Best FREE Ways to Self-Study Chinese Online

Learning a language online by yourself can be difficult and frustrating. 

But it’s not impossible! You can still make good progress or successfully maintain your current level, even from home. There are dozens of free and affordable ways to self-study Mandarin Chinese online. Read on to learn more about the best ways to self-study Chinese online. 

Or, if you’re ready to apply for an online Chinese class right now: 

Learning Chinese occurs in four dimensions: speaking, reading, writing, and listening. You will need to devise a study plan to help you grow in all four areas. 

Self-study Chinese speaking

Speaking Chinese is the most useful skill to develop if you plan to use Chinese in your daily life or career. You will need to communicate with teachers and classmates, taxi drivers and waiters, realtors and coworkers. It’s essential to practice speaking Chinese out loud when you can. 

Lingbe (iOS/Android) is a great app to practice conversational Chinese. For free, you can call other Chinese learners and practice. For USD $5 an hour, you can call native Chinese speakers. Lingbe is low-cost and anonymous. 

Italki also offers free calls with other Chinese language learners. On their website, you can also book lessons with Chinese tutors and professional instructors. 

Hutong School Chinese class 8
A Chinese class at the Hutong School.

It’s worth investing in a professional Chinese class if you are serious about improving your Chinese speaking ability! China Admissions can help you apply to dozens of high-quality online language programs. We have one-on-one and group classes, business Chinese courses, and HSK preparatory classes for all levels from beginner to advanced. 

Read about the best online programs here, and see the full list of online Chinese classes here

Self-study Chinese listening

Listening is an essential foundation skill for any language. If you cannot listen to native Chinese speakers around you, the best way to practice listening is to surround yourself with Chinese audio sources. 

  • The CoffeeBreak Chinese podcast (here) starts at a total beginner level by learning how to say “How are you” in Chinese. 
  • GoEast Mandarin has free listening practice videos here, from beginner to advanced!
  • The I Love Learning Chinese podcast (here) has over 150 episodes that are less than 20 minutes each, perfect for learning a few important words and phrases quickly. 
  • Melnyks Chinese podcast (here) is great for intermediate learners. Each episode teaches a few vocabulary words and sentences around a central topic, repeating them slowly and faster at a native level. 
  • Advanced learners can try the 瞎扯学中文 Convo Chinese podcast (here), where native speakers discuss interesting topics at a reasonable pace. They post full transcriptions and translations of the podcasts here.

Listening to Chinese music and watching Chinese shows are natural ways to absorb the tones and sounds of spoken Chinese!

Students listen to a lecture self-studying Chinese through listening

There are many other podcasts to try out. See a list here.

Self-study Chinese writing

Skritter (iOS/Android)  and Pleco (iOS/Android) are both free apps that have on-screen handwriting features for you to practice handwriting Chinese characters. 

Since the Chinese language is based on pictographic characters and not an alphabet, many international students have trouble remembering how to write characters or give up on this dimension completely. But, if you want to truly be fluent in Chinese or study in China, writing is an essential skill. Being able to memorize how to write a character will help you remember how to read and say it. Plus, Chinese people are quite impressed when an international student can write Chinese well. It means you have a better grasp of the language.

Additionally, Chinese character writing is an ancient art form. Chinese calligraphy is a beautiful, relaxing, and impressive hobby. 

Practice writing by copying down Chinese phrases you learn and lessons from a textbook. This takes time, but don’t give up!

Self-study Chinese reading

Reading and recognizing Chinese characters is crucial for students in China. You’ll need to recognize the name of your teachers and campus building, street signs, restaurant names, and more! Start by learning to read individual characters, then words, then whole sentences and stories. 

  • Duolingo is a popular app option for beginners. Through games and short lessons, you can practice themed vocabulary sets and recognize characters. 
  • Memrise is another useful app. Using mnemonics and memory tricks, you’ll be able to memorize large amounts of characters.  
  • If games help you learn, try Quizlet, a free flashcard-making website. Once you make your own flashcard sets, you can play games to match the words and give yourself a test on reading comprehension. 
  • Practice reading stories on the Du Chinese app, which has short Chinese stories at a range of levels complete with English translations. 

Self-studying Chinese online and learning the language alone is possible. There are plenty of helpful and high-quality online resources to help you build a solid foundation in Mandarin Chinese!

If you plan to visit or study in China in the future, it’s never too early to start learning Chinese online. 

Curious about studying Chinese in China? View our complete list of programs here:

Watch China Admission’s Dulguun discuss the best ways to learn Chinese here:

Questions? Find your answers on our Support Page

Read more:

7 best apps to learn Chinese for free
List of best books about China and learning Chinese
30 fun facts about China

Savannah Billman has a master's degree in Chinese Law and Society at the Yenching Academy of Peking University. She holds a B.A. from NYU Shanghai and has also written for The World of Chinese, TechNode, SupChina, and Sixth Tone.
Savannah Billman
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