About 18 months back, I put a small post on my blog comparing online Chinese classes for children. Little did I know that this would become the most popular post on my blog ever, even today. I felt it’s now worthy of an update, to share how our family’s language learning has continued to evolve online.
In fact, we’ve been so well supported by what we’ve discovered on the interwebs, that we’ve withdrawn my youngest from her bilingual kindergarten, and moved to homeschool. For my eldest, she’s taken to online learning so much so that she’s now even started learning a third language totally online.
In terms of pure language learning and acquisition itself, prior to the pandemic, my children learned Chinese only through their respective schools. We didn’t do other forms of language tuition. The pandemic forced us online because we were otherwise facing many months with no spoken Chinese throughout lockdown. After seeing what’s available, and the strength of their curriculums, combined with the price position, online has now become our default medium.
Observations of Online Chinese Language Classes
Different Online Classes suit different children: Each of my three children has a very different temperament and learning style. So when you’re asking “Which class is best?” I feel you need to add another three words “Which class is best …. for my child?”. Whilst not all online classes are good, there a several providers who are excellent, and it really depends on which one clicks with your child’s learning style. Case in point: my three children are each doing online classes with a different provider, and they all think what they’re doing is the best.
Language Learning or Learning in the Language? These are very different approaches. There are 1-on-1 Chinese language classes, and then there are also group classes where a totally different subject (eg debating, math, art) is taught with Chinese as the medium of conversation. This specific post is focussing only on the 1-on-1 Chinese language classes, but I have an alternate post listing out the non-academic classes conducted in Chinese. which we have enjoyed over the last 2 years.
Having great bells and whistles on a platform is no replacement for an effective teacher: We’ve tried various online course providers (in Chinese and also Spanish) and the real learning comes from having a child who is highly engaged in the topic, and not distracted by the videos or games, or something else in the background. This engagement comes from an effective teacher. I noticed that services that engage full-time teachers and invest in their training (and equitable salaries) are therefore more conducive to learning than gig-economy platforms where the teachers might be part-time, doing this to earn money in between other studies or priorities.
Different classes suit different children: I have three children, and we’ve tried a lot of classes. Each child has a very different temperament and learning needs, thus why each child has their own ‘favourite’ class option. Also within the same platform, there are different teachers, so sometimes it could be trial-and-error to find the right match.
Comparison of our family’s favourite 1-to-1 Online Chinese classes
My earlier post gave a head-to-head comparison of various online Chinese language classes which our family had tried. I would recommend you try them too, to see what is right for your child. The great thing is that there are so many different online options, most give free trials, and it’s worth exploring what will truly suit your child the best.
What we have found right for our three children is as follows:
For my youngest daughter:
LingoAce: online Chinese learning made fun
Situation for my youngest daughter:
- She is homeschooled by a non-Chinese speaking mum, so this oline class is the only form of Chinese teaching -> needs a sound and structured curriculum
- Multiple short classes (25 minutes) required throughout the learning week to fit our home-school curriculum -> so pricing must be competitive, and scheduling flexible
- Would like to keep up with Singapore syllabus -> class must cover reading, writing, and speaking.
Overview: LingoAce is a Singaporean company specialising in online classes for children globally, using well-trained teachers in both Singapore and Mainland China. The online interface is stunning and visually appealing, with trophies and points being awarded interactively to the children throughout the lesson. Teachers are all smiles, and it’s a fast-paced class. Their curriculum follows the Singapore MOE Higher Chinese approach or Mainland Chinese Syllabus. They have a specific Kindergarten programme, which is what my daughter is doing (aimed for K1 & K2). The platform has lots of other videos and quiz options for practice outside of class. The Kindergarten curriculum is quite strong and standalone, with a largely fixed script, format, and learning objective for each class. I feel this is all that’s needed to create a P1-ready child.
Class length and schedule: 25 minutes via the LingoAce portal, and can be scheduled by parents 24/7 with choice of teacher. Customer service rep is there to assist with the booking as needed, and inquiries, etc.
Fees: Start from S$21 per lesson for the pre-school program.
Why it’s great: Short and engaging classes, with a small amount of homework afterward, and access to a great digital platform with books and videos, etc. This means we can really make the most of the LIngoAce for learning, even outside of scheduled class times.
What to note: classes are generally cheaper when bought in a large package format; the packages can be shared across siblings (although in our case, the elder siblings have no interest!). Be sure to use a referral code if you do sign up, as it will enable you some free classes (and give some classes to the referrer). If you know someone already using it, ask them for their referral code. If not, here is my own referral link . [ Note I have referral links available for nearly all the online language platforms we’ve tried, even ones we don’t use, so I’m not trying to promote a particular product, just sharing good things which have worked for us.]
For more information: I put a detailed review of LingoAce in an earlier post.
For my middle child:
GoEast Mandarin: inspiring and effective Chinese teaching
The situation for my middle child:
- Child already learns Chinese already inprimary school (1 hour per day in a class of 30; and nothing during COVID school shutdowns) -> looking for something to augment the formal classroom learinng and bring it to life
- Family doesn’t speak any Chinese at home -> daughter has limited opportunity for 1-to-1 conversation and engagement in Mandarin
Overview: GoEast Mandarin is a renowned Shanghai-based language school founded in 2012, that offers both online and in-class tuition. They’re a full-fledged school, with professional full-time teachers, curriculum coordinators, language consultants, student liaisons, etc. The variety of courses they offer is impressive, from beginners to advanced. The course syllabus is grouped into the HSK framework (perfect for kids), and you can also customize your own course. Another great thing about this school is they provide a variety of teaching arrangements – like siblings in an online class together, or parent-child classes, or pinyin-free classes – which is very unique compared to many of the larger ‘off the shelf’ style Chinese curriculum. The teachers are patient and work at the child’s pace.
Class Length and Schedule: usually 50 minutes via Zoom, at a fixed time each week (although they will offer a 25-minute option also at request). Limited time slots available, during Chinese business hours.
Fees: Customised, and available on request
Why it’s great: The standout feature of GoEast is 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). We’d trialled a few different online options, and nothing really ‘clicked’ with my child until GoEast. She’s not a child who enjoys competition or fast pace, so many of the fancy large-scale Chinese learning platforms with animations and point-scoring throughout the class didn’t appeal to her. We were delighted when we discovered GoEast Mandarin – where the focus is on having excellent teachers. These teachers are able to tailor their curriculum to suit the child, and they also speak well in English, allowing me as a mother to describe what I want in the classes and receive feedback.
What to note: Their staff are all passionate about language learning, and speak both English and Chinese, so it’s simple to arrange and curate with them, even for a non-Chinese speaking parent. GoEast Mandarin is currently offering a limited period free no-obligation 1-on-1 trial, which you can access here. (no affiliation, no benefit to me here through recommending) It’s a generous opportunity, so do give it a try.
For more information: I put a detailed review of GoEast Mandarin in an earlier post.
For my eldest child:
VivaLing: Chinese coaching at your fingertips
The situation for my elder child:
- Child is now upper primary school –> requires short adhoc assistance with homework questions (composition, orals, etc) since no Chinese speakers in the house.
- Child already does many other non-academic classes taught in Chinese like debating, art, math, etc so is conversationally strong–> child doesn’t want any more grammar or formal teaching
Overview: VivaLing is an online platform connecting language learners (children and adults) with qualified native-level language coaches, for real-time virtual classes. They offer courses in 5 languages, including Chinese.
Class length and Schedule: Ranges from 15-minute to 60-minute options carried out via Zoom. Sessions can be as many times as preferred during the week. Siblings can also be grouped together. Timing is flexible and booked by the parent through their portal. The same teacher can be selected, and only 24 hours notice is required for cancellation.
Fees: From US14 for 25 minutes – can be scaled up or down from here. No subscription, package, or commitment is necessary.
Why it’s great: We’ve now used Vivaling for 3 years. It’s a service we can book at short notice and there’s no need to buy any big package. My daughter has a great rapport with her Coach and looks forward to the sessions, which we schedule as needed.
What to note: There is no curriculum, and these classes are expensive compared to other DIY platforms (like iTalki and Preply) but the appeal is being able to have 15-minute ad-hoc chats, and also knowing that the teachers are appropriately trained. I’m able to directly email the Coach in advance with the school homework or questions my daughter has. There has been very little interaction with any customer service, and the whole thing is DIY, even payment through Paypal. The system is smooth – we book, we do the class, and we get sent a weekly email summary of the class and a video replay of the class. If you message me, I’m happy to share our family’s personal referral code for these classes which will give you a free trial.
How should we decide which online Chinese learning for our family?
Well, don’t just take my word for it… Try it for yourself FOR FREE! All of the above-mentioned classes which I have recommended (and many others) offer you a free no-strings-attached trial. It’s not a privilege reserved for bloggers. Try to use someone else’s referral code too, to get the most benefit.
To help narrow down the options here is a graphic of the different courses we’ve tried and how they fit together on a 2 x 2 matrix. Maybe this can help you out in considering which 1-to-1 class is most appropriate for your needs. The other consideration would be the flexibility and the cost, but that’s too much for me to put into one chart!
FAQs on online Chinese classes
Readers often email me to ask a lot of questions about online Chinese classes. Below are the most common questions, so here is sharing answers for all. If you have other questions, feel free to comment below or message me!
What is the difference between Preply, ITalki and VivaLing?
Answer: They’re each are DIY platforms for linking lots of language teachers with students, and they each have multiple languages offered. The difference between ITalki and Preply are pretty small; VivaLing is a different league.
iTalki and Peply are like a mass marketplace, with different prices offered by different teachers, and no standard approach to class structure or timing. You can scroll through through hundreds of teachers, read their bios, watch their videos, read recommendations and find one who you hope is best.
VivaLing is much more standardised, with a standard price for all teachers, and a common teaching approach., and standard requirements for the formal training of their coaches. At sign up, you will submit a form of your needs and child’s learning style, and they will curate a list with a handful of suggested coaches.
All the platforms (Talki, Preply and VivaLing,) have classes carried out via Zoom, and you’ll be in direct contact with the teacher for feedback afterwards, etc. iTalki and Preply can be MUCH cheaper if you find a good teacher. We didn’t have great success.
What is the difference between LingoBus and LingoAce?
Answer: Not much. They’re incredible similar, from their platforms, pricing, teaching style, quality of teachers, and even their logos look the same! Key difference is LingoBus is based in mainland China and LingoAce is based in Singapore. Therefore, through LingoAce you can also get classes that follow the Singapore system (as well as mainland Chinese, as an option too). On top of this, LingoAce classes go up to the Primary 6 Mainland Chinese curriculum, whereas LingoBus stop at about Grade 4 (but higher classes are being added). Finally, LingoAce also offers physical classes in Singapore for blended online/offline learning for upper primary levels.
I would say apart from this, the differences are too small to notice ……. if I had to name one other difference, it would be that LingoAce has more homework than LingoBus. Good or bad, depending on your needs.
How does it compare to GenieBook Chinese?
They’re not really comparable. Very different concepts. I have reviewed GenieBook Chinese separately, and no, we didn’t sign up for it. It would suit a child who likes typical Singapore-style tuition classes or needs a reading revision, but doesn’t like reading books!
What about other online platforms for learning Chinese?
Answer: Refer to my earlier post for detail about the following classes from early 2020.
Should I choose a native-speaker option or an international class option in the platform?
Answer: Most of the online platforms offer a stream for native / heritage speakers, where there is a focus on reading, writing, grammar, etc too. The international / non-heritage streams focus mainly on conversational skills. It depends on what your intention. Consider reading my earlier blog post on whether reaching fluency is a realistic goal for non-native Chinese children, and how important literacy is in the bilingual equation.
What does the referral code do?
Answer: Most large online language learning platforms (and even some of the smaller providers) offer free trials, with or without a referral code. However, if you join with someone’s referral code, they’ll usually offer a discount to you (or additional classes) in the event that you sign up for a package. It seems a very Chinese way of doing business, I feel. Usually, the person sharing the referral code will also receive a free class or credits too, so if you know someone using the platform, do them a favour and ask them for their referral code (and if you use my codes, I thank you! My kids enjoy the learning! I do have collected codes that I can share for many of the courses we don’t use as well, as given to me by other parents, which helps you but obviously has no benefit to my family).
Is there a concern about data privacy, especially with the videos of children being recorded during the classes?
Answer: By nature of these classes being over video, there could be recordings of your child retained by the company, and it’s worthwhile to think where these might be stored or what they could be used for. Video recording will contain a lot of information about your child (audio, visual, demographic, learning patterns etc) which can all be very valuable in the wrong hands. Privacy laws and Child Protection regulations differ by jurisdiction, as does their enforcement. 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 because they’re written in Chinese. 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.
If the classes are conducted over Zoom, 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.
Are there online options that teach Mandarin in Traditional Characters, not Simplified?
Answer: Yes, LingoAce offers the same classes using Traditional Chinese too. In addition, fellow blogger Ms Claudia Lee Kimura recommend Kelly’s Education for Traditional Chinese. It’s apparently an equivalent to LingoBus.
What else has been helpful for making our Chinese learning journey an effective one?
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