With over 1.2 billion speakers worldwide, mastering Chinese can open up a whole new world of opportunities. And it’s certainly one of the most beautiful languages in the world. But there’s no doubt that it’s also one of the most difficult languages to learn.
That's where ChineseClass101 comes in.
As a foreign affairs policy nerd, my path to learning Chinese felt inevitable. So I decided to give myself a jump-start by trying out ChineseClass101 for a week. In this article, I'll give you an overview of my experience with ChineseClass101 from the perspective of someone with zero prior knowledge of the language.
I'll detail its unique features, the pros and cons of the platform, and various pricing plans. I'll also compare ChineseClass101 to other popular online Chinese learning websites and share what past students have said about their experience with the platform.
Whether you're hoping to impress your friends with your ability to write Chinese characters, understand Chinese films, or simply enjoy a hot pot with confidence, I'm here to help you figure out if ChineseClass101 is right for you.
*ChineseClass101 teaches Mandarin Chinese, though I’ll just refer to it as Chinese throughout the article.
- 1,000+ lessons and assessments
- Free to join
- Tons of resources including: core vocabulary lists, Hànzì flash cards, personal word bank, grammar worksheets, etc
- Multiple curated learning pathways focused on developing specific Chinese language skills
- Lesson notes, key vocabulary, and transcripts for each lesson
- Downloadable audio lessons for offline use and an app that syncs your progress
- Voice recorder tool to work on pronunciation
- Learning community to ask questions and get answers from fellow students and teachers
- Core lessons aligned with HSK standards (Chinese Proficiency Test)
- 7-day risk-free trial with generous refund policy
- Diverse resources ensure learning stays fresh and engaging
- Simple platform interface, easy to curate your learning journey with relevant learning pathways
- Emphasis on listening comprehension quickly gets your ear accustomed to the language
- Lots of learning flexibility — bite-sized lessons are perfect for on-the-go learning
- Fun lessons incorporate cultural topics to prepare you for navigating everyday life in China
- The ability to record yourself saying Chinese words and compare them to a native speaker to fine-tune speaking skills
- Perfect supporting study aid for students preparing to take HSK assessments
- Not ideal for students that want a more structured learning environment
- Limited visual materials may not satisfy visual learners
- Feedback from teachers requires an expensive subscription
Best for: Learners of different levels, from Absolute Beginner to Advanced. There are tons of unique learning pathways. So the course is great for students looking to explore aspects of the language that fit their learning objectives. Especially perfect for students on the go and auditory learners. For those already familiar with Chinese, the platform can be an excellent tool to improve listening skills.
Cost: You can use ChineseClass101 for free by signing up for a free account. There are a wide range of subscriptions starting at $3.50 pm.
Overall: ChineseClass101 is engaging, affordable, and provides a range of resources to ensure success for all levels of learners. The interesting and easy-to-follow lessons provide an effortless way to learn Chinese that you’ll be hard-pressed to find elsewhere. Plus, the bite-sized lessons make it an especially ideal study aid for anyone serious about learning Chinese. With the free membership account, free trial options, and generous refund policy, ChineseClas101 is also totally risk-free.
What is ChineseClass101?
ChineseClass101 is an online language course by Innovative Language Learning. It's been making waves among Chinese language learners of all levels for years.
Boasting more than a thousand audio and video lessons, its wealth of resources helps students master the language wherever they are, whatever they’re doing. From in-depth grammar lessons to practical vocabulary lists, ChineseClass101 promises to be the ultimate guide for anyone looking to become fluent in Chinese.
ChineseClass101 offers a range of courses and resources. These include lesson quizzes, interactive flashcards, cultural insights, and grammar worksheets that help students learn the language in a fun and engaging way. It's accessible from anywhere and is great for both independent learning and as a study aid complementing a classroom course.
How does ChineseClass101 work?
ChineseClass101 works by providing students with a comprehensive curriculum that includes audio and video lessons covering a huge number of topics for navigating everyday conversations in Chinese. The lessons are structured in a way that makes it easy for learners to follow along and track their progress.
The core lessons are categorized by the following five proficiency levels:
|CEFR Level – HSK Level*
|Lessons & Assessments
|A1- HSK 1-2
|77 Lessons/94 Assessments
|A2 -HSK 2-3
|80 Lessons/144 Assessments
|50 Lessons/38 Assessments
|75 Lessons/55 Assessments
|75 Lessons/57 Assessments
There’s a range of other features. These include spaced-repetition flashcards, quizzes, and a community forum, all of which help learners to practice and reinforce what they have learned.
Students can access the platform through their web browser or through the ChineseClass101 mobile app. This is available for both iOS and Android devices. The app allows students to access the platform's resources on the go and makes it easy to study Chinese even when offline.
What a lesson is like on ChineseClass101
The platform's lesson structure is meant to be flexible and adaptable, allowing students to learn at their own pace and on their own schedule.
Outside of the core learning pathways for specific levels, there are hundreds of other learning pathways. Each has a focus on topics such as listening skills, vocabulary, pronunciation, grammar, or the Chinese writing system (both Hànzì and pīnyīn). Students can choose the type of learning pathway they want to focus on based on their individual needs and goals.
From my experience with the Absolute Beginner pathway, the lessons were a solid mix of visual- and audio-based and lasted anywhere from 3-20 minutes. The lesson hosts would introduce some words and phrases and then let you listen to what they sound like in a native conversation. The lessons include pauses for the listener to try to repeat the keywords.
After a few lessons, ChineseClass101 gives you a short quiz on content. I found these to be very easy if I did the quiz right after listening to the lesson, but they were much harder the day after!
What is the method behind ChineseClass101?
The method behind ChineseClass101 is based on the concept of “spaced repetition.” This is a learning technique that involves reviewing material at increasingly longer intervals to maximize retention. The platform uses this method to help students learn Chinese more efficiently and effectively.
ChineseClass101 also incorporates a range of other learning techniques, including audio and visual aids, interactive exercises, and cultural insights. These techniques help students learn the language in a way that is engaging and enjoyable. And they provide students with a range of tools to help them succeed in their language-learning journey.
How I reviewed ChineseClass101
Other than knowing Chinese was a tonal language and that the Hanzi writing system is difficult, I had no prior knowledge of Chinese.
I began by going through learning pathways focused on the basics of different parts of Chinese. These included the following:
- Introduction to Chinese (5 lessons)
- Ultimate Chinese Pronunciation Guide (10 lessons)
- Chinese Explained (27 lessons)
- Ultimate Video Getting Started (44 lessons)
- Speaking Perfect Chinese at a Restaurant (10 lessons)
Once I got through most of the lessons from these pathways, I moved to ChineseClass101’s core Absolute Beginner course, Level 1 Chinese. This flagship course includes 77 lessons, 94 assessments, and just over 15 hours of audio lessons.
You just need to click “study now” and you're on your way.
Beyond following these learning pathways, I also used the app to listen to some lessons during my commute and while doing some chores around the house. I particularly enjoyed the “Culture Class” series for that (see below).
At first, I was frustrated that ChineseClass101 wasn’t doing much with Hànzì characters in the Absolute Beginner pathways.
Then in one of the lessons, they explained why.
There are over 50,000 unique Hànzì characters to memorize. While you only need 2,000-3,000 to be considered literate, that is still a lot of individual characters to remember.
There’s a time and a place to start studying Hànzì characters, but Absolute Beginners like myself can work on other aspects of the language before tackling them.
There’s truly just so much you can do with ChineseClass101, but here’s my take on some of the platform’s best qualities:
The platform is accessible from anywhere with an internet connection, and students can learn at their own pace and on their own schedule. This makes it an ideal choice for students who have busy schedules or who want to work on Chinese for a few minutes at a time throughout their days.
I see ChineseClass101 being quite useful for any level. From my perspective as a veteran language-learner, I feel that it can be an excellent supporting tool to supercharge your listening skills, vocabulary knowledge, cultural understanding, and speaking skills (using the voice recording function).
I found the interface of the app very simple and easy to use. They limit the number of extra resources that you can use on the app, which I actually appreciated because it made the app very easy to navigate.
You can even download lessons through the app if you want to work on your Chinese even when you don't have internet access, like during a flight.
I loved the app for its podcast-like lessons while I was on the move. My favorites were the “Culture Class” Absolute Beginner series. I don’t know much about what life is like in China, but Culture Class gave me a much better sense of what day-to-day life is like there.
A huge advantage is the range of resources and tools beyond the audio lessons to help students learn Chinese efficiently and effectively with a focus on:
- Vocabulary: Personal word bank, survival phrases, lists of most common words (see above)
- Hànzì and pīnyīn help: Help with Chinese Hànzì radicals, the stroke order of basic characters, and a pīnyīn chart to nail pronunciation
- Test of Proficiency in China (HSK) practice: Tests and quizzes designed for HSK students looking to get certification of their knowledge of Chinese
- Grammar: Verb conjugation charts, overview of basic grammar structures
I had a lot of these resources opened in separate windows for reference while I was going through the Absolute Beginner core learning pathway. They were a godsend.
ChineseClass101 Absolute Beginner HSK1 94-page textbook introduction to Hànzì characters
Screenshot of diagram from “Ultimate Chinese Pronunciation Guide” showing you how to produce Chinese syllables correctly with pīnyīn
I only speak Romance languages fluently, so I don’t have much experience with the pronunciation of Eastern languages. Because of that, I have had quite a tough time getting my lips and tongue to make the shapes necessary to orally produce native-sounding words.
This has been a source of frustration for me, but I was pleasantly surprised when I came across an Absolute Beginner learning pathway called “Ultimate Chinese Pronunciation Guide.”
This learning pathway was absolutely key to getting me on the right track with speaking reasonably accurate Chinese words. The pronunciation guide gave me a very solid foundation in the various consonants and vowels in Chinese. It turns out that English speakers already know about half of them!
Once you figure out the syllables, then you just have to combine it with one of the four tones. The pīnyīn chart is perfect for mastering any of those “syllable + tone” combos.
The lessons are not only educational but also quite entertaining! I surprised myself by actually laughing out loud during one of the first lessons about the need to adopt a fake Chinese name*.
The Absolute Beginner core learning pathway audio lesson hosts, Amber and Victor, had great chemistry and clearly love the Chinese language. Another host, Yinru, teaches a number of pronunciation and whiteboard lessons, and is somehow genuinely excited about every aspect of Chinese.
The platform does a solid job of making sure that the lessons are both fun and funny. The engaging tone of almost all the lessons combined with the apparent love the teachers have for the language made ChineseClass101 one of the most enjoyable online language classes I’ve taken.
*According to the very charismatic hosts, names work differently in China. Rather than chosen from a list of appropriate “name words” like Wayne, Sarah, or Nick, Chinese names tend to have to do with dreams, ambitions, goals, literary references, etc. The ChineseClass101 hosts have come across Chinese names like “Cash,” “Super,” “Powerful,” and “Wisdom”!
As in all things, there are downsides to using ChineseClass101:
Unstructured learning environment
One of the biggest cons of ChineseClass101 is that it may not be suitable for students who prefer a more structured learning environment. The platform's lesson structure is designed to be flexible, which may not be ideal for students who thrive in a more traditional classroom setting.
I was also never quite sure whether I was getting the most that I could out of ChineseClass101. There's just so much you can do that it was frankly a little overwhelming. I explored quite a bit with different learning pathways, the mobile app, and the voice recorder tool. But since I was so new to the language, I didn’t feel comfortable trying to decide which parts of Chinese to work on first.
Plus, the level of Absolute Beginner learning pathways wasn’t always consistent. Some pathways are meant for completely new learners, whereas others seem to be for those already with a foundation. This makes sense, but because they’re not really marked it just made it a bit tough to improv my learning journey with ChineseClass101.
Thankfully, the Absolute Beginner core learning pathway with hosts Victor and Amber is incredibly engaging. And I’d bet that once you make it through those 77 lessons and 94 assessments, you could probably branch out to other learning pathways a bit more easily.
Not many visual materials
Another potential con of ChineseClass101 is that it may not be suitable for students who are more visual learners. The platform offers more visual and written resources than other Innovative Language courses, though each proficiency level’s core learning pathway is audio-only.
That said, all audio lessons are supported by written materials in the form of dialogue recap, key lesson vocab, lesson notes, and a lesson transcript. This helps provide some visual resources, though they’re not as helpful as some of the interactive visual learning aids available in other Chinese language courses.
Listening comprehension is a hugely important part of learning any foreign language, so I don’t think the lack of visual materials is a huge problem. Instead, just be sure to supplement your Chinese learning journey with other dedicated visual resources on top of ChineseClass101.
I found my time on ChineseClass101 to be a bit heavy on passive learning — most of the lessons are 5-10 minute audio clips. While the lessons are fun, the lack of dynamic learning is a blind spot for the ChineseClass101. Listening and repeating will only get you so far.
If you’ve read any of my reviews, you’ll know that I ~stan~ active learning techniques. In other words, you need to use your brain to create using a foreign language. That could mean you’re writing original thoughts or patching together your limited vocabulary to communicate during a spoken conversation on italki.
That said, passive learning has its place in a learning journey. An opportunity to increase your time with a language is an opportunity you should take. The more Chinese words you hear, the more Hànzì or pīnyīn you see, the more words you repeat and repeat and repeat, the better off you’ll be.
Speed of words and phrases
This is maybe a bit nitpicky, but I wish the lessons were more intentional about saying words a bit more slowly and more clearly. I’m totally new to Chinese, so take what I’m saying with a grain of salt, but I wasn’t satisfied with the listen-and-repeat portions of the audio lessons.
If you add words and phrases to your personal word bank, it lets you replay them at half speed. But the words are digitally slowed, so they almost end up even more garbled than at normal speed.
ChineseClass101 seems to acknowledge this issue by providing a voice recording function that lets you compare your pronunciation to a native’s. You can use this tool with lesson notes to make sure that you’ve got a handle on the vocabulary presented in each lesson.
I also found that going through the “Ultimate Guide to Chinese Pronunciation” was really useful for getting my ear accustomed to understanding Chinese. Getting up to speed in pīnyīn with help from the pīnyīn chart (pictured above) was also crucial to getting my ear accustomed to this.
Who is ChineseClass101 for?
ChineseClass101 is best suited for:
- Beginners with some basic knowledge of Chinese
- Students looking for a study aid to bolster listening comprehension
- HSK Chinese Proficiency Test candidates
- Intermediate and advanced learners looking to maintain proficiency through passive learning techniques
Let me explain this a bit.
As a complete beginner with no knowledge of Chinese at all, I was hoping for more interactive visual learning aids. Approaching a difficult language like Chinese is without interactive visual aid is a big ask.
There are quite a few video lessons available at the Absolute Beginner level, though none are interactive.
ChineseClass101 uses visuals for several aspects of the Chinese language (stroke order of Hànzì characters, diagrams for pronunciation, the Chinese radicals chart, etc), but absolute beginners need a bit more visual engagement and hand-holding.
ChineseClass101 lesson on the basics of creating Hànzì characters
The content is probably most valuable for novice speakers and intermediate level students, but the listening comprehension lessons are fantastic for keeping advanced students’ ears sharp.
The core learning pathways for the Absolute Beginner to Upper Intermediate are designed with HSK preparation in mind (scroll up to see how ChineseClass101 levels correspond to HSK levels). If you’re getting ready to take the HSK, then ChineseClass101 is going to be an invaluable resource.
More generally, if you just want to learn Chinese by using ChineseClass101 on your commute to develop your listening skills, I think this is a great tool for you. Just be sure to continue working on the other skills (reading, writing, and speaking) with other Chinese language-learning resources.
How much does ChineseClass101 cost?
ChineseClass101 offers a range of pricing plans to suit different budgets and learning needs. The platform's pricing plans range from a free plan to PremiumPlus.
The pricing options are a bit complicated, so I put together this table to give you a better idea of the pricing:
Here’s a breakdown of what you get with each plan:
- Basic: Access to all lessons and in-depth lesson notes (over 1,000 audio and video lessons and assessments)
- Premium: Tons of vocabulary resources and study tools, including spaced repetition flashcards, multiple choice assessments, Hànzì and pīnyīn study tools, and much more
- PremiumPlus: Everything in Premium, plus 1-to-1 access to a teacher, hand graded assessments, and guidance and personalized assessments.
Is ChineseClass101 free?
It is free to join ChineseClass101. Here's everything you get with a free account on ChineseClass101:
- First three lessons in every learning pathway
- New lessons every week
- Chinese Word of the Day
- Top 100 Chinese words list
- Chinese vocabulary and phrase lists
- Survival phrases learning pathway
Heads up! When you register for a free membership with ChineseClass101, they'll give you a 7-day free trial for Premium. You don't have to provide any payment details, so this is a great risk-free way to try all the features of ChineseClass101.
On top of the 7-day Premium trial, when you sign up for free membership they'll offer you 30 days of Premium for just $1. You have to provide payment details for this, but you can simply go to your account and click “cancel auto-renewal” in the payment section to avoid renewing for $25/month.
ChineseClass101 offers frequent deals to its members. Whilst I was learning with ChineseClass101 the platform offered a bundle of “free gifts of the month.” including:
- PDF cheat sheet for context-based conversations (this one relevant to mall shopping)
- Simple themed worksheet for practice writing Chinese Hànzì characters
- Several vocabulary lists for everyday scenarios
- Phrases to practice speaking skills using the voice recorder
- Coupon code for 25% off Basic, 30% off Premium, and 40% discount for Premium and PremiumPlus (bringing Premium down to $6/month for a 24-month subscription).
And if you want a personal teacher to help you through Chinese, it’s only $13.73pm for a 24-month subscription of PremiumPlus. That’s right around the price for a TV streaming subscription! But instead of lazing around and binging the latest popular series, you’re learning Chinese with a teacher that will keep you on track with hand-graded assignments and invaluable feedback.
If you don't like your paid version of ChineseClass101, you are guaranteed a refund within 60 days of purchase.
Just email contactus@ChineseClass101.com that you want a refund, and they will get back to you quickly.
Features of ChineseClass101
ChineseClass101 offers a range of features that make it an ideal choice for students who want to learn Chinese. These features include:
- Engaging lessons: ChineseClass101 provides a curriculum that includes fun audio and video lessons, interactive quizzes, and informative worksheets
- Cultural insights: Almost every ChineseClass101 lesson includes fun facts on Chinese culture to avoid making rookie mistakes when interacting with a native speaker
- Lesson material: Each audio lesson comes with a transcript, notes, key vocab, and a dialogue recap
- Flexible learning: The platform is accessible from anywhere with an internet connection, and students can learn at their own pace and on their own schedule
- Mobile app: ChineseClass101 offers a mobile app that allows students to access the platform's resources on the go, even when they are offline
- Learning community: All the lessons contain a comment section for students using ChineseClass101 to ask and answer questions on lesson content
- Personalized learning: The PremiumPlus plan provides access to one-on-one tutoring and personalized learning plans
What languages can you learn with ChineseClass101?
As the name suggests, Chinese is the only language you can learn with ChineseClass101. But if you like the way ChineseClass101 works and want to learn another language, the creator of this platform (Innovative Language Learning) offers 33 other languages on similar platforms.
All you have to do is search Innovative Language Learning with your target language and chances are you’ll find what you’re looking for. Just keep in mind that you’ll have to create a separate account on each new -Class101 or -Pod101 website.
Alternatives to ChineseClass101
There are a number of online Chinese learning websites available, and it can be difficult to know which one is the best fit for your needs. Here is a comparison of ChineseClass101 to other popular online Chinese learning websites:
Rosetta Stone vs ChineseClass101
Rosetta Stone provides a more structured and interactive environment than ChineseClass101, but ChineseClass101 offers more creative lesson topics and a more flexible learning environment.
It also features the Dynamic Immersion feature that has made it so successful. With ChineseClass101 it’s easier to fall back on a more passive learning experience.
ChineseClass101’s biggest advantage is that it is cheaper than Rosetta Stone. Beyond offering a free account (which Rosetta Stone does not), its Basic and Premium accounts are cheaper than Rosetta Stone.
Duolingo vs ChineseClass101
Duolingo is mostly focused on reading and writing, and it encourages learning through translations. It also gamifies your learning journey to “hook you” on foreign language learning.
ChineseClass101 focuses on learning through listening and repeating. It doesn’t gamify learning, instead focusing on making its lessons fun, funny, and interesting. ChineseClass101 also offers lessons at a more advanced level than Duolingo.
Using Duolingo is a great way to learn how to write in Chinese, and ChineseClass101 is excellent for training your Chinese ear.
If you’re deciding between the two, you should determine which skills you want to focus on and decide based on that. But why not use them side-by-side?
Babbel vs ChineseClass101
Like Rosetta Stone, Babbel's Chinese course is a more structured and interactive course compared to ChineseClass101. Babbel's courses offer more active learning opportunities such as grammar exercises and writing activities, while ChineseClass101 mainly offers passive listening activities. Babbel's lessons are also longer, which can be more beneficial for learning the language.
However, ChineseClass101 offers more creative lesson topics and a more flexible learning environment. Additionally, ChineseClass101 is cheaper than Babbel, with a free account option and a more affordable Premium account than Babbel’s.
What others have said
To make ChineseClass101 review as balanced as possible, I've included feedback from past students.
“While the cost savings of a two year plan look tempting, I can’t recommend it. They provide great materials for beginner level students but once you get past that level, there are better resources available.” - Reddit ChineseClass101 review
While I’m sure this comment has some merit, I do want to point out that it was made six years ago. Given that ChineseClass101 adds lessons on a weekly basis, I’d wager that they have increased the content available at higher levels.
Regardless, a 24-month subscription for Basic or Premium will get you about 14 months and 16 months of free access to ChineseClass101, compared to a month-to-month subscription. If you’re serious about learning Chinese and expect to continue learning the language for longer than eight to ten months, I still recommend the 24-month subscription.
I don’t think you’ll be sorry to have access to the platform’s extra resources (vocab bank, SRS flashcards, Hànzì and pīnyīn study tools, etc) past the beginner level.
“I've listened to 130 podcasts that range from about 5 to 15 minutes each. The sound quality is very good and the content is organised in increasing order of difficulty…Also, every podcast has a vocabulary section that covers the words in the podcast. The podcasts help me learn the vocabulary in context and also teaches some grammar point(s).” - Reddit ChineseClass101 review
This Reddit user gets to the heart of ChineseClass101’s method: short, accessible lessons with good audio quality that help you retain vocabulary and grammar. Research shows that students lose focus after about 30 minutes of studying, so ChineseClass101 makes sure to keep lessons direct and to the point. This format keeps lessons flexible.
If you want to study for 5 minutes, great! If you can keep it going for 30 minutes or more, also great! ChineseClass101 leaves that decision to you.
Conclusion: Is ChineseClass101 worth it?
ChineseClass101 is an exceptional online resource for those looking to learn the Chinese language. With its extensive library of thousands of audio and video lessons, interactive flashcards, and grammar worksheets, the platform has something for learners of all levels and provides a fun and engaging way to study Chinese.
Learning Chinese is an incredibly rewarding experience that opens up a world of new opportunities and cultural understanding. With ChineseClass101, even beginners can easily dive into the world of Chinese language and culture.
As a veteran language learner, I feel that the beauty of ChineseClass101 is that students simply have increased time spent with the language. Despite what some say, there are no shortcuts to learning a foreign language. But the amount of time you spend getting to know a language will lead to a direct payout in your proficiency.
ChineseClass101 provides an additional, quality avenue to learning Chinese. While I don’t recommend relying on it alone to learn Chinese, it is the perfect supporting resource to increase your familiarity with a difficult language.
So why not give ChineseClass101 a try and see for yourself how it can transform your language-learning journey? With ChineseClass101, the beauty and complexity of the Chinese language and culture is just a few clicks away.
There are different pricing options for ChineseClass101 based on access level (from Basic to PremiumPlus) and subscription duration. Prices range from $3.50/month for 24 months of Basic access to $47.00/month for month-to-month PremiumPlus access.
ChineseClass101 constantly offers deals for 24-month subscriptions, so if you are going to pay for a subscription I recommend going for that option.
ChineseClass101 works mainly by listening and repeating. Its desktop version offers many extra resources, like voice recording to practice your pronunciation and worksheets to test your knowledge of Chinese’s Hànzì and pinyin writing system.
Yes, within 60 days of purchase.