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The 10 best free resources for learning Mandarin


I’ve gathered here what I consider the best free resources for learning Mandarin and ranked them in order of usefulness. I reckon you could learn Mandarin very effectively, for free, using only these resources.

 

1. Anki

This fantastic piece of SRS software lets you keep track of everything you’re learning and study it efficiently. If you’re starting out learning Mandarin (or any language), I’d strongly recommend using Anki from the beginning.

If you’re already some way into the language, start creating flashcards as soon as possible.

Anki’s cool because it’s fairly easy to get up and running, but the more you use it the more you come to realise how deep its features and capabilities go. It can’t do everything for you, but it can make the time you put in much more effective.

If you use nothing else from this list, use Anki.

 

2. YouTube, YouKu, TuDou

Anki can only help you remember the stuff you’re learning, and for that you need to find some materials to study. These three video sharing websites have millions of hours of free Mandarin learning content, more than you could ever listen to in the course of your studies.

Whilst there is plenty of lesson-style content to get you started in the beginning, the best thing is the countless videos containing real native speech. You can use this to get audio learning materials for free.

 

3. Sinosplice

John Pasden’s blog Sinosplice has a collection of very clear, accurate guides for learning Mandarin, particularly for the early stages. You can save yourself a lot of time by reading these and getting a few things right from the beginning (particularly tones and pronunciation in general).

 

4. Social Mandarin

This list gives you the top ten resources for learning Mandarin for free, but there are little bits and pieces turning up every day online. The best way to keep track of these and reap the benefits is Social Mandarin, which collates all of the new Mandarin learning content and serves it up for you to subscribe to.

As you go along learning Mandarin online, you can also contribute to the community by submitting useful stuff to Social Mandarin. Helping out other learners is surprisingly effective for improving yourself.

 

5. MDBG

A good quality free dictionary had to make it on to this list somewhere, and I find MDBG to be the best Chinese dictionary. It’s very fast and reliably online, and it’s also the result of an admirable community project to build a free and open dictionary.

I would have put nciku here, but I find it’s either very slow or inaccessible, and when it actually does load, the interface is a overwhelmed by advertising. It has great content but really is hampered by these issues.

Update: reader Crisgee mentioned another excellent Chinese dictionary: YouDao 有道.

 

6. Tatoeba

The Tatoeba project logoDictionaries are useful for quick checks on words, particularly from the target language into your own. But experienced language learners know that to accurately grasp the meaning of a word you need to see it in action.

For this you need example sentences, and Tatoeba is quickly becoming the best resource for this. It’s already got a huge database of examples sentences, and more are being added every hour. The thing that makes Tatoeba stand out though is that it’s more than a 1 – 1 list of translations; it’s a web of translations.

It’s also a free, community-based project (you might have realised by now that I really like free, community-based projects). This means that if there’s something you don’t know how to express in Mandarin, you can just add it in English and wait for someone to come along and translate it.

 

7. Chinese Forums

Tatoeba can give you usage examples of new words and phrases, and let you post new material. If you’ve got actual questions about learning Mandarin, though, Chinese Forums is the place to go.

This community really is fantastic, and anyone learning Chinese for free online is lucky to have it. It’s got a lot of very active users, included native speakers and expert learners, who will rapidly tackle any question you post.

A lot of people are paying through the teeth for tutors to get their Mandarin learning questions answered, but you can get the majority of that for free on Chinese Forums. Great stuff.

 

8. Study More Chinese

Study More Chinese is a bit like Facebook for learning Mandarin. Whereas Social Mandarin takes user submissions and creates a stream of useful resources, Study More Chinese lets users create profiles and encourages them to interact with each other and learn together.

It’s very 努力 and a good community to get into. There’s also an East Asia Student page – all the more reason to sign up!

 

 

9. Perapera-kun plugin

So far this list hasn’t provided a lot of sources for reading material. That’s because there’s a whole Internet out there, with more free Mandarin text than you can shake a stick at. Use Google and Baidu to start tracking down some stuff!

Seeing a wall of Chinese characters is very daunting at first, but with perseverance (and a few years) you really can get to the stage where you can comfortably have a stab at texts you come across.

The perapera-kun plugin makes that process easier by providing mouse-over definitions for any text in your browser.

 

10. Popup Chinese

The last item on this list isn’t a completely free service, but does offer loads of free content: Popup Chinese. They have over 1000 mp3 lesson files that are free for download. You can get a lot of benefit from this content without spending a penny.

 

Elsewhere on the Web:

The directory has a longer list of Mandarin learning resources


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  • http://www.sinosplice.com/life/ John

    Thanks, Hugh! I haven’t put much new content up on Sinosplice recently (as you know, a whole lot of my effort these days is going into AllSet Learning), but I’m glad lots of people still find it useful.

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  • http://www.chineseupgame.com Chinese UP

    My name is Erich (施瑞昇), and I’ve been studying Chinese in Taiwan for the past 5 years. I recently released Chinese UP, a FREE iPhone / iTouch game designed to help students review their Chinese characters through a fun and challenging puzzle gameplay. The app works with traditional as well as simplified characters.

    Please try it out at http://www.chineseupgame.com !

    If you like playing Chinese UP, please help me promote the app by liking it on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/ChineseUpGame

    Since my app is still very new, any feedback / constructive criticism is highly appreciated!

    Have fun playing ;)
    Erich

  • Martin R

    Did you know there’s also a mouse-over dictionary for the Chrome browser? It’s called Zhongwen and is very similar to Perapera-kun.
    (Chrome calls plugins ‘extensions’)

    https://chrome.google.com/webstore/detail/zhongwen-a-chinese-englis/kkmlkkjojmombglmlpbpapmhcaljjkde

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  • Job

    Hey Hugh, Great site! What do you think of memrise.com and fluentu.com? I recently stumbled on them and they have been helping me immensely!

  • Lars

    Hi Hugh, thank you for the great list. I used some of them and will try others too. A free Chinese learning magazine(CHINESE STORIES) they also offer some free resources on the facebook http://www.facebook.com/ZhongWenGuShi
    For every Chinese learners reference. :P

  • Crisgee

    For sample translations, I think dict.youdao.com is far superior. I searched for “mixed martial arts”, “epic fail”, and “iron man” in both tatoeba and youdao, and youdao gave me at least ten for each while Tatoeba gave me zero.

    The only drawback is that it doesn’t show pinyin because it’s geared towards Chinese users who wish to translate English to Chinese. But with the Perapera-kun plugin, i think it won’t be a problem.

    • http://eastasiastudent.net/about Hugh Grigg (葛修远)

      Seems really good, thanks for the tip!

  • Evsiz

    You can find the DLI and FSI Mandarin courses, a Mandarin refresher course, and the FSI Cantonese course at this site where they have been packaged as intelligent combined lessons:

    http://cytchinese.tuxfamily.org/

    The DLI Cantonese is out there on the Internet too. But whoever converted the reel-to-reel audio to mp3 made a mess of it and the audio is unusable.

    The DLI and FSI are also beginning to appear in the Android markets as Scholar Chinese. So far only a free first app is available.

  • Maria

    And what do you think about this ressource: http://www.loecsen.com/travel/0-en-67-2-18-free-lessons-chinese.html ?

  • zhiLiang li

    Hi Hugh, I am Chinese, so, my English so bad but i Mandarin no bad ^V^; so If you want to study Mandarin, @ me; by the way, can you teach me English by free;
    Email:shenmapower@gmail.com

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