you and online (WeChat, Weibo, QQ etc.) and talk to them.

Being overwhelmed at the beginning is no problem at all and part of the process. Just keep going and little by little the clouds will lift, you will start to understand and it is going to be a terrific experience.

Tip #7 – Utilise the HSK

While the HSK exam has many disadvantages, like for example not testing your spoken Mandarin at all, it is the leading test for Chinese language learners.

It is also a standardised exam that allows you to see how you progress and therefore the best option you have.

Set yourself HSK level exam targets and then work towards those. The HSK 1 is not all that difficult and with full time study you should be able to pass in less than four weeks.

Once you have the first certificate in your hands, the whole rest of the journey looks much more doable.

Tip #8 – Get a Great Teacher

When studying Mandarin online, having a first-rate teacher is even more important than when studying at school or in China.

As you are not surrounded by Chinese speakers during day to day life, your teacher will be your main – and sometimes only – person who can make sure what you are doing is correct, spot your mistakes you make and keep you on track.

This is particularly important for tones and pronunciation.

However, this also applies to reading, grammar and vocabulary.

Now… where can you find a great teacher…?!

Tip #9 Best Way to Learn Mandarin Online – Exploit Apps

Find the perfect combination of apps that work for you. Different apps do different things.

While some focus on characters and reading, others focus on grammar and sentence patterns or vocab memorization.

You should definitely get a flashcard system like Anki and an online dictionary like Pleco.

The rest depends on the way you study. In our experience a combination of immersing yourself at home, regular classes with a certified Chinese online teacher, vocabulary review with a flashcard app, plus some apps like HSK Online is the best combination.

However there is no bad or wrong way to study there. Any software you try is going to teach you something and you will progress just by seeing characters and vocab again, so do not be shy about trying stuff out.

Tip: Nobody knows your strength and weaknesses better than your online teacher, so don’t be shy to ask your tutor for recommendations.


In the end, the best way to learn Mandarin is to go to China and use it. 

It is also a great way to motivate yourself.

It can be far in the future with and without any concrete plans yet, but get yourself into the right mindset!

You will become fluent in Mandarin and chatting with Chinese locals over Beijing duck and Tsingtao beer.

It will take some time and effort, but you will get there.

加油, we are here with you for the whole journey!

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What are some good apps to learn Chinese?

You should definitely get a flashcard system like Anki and an online dictionary like Pleco.

The rest depends on the way you study. 

In our experience a combination of immersing yourself at home, regular classes with a certified Chinese online teacher, vocabulary review with a flashcard app, plus some apps like HSK Online is the best combination.

Here is a load of apps we’ve reviewed you can take a look at.

What Chinese Dictionary App would you recommend?

Pleco is without doubt the most extensive and popular Chinese dictionary app available.

We’d go as far as saying using Pleco day to day is one of the best ways to learn Mandarin online.

What is a good app for reading Chinese text?

Our favourite is Du Chinese.

Du Chinese allows you to choose your level and read short extracts of text whilst also saving words into a flashcard deck.

Can I study for the HSK online?

Yes absolutely.

We provide HSK specific courses which take place online and in person.

Are there any good in browser tools to learn Chinese?

We really like Hack Chinese, a great in browser “app” to learn Chinese characters.

We wrote a review and filmed a video about Hack Chinese here.

What is a good app for writing Chinese characters?

Skritter is widely regarded the best app on the market for learning how to write Chinese characters.

We wrote a review on Skritter here.