Learn how to speak Chinese for free – it’s not that hard

Thanks to the wonders of the internet, it’s relatively easy to learn how to speak Chinese for free. Even without the internet, there’s a tonne of great, high quality, resources out there. 

In this post I’ll be telling you:

1. How to find books and resources for free.

2. How to find a teacher for free. 

3. How to find an ENTIRE language course for free!


Anki is hands down the pound for pound best SRS Software out there- and it’s free*. 

What is SRS you ask? SRS stands for Spaced Repetition System. Essentially, it’s a smart flash card app. It uses the feedback you give it to schedule when items repeat. Get an answer right, that card goes to the back of the pack. Get an answer wrong, and you’ll see it again shortly.

I’ve put Anki right at the top of the list because no matter what course you pick, you’ll need a way to study the material. Anki is great for this. 


Not only is Anki’s software free, but there’s a tonne of free user-generated flashcard decks. This is huge. For speaking Chinese, my favourite is this Spoonfed Chinese deck. It starts off super simple, with phrases you’re very likely to use in real life. It’s even got audio and pinyin!

*I believe iphone users have to pay. Android, MAC laptop or PC users can all use it for free.

Your Local Library

Before moving to China I got the entire Pimsleur Mandarin Course out of my local library for free. I couldn’t believe it. This course normally costs almost $600! 

Pimsleur is a great system if all you want to do is learn how to speak. It’s simple listen and repeat audio. Pimsleur isn’t reactive like Anki, the repetition is pre-set. I found myself replaying the same lessons over and over again. Still, it’s a great option if you’re driving or going to the gym.

A word of caution, Pimsleur Mandarin teaches with a heavy Beijing accent. This is fine if you’ll be in that part of the country, but I prefer standard Mandarin. Beijingers put a kind of pirate ‘arrr’ sound onto the end of every other word. It’s very different to the accent you’ll hear outside of the North East.

You can also get grammar books, dictionaries and all sorts of other goodies. Your local library is a fantastic, and grossly under-appreciated, resource.

Language Exchange

Language partners are a great way to learn any language. It’s a simple system; you teach them your language, and they teach you theirs. You can alternate every half hour. And hey, you even get a friend out of it!

Remember: Language Partners are not professional teachers. You have to plan your own lesson. Know in advance what you want to work on. It’s easier for them to answer specific grammar questions than to plan a whole curriculum. Especially when it’s not their job job.

Language partners are best for: pronunciation, conversation practice, and correcting short pieces of writing. Just make sure they know you want to be corrected.

There are a number of options when it comes to finding a language partner. If you’re in China, WeChat’s ‘people nearby’ feature is great. Even if you’re not in China, it’s worth try. 

I’ve used this language exchange website in the past and it’s worked out ok. You generally get pretty earnest language learners on it, as opposed to people looking for a date. 

If you prefer using skype, iTalki has thousands of native speakers you can talk to.


MOOCS stands for Massive Online Open Course. They are free online courses, although some charge for exams or certifications.

Duolingo is perhaps the most famous language MOOC of all. There are a whole range of different languages you can study. Chinese is relatively new to Duolingo. Last time I checked it didn’t go very far beyond the beginner level. However, all the content is user-generated. This means that it should get progressively better over time.

Coursera is a great resource for learning anything. Their courses are usually designed by experts in the field, so the content is always top quality. There are a number of Chinese courses to be found. They are usually free, but you’ll have to pay for a certificate of completion. 

I would suggest taking one of these courses but using the more conventional HSK test for certification. There’s even a HSK prep course on Coursera!


There are so many free resources out there for learning to speak Chinese you really have no excuse. 

Pick a course up from the library or in the form of a MOOC. This will be your framework, your curriculum. Then use Anki and a language partner to practice what you’ve learnt.

It’s that simple. Now, get to work.

Learn Chinese in Shanghai – the coolest city in China

Shanghai is a truly modern, international city. It’s the fashion capital of China. It’s not as cold as Beijing, or as swelteringly hot as Shenzhen. There’s a thriving nightlife and cultural scene. You can continue your hobbies from home here.

It’s one of the best places to live in China but is it one of the best places to learn Chinese? I’ve listed some factors to consider below.

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Learn Chinese in China – avoid the Expat Bubble!

This will be a two part post. I will write about why the Expat Bubble is so damaging to your language ambitions. I’ll also and about some of the ways to escape it.

The main issue is one of immersion. If you want to learn Chinese, or any other language, you want to be immersed in it; morning, noon, and night. You want to spend as much time as possible around the language. Working and socialising primarily through English, many expats never learn Chinese in China.

It’s an easy trap to fall into. And once you’re in, it seems impossible to escape. It’s not uncommon to meet people who, after several years in China, barely speak a word in the local language.

This can be embarrassing, and frustrating. Every time you go home, people ask how your Chinese is coming along. “You’ve been there for years, you must be fluent by now…” An awkward silence ensues when you confess your sins. I’ve been there, it sucks.

Continue reading “Learn Chinese in China – avoid the Expat Bubble!”

Learn Chinese in London – what are the options?

There are a lot of options when it comes to learning Chinese in London, but some do a better job of advertising themselves than others. Many people don’t realise just how many kinds of school there are.

Like residents in many other important cities, Londoners have the choice between Confucius Centers, full time university courses, private language schools, and private tutoring.

There are big differences between these options.  Read on to see which one is the best fit for you.

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How to learn Chinese characters for free – and remember them!


Learning Chinese can feel like you’re learning two different languages at the same time. You have all the work that goes into learning any other language PLUS the extra hassle of learning Chinese characters.


A lot of people pick up the speaking part relatively quickly, but then struggle with the characters. I was like this. When I started learning Chinese I already spoke Irish and French. Chinese was just another language.


But oh my, the characters! The characters were tough. I would say about 80% of the time I’ve spent learning Chinese has been spent learning characters. It’s only recently that they’re starting to stick.


The majority of the paid resources I use for learning Chinese are for learning characters. But who wants to pay for stuff? In this article I’ll teach you how to learn Chinese characters for free.

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Learn Chinese online for free – a cheapskate’s guide

I hope you’re reading this in an incognito tab. For shame, you penny pincher.

Just kidding…

Language materials can be expensive. Especially when you are a serious student, working on several different angles. But it doesn’t need to be.


There are a lot of great resources out there to learn Chinese online for free. You just have to find them.

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Easiest way to learn Chinese – is there an easy way?

Languages are infinitely complex, and there’s never a point where you’re ‘finished’ learning.

Obviously, if your goal is to become a lifelong Chinese scholar there is no easy way. You just have to put your head down and do the work. The easiest way to learn Chinese isn’t for you.

But most of us don’t need that. We just want enough Chinese to complete daily activities like grocery shopping or giving directions to a taxi driver. The next goal after that is to be able to hang out at a bar and understand the gist of the conversation.

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Can I learn Chinese? – Yes, anyone can learn Chinese

My parents came to China last Summer for the first time. They really enjoyed it. We went to all the big tourist spots in Beijing and Shanghai. At one point, my mum turned to me and asked ‘Can I learn Chinese? Do you think I could?’. The answer is an emphatic ‘yes!’. Anyone can do it. People often offer up excuses like age, money, or education-but it’s all nonsense. The only thing that matters is your attitude.

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Why learning Chinese is important – four reasons why everyone should learn Chinese

Chinese is not easy, in fact, it is usually considered very hard for English speakers. There are definitely easier languages to learn. But few offer the same advantages. Here are four reasons everyone should learn Chinese:

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