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.
BUT WAIT THERE’S MORE
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 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.