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.

Free Vocabulary

Pleco is the best Chinese dictionary APP out there. And it’s free. You can pay for added features, but the basic dictionary is completely free.


But reading a dictionary won’t expand your vocabulary. We need word lists, and flash cards. For this we must turn to the almighty Anki. Anki is a free flashcard app, that works on your desktop too.


Did I say free? Well, not exactly. iPhone users have to pay for it, I guess the developer figured they can afford it. It’s free for everyone else though!


The thing about Anki isn’t just that it’s amazing spaced repetition software. There are lots of free flashcards out there. No, Anki’s great advantage is the HUGE library of user generated flashcards that are free to download.


I’m talking exam specific vocabulary, common phrases, an entire deck that’s just for food- every possible niche is covered. And it’s all free! Some of these decks are really high quality too. With full integrated audio.


Here are some of my favourite Chinese decks:


Spoonfed Chineseis absolutely amazing. It takes you from the very basics right up to good conversational Chinese.

This grammar deck is insanely good. Whover made it deserves a huge amount of credit.

This is just one example of the HSK vocbulary based decks out there.


And the best part- these are all FREE.


Free reading practice

You can always go on Sina Weibo or WeChat to find some articles written in Chinese. That’s fine, actually ideal, if you’re an advanced student. But when you’re just starting out it’s nice to use materials that you can actually read.


I am a big fan, and paid subscriber, of The Chairman’s Bao. It’s a UK company, that produces graded articles in Chinese. You can sort the articles based on HSK level. Subscribers can read as many articles as they want at any level.




They also publish a new FREE article every day. Every day.


I subscribe because I think it’s a good business and I want to support them, not because I need to read Chinese every day. In fact, I usually only check it once or twice a week. The free version would suit my needs just fine.


Free Writing Practice

Get a pen pal. Better yet, a texting pal. Who knows, maybe your long discussions about grammar might blossom into a beautiful romance….. and if it doesn’t at least you’ll get some writing practice.


There’s a few different ways to find a pen pal. This website is an example. You can also find people who are interested in real world language exchanges. However, there’s a better way.


Use the same apps that Chinese people use. Download WeChat and open up the People Nearby or Message in a Bottle functions. Boom. Instant texting buddy.


But what about learning Chinese characters? Use Anki. There’s a deck for it.


Free Speaking and Listening Practice

Speaking and listening are absolutely crucial skills, and for most people they’re the priority. Speaking online has a few advantages, for learners, over speaking face to face.


Firstly, you can’t ‘cheat’ with hand gestures or acting. Not as much as you would in real life anyway. Ask any language learner, the final hurdle in terms of oral communication is being able to take a telephone call. Skyping at least lets you make eye contact, so it’s a little easier, but you sill have to rely primarily on your language skills.


Secondly, with your partners permission, you can record the conversation and listen back to it afterwards. This is a huge advantage. It allows you to make your own audio clips for flashcards. Create loops to practice the same phrase over and over again. Listen to yourself, compare your pronunciation to that of a native. There’s so much you can do when you own the audio.


Thirdly, it’s absolutely safe. Let’s be honest, there’s something scary about meeting people from the internet. Skyping is just easier and safer.


Use websites like iTalki to find an online language partner. You can also try out some teachers for free, or at least discounted rates.

If you want free listening practice I suggest you check out Chinese Pod. There’s free lessons, videos and vocabulary lists. They have a premium service if you want even more great content.



Language resources can be expensive. But there’s also some great free resources out there. There’s really no reason not to learn Chinese for free online.


For vocabulary; choose Anki. It’s the best flashcard app out there, paid or unpaid. And it has a massive library of free decks.


For reading: advanced users can read native Chinese texts, but for everyone else there’s The Chairman’s Bao.


For writing: Anki and WeChat are all you need. Use WeChat to find someone willing to talk to you.


For speaking and listening: a Skype language partner is actually BETTER than a real life one. You can use iTalki to find one.

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