This review is a comparison of our experience in taking online Chinese language classes for children, including with LingoAce, LingoBus, Vivaling, Geniebook and more.
As regular readers would be aware, I champion the “no formal tuition” approach outside of school hours, so we only started to look for formal online Chinese language classes when COVID hit Singapore in 2020, and schools closed and the children needed to be able to continue learning their Chinese from a textbook, without anyone in the house understanding the language. It was eye-opening for us to try out the different options and see how effective screen-based learning can be. We’re glad we did, because having over 3 consecutive months away from school was a long time to get no Chinese teaching or interaction.
For children who are learning or planning to learn Chinese, we’ve learnt that there are a variety of great online Chinese language classes for children available, which can be highly interactive and helpful in getting regular exposure to more Chinese, and typically much cheaper than in-person classes or tuition centres. An online class can also be more convenient (flexible timing 24/7, short classes, no transport etc.), and was more appealing to my child than I ever imagined.
What online Chinese language classes for children are available?
Essentially, the whole world is available to you, if it’s online!
Prior to the “COVID Circuit Breaker” (aka lockdown) my kids already had regular one-on-one short weekly chats (15 minutes) using Viva Ling, with a native speaker in mainland China. These lessons were set up to be primarily conversational, so the children can tune their hearing to listening over the computer, and also over the telephone.
With COVID, what I was searching for was a longer, more formal class to complement this. Thankfully most of the centres offered free trials during COVID, and we were lucky enough to try out a few and this post is what we discovered.
I would say different classes suit different family needs, and also children’s learning styles. Below is a quick comparison table, with more details expanded below:
One thing I’ve learnt about online Chinese platforms from mainland China is that you should NOT sign up without a referral link. It seems to be the way for many excellent online services from China, that they operate a quasi pyramid scheme….. so whilst it’s possible for you to sign up without using a referral link, you will probably receive bonus free classes etc if you join through someone else’s link. Sometimes these are quite considerable, for example depending on the promotion period, Lingo Ace and Lingo Bus may give you up to 8 free classes; VIP Peilian gives you 6 free classes, etc etc. Ideally, ask a friend who uses the service to give you their referral link, as it may give your friend a few free classes too. If you don’t know anyone with a link, I have some listed below too from various people we know who use these services.
LingoAce Online Class Review
Trial Class Experience: My daughter just loved her trial! The trial class had two other participants, and the entire 55 minutes was filled with games to write characters and put them into sentences. The online interface was stunning and visually appealing, with trophies and points being awarded interactively to the children throughout the lesson. Their curriculum follows the Singapore MOE Higher Chinese approach.
The course is different depending on whether you are in Singapore, China or overseas. The Lingo Ace Singapore course and teaching style is very much suited for children learning in local MOE schools with good Chinese – if you’re not in this system, I would recommend you opt for their ‘International’ course, which might be more suitable for non-Singaporean kids. The style is very much based on the MOE text-books, with lots of games. They also offer a course specifically for Mainland Chinese students following the HSK syllabus.
Class length and schedule: For the Singapore MOE group class option, it’s either 25 or 55 minutes in a group of up to 4. For us, 55 minutes was a long time to be on the screen (the time did fly by!), but after seeing the beaming smiles and hearing her beg to do it again, I was keen to sign up. We made a valiant effort to sign-up, but learnt that classes must be a minimum of twice a week AND that written homework was compulsory, which was all going to be too much for our timetable. I must confess, I did even offer to pay full price, and just to let her join only once a week, but the salesperson explained that as the syllabus is strictly followed, that she’d miss out on too much. I understand that for students outside of Singapore, they are more flexible around this rule. The class schedule is fixed in the same two slots per week, and the class has the same children each week.
For the 1-on-1 class options, there is a bit more flexibility on schedule.
Booking Process: Simple. Just contacted through website, and they followed up with SMS to schedule trial class timing. For actual classes, it can be done through their portal, with selection of preferred teacher. It asked me to select the teacher for the trial class which I feel it might not be necessary.
Software: It was web interface (driven by Classin Software). Simple to login and use. Fast speed, real time talking from teacher and other students, not laggy.
Customer Service: The rep was very keen to follow-up, and had quite a strong “sell” strategy to offer me packages and discounts which were only valid “for today only, sign up now”. I didn’t appreciate this hustling so much, but I few months later he did follow-up again and offered me some more class options. I do feel they really listened, and tried to accomodate my request to only schedule a class once a week, not twice, and find a level which best suited my children.
Final thoughts: This would be a good programme for those looking for something to support and reinforce their child’s learning in the classroom (especially in a Singapore classroom!). It’s essentially just a long online game reiterating the primary school syllabus, including hanyu pinyin, composition writing, oral and even practice exams, etc. But, according to parents who have signed up, also be ready for the additional homework!
Additionally, as the curriculum is quite strong and standalone, the HSK Mainland Chinese course or International stream could be helpful for families who don’t study Chinese in school, but want to keep up learning the language.
Here is a referral link to LingoAce free class trial.
[March 2021 Update: LingoAce has significantly revised and improved their offering, including opening a large physical premise in Singapore. We gave their new online classes a try, and here’s a much more detailed review on how we’ve found LingoAce, including a detailed comparison between their Singapore Bilingual course, and their Advanced course, which we’ve tried]
LingoBus Online Class Review
Trial Class Experience: This was strikingly similar in most respects to Lingo Ace in its approach, with a great interface for the child, and an engaging teacher leading the session. It’s also a game-based, highly interactive learning experience. The company is based in mainland China, although communicating with them in English wasn’t a problem at all.
The value-add which Lingo Bus offers over Lingo Ace is the access to offline materials, which also includes potential for printable homework and some really wonderful online stories in their eBook library. I think this is a wonderful addition to supplement the learning. They also send an email after EVERY class with written feedback on how the child has done in the lesson. I value this.
Another difference was that not being based in Singapore, it doesn’t follow the local MOE primary school curriculum. I was specifically looking for assistance to support our homeschool learning. Moreover, from looking at their lesson materials and branding, I feel this course is really focussed on non-Chinese learning the language, in a fun format (eg lots of songs and simple visual illustrations, which perhaps are not always grammatically correct). It appears focussed on the spoken language, with less emphasis on cultural context and history of the language.
I realised after our first class, that I’d signed up in the “non-native” speakers category (called “Listening and Speaking”), which is why it was at a simpler level. After this, actually LingoBus staff reached out to offer three free trial classes in the “Heritage Chinese” stream (now called “Reading & Writing” stream). This was at a much better level for my daughter, however, it also meant that then all the automated emails I received from LingoBus as the parent were written in Chinese. I guess it’s hard to win!
Class length and schedule: Classes can be booked at any time 24/7 through their portal, and there are no set group of children in each class (so it’s just a random set, at the time you book) and different teachers can be chosen depending on your availability. Class length was a much more palatable 25 minutes, and it can be done once or twice a week (or potentially more, I would guess). I personally would prefer to have a fixed regular teacher.
Booking process: Their website is very clear and the communications were professional and helpful. It was simple to book our trial classes at times which suited us, and the same can be done for the real classes. We ended up needing two accounts for my daughter, one in the ‘Non-native’ stream and one in the ‘Heritage’ stream. The company sent quite a few emails prior to to classes to remind us to login, and download the app, and to do a trial placement test, etc.
Software: The classes run from an online classroom link from their web portal, but it requires to be configured/downloaded prior to the class. It worked well and provided good interactive experience. Their courseware is sophisticated and well designed; they clearly have some excellent online developers! Their website has a wealth of additional learning resources, like eBooks, flash cards, etc.
Customer service: Their website has some great videos to display how their lessons are structured, and I personally found their salespeople less ‘hustling’ than our Lingo Ace experience.
Final thoughts: My impression is the “non-native” stream is more suitable for new learners, especially children in a zero Mandarin environment. It’s a lot of fun and and not rigorous. The syllabus follows a theme-based approach (eg colours, fruits, animals, greetings, festivals, etc). It’s probably less suited to a true bilingual family. If you look at their Youtube channel, most of the students features are Western families, which I would guess it the target market here. Then, on the “Heritage” stream, it’s really for families where everyone speaks Chinese.
If you do sign up, try to get a referral code from someone else, and there will be plenty of extra classes thrown in (usually something like 5 free classes for every 10 classes you buy). Use this referral link for a free trial. Also, look out for their 11/11 or CNY class package sales, which are said to be at a good discount.
A great thing about Lingo Bus is you can stop and start whenever needed (in case you get unexpected lockdowns and upsets to your usual Chinese learning classes!). One of my daughters really loved this class enough to request to continue, and we’ve now done over 20 paid classes on LingoBus.
Speaking Duck Online Class Review
Trial Class Experience: I cannot say much, as we couldn’t get past the software step unfortunately, and then there was no follow-up, so we couldn’t proceed with the trial class.
Class length and schedule: 30 minutes, once a week, which sounds just perfect. Whilst this is Singapore based, they follow the HSK (Chinese Proficiency Test) system, which is very solid.
Booking process: Signing up through the website was simply – just filled out the information, and an email confirmation as sent immediately. The website says for regular classes, it will be a fixed teacher.
Software: It was clunky. We couldn’t manage to download the software and the verification codes. We were using an old laptop, and perhaps it didn’t have all the right versions of software on it, but we were never able to get the video and sound working, so were unable to continue. There wasn’t any follow-up, so unfortunately we couldn’t proceed with this. However, as I understand it now, they use Zoom as their main platform, so it’s probably improved from our poor experience. Still, Zoom would be simple, but I cannot imagine it could be as interactive as some of the other highly impressive virtual classrooms with experienced from other providers, especially for larger groups of students.
Customer service: Urk, this is a weird one. I’m part of a few online bilingual parenting groups, and several have commented on the ‘interesting’ tactics used by this company. I cannot really comment, except that it was impersonal (all through online messages) and I didn’t feel fully genuine. Also, most of the communications were in Chinese (I guess my Chinese surname could be a factor for this mix up) despite it being a Singapore based company.
Final thoughts: If you can get past the customer service, it might be okay. However, seems a poorer cousin to the other services we tried, and prices are similar. I don’t know anyone who has signed up for this service, so no referral links to offer.
Mandarin Tree Online Class Review
Trial Class Experience: I hesitated including Mandarin Tree in this list, because it’s not a big online platform like everything else I’ve listed….. it’s totally different. There’s really no comparison, but it’s a special service and deserves to be better known. They’re a small, but passionately run creative based Chinese language school in The Netherlands, run by a Singaporean MOE teacher. The school offer in person classes (if you’re lucky enough to be living in beautiful Haarlem), but importantly for the rest of us they have remote learning. Remote learning has been a part of Mandarin Tree since its inception, and their curriculum, materials and pedagogical methods have been designed with remote learning in mind. They don’t have any free trials (they do provide paid trials), but we were confident to sign up and pay for a full term of classes, having followed their Instagram and FB pages for 1.5 years, and being impressed by their activities and learning methods. My daughter loved her first lesson, and each subsequent lesson.
Class length and schedule: Mandarin Tree works like a real school, with classes at set times, and terms, all shown clearly on their website. The have a preschool course, and 6 levels of Chinese lessons for primary school, taught in 11-week blocks. Classes are 30 to 50 minutes depending on child’s age, with a creative MOE inspired syllabus.
Booking process: Classes are at fixed times, and a Zoom link is sent out weekly with the details of what is required for class, including printouts, or songs to learn, etc. It’s very easy to sign up for a term of classes and connect directly with Karen Laoshi (founder of Mandarin Tree).
Software: The classes run using Zoom, with password protection for safety. It’s also helpful to have a printer, as the classes are highly interactive with a lot of flashcards and craft, which needs to be prepared before the weekly classes. The don’t have all the fancy bells and whistles of other online platforms, but that’s the charm of it.
Customer service: It’s amazing! I mean, you’re in contact with the teachers directly, and they’re highly approachable, so no complaints. The teachers know every student, and everyone is treated like family.
Final thoughts: Mandarin Tree has been excellent for my 3 year old. We have done a term of the parent-child accompanied playgroup classes, and it runs just like a regular in-person playgroup, with song times, circle time, craft time, and opportunity for parents to chat. The only difference is the classmates come from multi countries (Australia, Singapore, Germany, UK). The group classes for older children also look like a great option, and they’re designed and run by Karen Laoshi, who is an Singapore MOE teacher, so you’ll know it’s focussing on the right things.
At Mandarin Tree also draws inspiration from the theory of multiple intelligence, which is why the programmes are taught using methods that span the musical, visual, interpersonal, bodily-kinesthetic, naturalistic, logical, intrapersonal and verbal-linguistic modalities. Karen is a bundle of energy, and we look forward to seeing her smile each week.
You too can follow their Mandarin Tree account on IG or FB and see how much fun Karen Laoshi has with her classes. Also, she’s kindly offered a 10% discount code for my blog readers if they sign up using “LAHLAHBANANA”.
Vivaling Online Class Review
Trial Class Experience: VivaLing has one-on-one classes via Zoom, and group classes for siblings. Given our previously good experience with weekly conversational classes on Viva Ling, I was keen to see what else they had to offer in terms of more structured group classes.
We were able to keep the same teacher as our regular one-on-one conversations, and increase the class length and frequency, and tap into the VivaLing syllabus. They have online flash cards (using Quizlet), and are able to effectively share videos, story books, and an online ‘white board’ for character drawing. There’s homework too, and the ability to re-watch the class at a later date, or share it with family or friends.
Class length and schedule: Ranges from 15 minutes to 60 minute options, as many times as preferred during the week. Siblings can also be grouped together. Timing is flexible, and the same teacher can be selected.
Booking Process: Simple, through their online portal. I have found the whole thing is very impersonal (booking, payment, etc), but we have a wonderful teacher and have now been using her for over a year (initially just with conversations, and then during lockdown with more formal classes).
Software: It’s done over Zoom – initially I was sceptical, as to whether their interface for making it engaging, and learning reading / writing could be done effectively via Zoom. They proved it was possible! The Zoom chat was fully password secured, and Zoom have also recently updated their privacy policies, so I was very comfortable that this method was as safe, if not safer, than the other online class portals. For one-to-one classes, I think Zoom is a good platform. My daughter can set it up independently, and be ready for her class without my involvement!
Customer service: Apart from one initial in-person chat at the start of our Vivaling experience, there has been very little interaction with them. The system is smooth – we book, we do the class, and we get sent a weekly email summary of the class, including learning goals, homework (if any), and a video replay of the class. Top up payment it done via Paypal. We haven’t had any problems that have needed to engage customer service, and they’ve never pushed classes on us or contacted us proactively.
Final thoughts: These classes aren’t cheap, but they’ve been most effective option for us. Being one-on-one, I’m also able to send the teacher in advance the school lessons and ensure she covers this adequately in the approach in terms of stories, flash cards, themes, etc. We’ve now done them for 2 years, and highly enjoy these classes.
It’s also worth noting that Viva Ling provides qualified tutors in many different language, not just Chinese, whereas the other providers listed above are specialists in Chinese language learning. For Chinese, Vivaling tends to follow the HSK (Chinese Proficiency Test) system for their curriculum.
Since we signed up for these classes and have now paid for them over the last two years, I have our family’s personal referral code for these classes, which I can share if you message me directly. Vivaling doesn’t originate from China, so alas, whilst they offer a free trial, they don’t have all the free classes and discounts which the mainland Chinese platforms tend to offer, and the overall price is somewhat higher (but it hasn’t deterred us! We honestly think VivaLing is well worth the price).
Koala Know Online Class Review
Trial Class Experience: This is a really interesting option for classes. I wish we’d discovered it earlier during the Circuit Breaker period. Koala Know follows a heuristic contextual teaching model, which is slightly different from all the other classes above which are more theme based. It’s specifically designed for Chinese families outside of China, to learn/retain fluency in speaking and literacy, and understand cultural context.
The unique Koala Know curriculum aims to intentionally “word seeds” which are radicals / characters / parts of characters, and do fun, thematic study of each of these.
The class was not as much “game play” as Lingo Bus or Lingo Ace, and had more of a serious teaching / learning element to it….. although our trial only had my children in it, and I’m told that for a real class there is a lot more interaction between participants and sharing of ideas.
Booking Process: Done through their online website (with options for Chinese or English language interface). Classes do need to be done at a regular time each week, to enable the same group of children to be involved. Timeslots are 24/7. It’s a fixed teacher, and fixed students in the class.
Software: The Koala Know online portal is also highly interactive (like Lingo Ace and Lingo Bus), but with lots of extra features including extra recordings on book reviews, and other themes of interest. I think this is a wonderful way for bilingual children to dig deeper into the language, and explore beyond what they probably have been taught within the traditional classroom. They also organise monthly themed classes, some of which are really good content.
Customer service: I think it depends where you are. In Singapore, there is a head office, so we were lucky to interact directly with the Koala Know rep here, who explained to us the syllabus and helped us to get started. If in Singapore, I’d recommend you book directly through their office here, rather than on the global website. That will ensure your queries get routed to the right place.
Final thoughts: It’s worthy of another blog post, which I hope to get around to soon. This system looks to be an effective and scientific way of learning characters, and really understanding the beauty and cultural context behind them. It also looks at the evolution of the characters, and how they are used in a variety of different context in language and society today. For a young child already with a good spoken understanding of Chinese, this would set them up well to succeed with the language. I was excited to try more of their online Chinese language classes for children.
[update October 2020: we’ve now done 10 Koala Know classes, so my detailed review!]
GenieBook Chinese Online Chinese Languages Classes Review
Trial Class Experience: This is more like an AI platform for learning Singapore MOE syllabus, which contains online assessments, and lectures which can be watched live, or replayed at a later time. There’s no speaking from the child, and the only interaction is through answering questions via chat forum to earn points for reards. It follows the Singapore MOE syllabus. A two week trial is possible, which eunabled unlimited classes during that period (for Chinese, Science, Math and English).
Booking Process: No need to book – it’s seminar-style with set 1 hour class times in evening during Singapore weekdays, or daytime on weekends.
Software: Zoom through their website
Customer service: Via whatsapp
Final thoughts: A lot of thought has gone into building weekly classes and curating sets of questions that mirror the very best of Singaporean test book publishers, and stories/interactive activities following the MOE textbooks. It’s designed for a child who already has a good written and spoken understanding of the language, to a Singapore Primary 2 level (about mainland Chinese grade 1) and is learning the MOE syllabus. For anyone outside of Singapore, I feel GenieBook is unlikely to be the solution for you.
[Jan 2022: See our detailed review of GenieBook Chinese here]
GoEast Online Chinese Language Classes for Children Review
Trial Class Experience: GoEast Mandarin is a renowned Shanghai-based language school founded in 2012, that offers both online and in-class tuition This is totally different from all the classes mentioned above too. No bells and whistles, no fancy platforms. The trial was simply a Zoom class conducted using PowerPoint slides. It’s a very simple set-up. In fact, when I first saw it in our trial, I thought….. there’s no way this teacher can engage my child for an hour like that! But Teacher Jenny 老师 did a phenomenal job.
It helped that before the class, the course consultant had specifically asked what interested my child, and then the Teacher chose the lesson and books to read all related to that (in our case, it was all amount animals). I had shared with the course consultant that I preferred my daughter not to have any English nor Pinyin used in the class, and they were flexible to cater for this.
Booking Process: You can sign up for the trial through the website – but scheduling requires actually talking to staff at GoEast. It’s a personal touch that differentiates their service. Timeslots are only during the day and early evening Shanghai time, so may not suit all geographies.
Software: Zoom. + PowerPoint
Customer service: Every interaction we’ve had with the GoEast team has been stellar. You can just feel that they are true language lovers, and want to share this love with their students. The teachers themselves are all university degree holders in Foreign Language studies or Teaching Chinese (actually many are Masters and PhD), and on average have more than 7 years teaching experience.
Final thoughts: For sure, the standout feature of GoEast are their TEACHERS. They’re passionate and skilled (with proper university teaching credentials), and a notch above anything we’ve experienced in any other online courses we’ve done (and we’ve done quite a lot). They have a small and highly qualified team of curriculum developers, language consultants and, of course teachers.
[update GoEast was my middle daughter’s favourite class option, see my detailed review of how the GoEast classes continued]
Some watch outs with online Chinese language classes for children
Language of communications: We soon realised after looking into a few options that timing and payment was by far easier if we engaged through company that had customer-service based in an English speaking country (Singapore, Hong Kong, US, etc), and can avoid inane conversations being translated through WeChat. You’ll see some for some of the larger Chinese-based companies even if they have an English version of their website, it’s likely that all the consultants who call will try to speak Mandarin, and the text messages / emails / class schedules etc will also be in Mandarin. Hence, all the companies listed in this review do have good English communications.
Privacy Laws and Domicile of the businesses: Privacy laws and Child Protection regulations clearly differ by jurisdiction, as does the enforcement of such rules. It’s worth noting you wouldn’t EVER want to agree to T&Cs which you cannot personally read yourself, so be wary if you’re clicking a check box about disclosures and acceptances when you cannot read the accompanying policies. Remember these classes will collect a lot of information about your child (audio, visual, demographic, learning patterns etc) which can all be very valuable in the wrong hands. Ideally choose a company which at least has a sub office or presence in your own country (or state), so they should be more aware with the local requirements.
Platform Used: By nature of these classes being over video, there could be recordings of your child being retained by the company, and it’s worthwhile to think where these might be stored or what they could be used for. Over Zoom or Classin, it’s unlikely to go far and you’ll know whether the class has been recorded. But if it’s on a private app or platform, you cannot be so certain. If in doubt, ask the company about their policies, and perhaps you make a decision not to use them, or keep the camera off. For us, we do not use the real names of our children on online platforms, since even if the teacher isn’t recording it, what if another excited parent on the chat takes a screen shot and shares it on their own IG account?
Computer vs iPad: some of the classes have a much better experience over computer than iPad, so be sure you’re using the medium which works best for that vendor. Additionally, a young child may have difficulty using the touchpad to draw / circle / point click (especially if character writing is involved). We found this can make or break the experience, so don’t let a frustrated child be put off forever just because the touch pad on the laptop was difficult to navigate. Try to get them a good quality mouse / stylus, and practice some basic skills before the class.
Our experience showed that online Chinese language classes for children can be engaging and fun, either 1-to-1 or in a group class, and that there are many highly immersive and well-structured curriculum available, both big and small. It is something we would certainly consider again, and looks like a great alternative to formal tuition centres.
Ultimately, we ended up signing up for more conversational classes through VivaLing for my elder children, with the same teacher (which we have continued with even after COVID lockdown lifted), because the flexibility to schedule classes whenever we want, and the one-on-one attention was what makes it the most enriching experience for us.
[Post script: Nov 2021: I have written a two year update on how we have continued with these online Chinese language classes for children.
Post script: May 2022: If you want to know about newer classes which have recently come to Singapore such as VItamin M or Zhangman kid, see my 2022 blog post aboout online Chinese classes for children that you may not have heard of (yet)]
If you got to the end and found this helpful, maybe there are some other posts on my blog you might also enjoy. As a parent who doesn’t speak any Chinese, we’ve relied heavily on online tools, clever robots and recommendations of others in our Chinese learning journey. Some of my earlier posts are:
- Comparison of math classes for children taught in Chinese
- Comparison of art, drama and music classes taught in Chinese
- Comparison of Chinese dictionary pens for children
- Comparison of reading pens and robots for children learning Chinese
- Best Youtube series for children learning Chinese – non animated & educational
- Top apps, bloggers, and resources for teaching children Chinese
- Great bridging books to read when a child knows >1000 characters
[Disclaimer: We did most of these online Chinese language classes for children as free trials initially – you can do this too! It’s not a privilege reserved for bloggers. Most online large online Chinese tutoring services will offer a free class (they’re backed by millions of investment dollars, and trying to grow rapidly!). Try to use someone else’s referral code too, to get the most benefit. Vivaling and Mandarin Tree are the two exceptions, who are not based in Mainland China, and they don’t usually offer free trials.]