7 Best Mandarin Schools in China Compared & Ranked (2023)
Planning to learn Chinese in China? Choosing the right Mandarin school is crucial to the future success of your Chinese learning.
Whether you’re a beginner struggling to speak Chinese at the moment, or you’re a seasoned student looking to perfect your Chinese skills, you want to be sure that you’re studying at the best Mandarin school.
In this guide, I ranked and reviewed the 7 best Mandarin schools in China, along with my top 3 choices, so that you can pick the best one for you.
The Best Mandarin Schools in China
Mandarin Chinese has exploded in popularity, and so have Mandarin schools. When I first decided to study Chinese in China, there weren’t many options out there.
That was in 2004, and since then, hundreds of Mandarin schools have emerged across the country.
But with so many options to choose from and they all have something unique to offer, finding the right Mandarin school can become pretty confusing and frustrating. Well, worry no more!
In this guide, I draw on my two decades of language industry experience to highlight the best Mandarin schools in China and help you narrow your list. I’ll uncover the signature courses they offer, discuss their strengths and weaknesses, and share some tips to help you zero in on the right school for you.
I’ll kick this thing off by listing the top schools at the beginning.
Based on a number of selection criteria that revolve around the reputation of the school, academic quality, and testimonials from alumni, the 7 best Mandarin schools in China are:
- LTL (Best Overall)
- That’s Mandarin (Most Popular)
- MandarinRocks (Best Value)
- Hanbridge Mandarin
- GoEast Mandarin
These are all schools I’m personally familiar with, or that have outstanding reputations and reviews. If I were to learn Chinese all over again, these are the schools I’d consider going to. (Read more on how I came up with the list)
I do have my preferences – my top picks are LTL, That’s Mandarin, and MandarinRocks – I have more experience with them than others. But depending on your specific needs, any of these schools could be a good fit – I have vetted them all at a high level.
A few other schools may also be good but haven’t stood the test of time (all the schools I listed here have been operating for 10+ years). That’s why they didn’t make it on the list.
Now, to help you pick your best fit, I’ve compiled a few details of each of the Mandarin schools.
Let’s dive in.
LTL is #1 on my list of best Mandarin schools in China this year. The school, founded by a German expat living in Beijing in 2007, has been going strong in the Mandarin training space for over a decade, and for good reasons.
LTL provides one of the most diverse course options in the industry, including HSK Prep, Gap Year, Under 18’s, Master Class (50+), Descent Speakers…, and also offers a great program online where you can take live Chinese classes 24/7.
For those looking to take the immersion experience to the next level, it provides an extremely immersive experience in the rural city of Chengde, the place where standard Mandarin was first codified in 1952, to enthusiasts.
I’ll also mention that the school does more than just teach you grammar and vocabulary. LTL believes that it is not only important to learn a language but also to understand its applications. It gives students a good perspective of how the Chinese language is related to Chinese culture which can motivate them to learn it even better.
LTL has schools in Beijing and Shanghai (and another one in Taiwan; the other centers have shut down during the pandemic). You can choose to book a traveling Chinese course and divide your time between the two cities while continuing your Chinese studies with the same course materials. And you’ll get exposure to both northern and southern accents.
For about 1,750 USD you can stay with a host family and participate in a 2-week intensive course (20 weekly hours) at this top-rated school. So far, over 3,000 students have attended LTL, improved their Chinese, and experienced China’s unique culture.
What I Like
1. Student Demographics. Their website is displayed in 16 languages which means you’ll be studying in a very international environment, perfect for meeting people sharing the same interest as you from around the world.
2. School organization. LTL has an excellent international management team that’s committed to helping students have a great experience in China. They speak several languages (English, German, Italian, French, Russian…), and this makes communication a lot easier for students and parents from North American and European countries.
3. Flexible online learning program. Online learning has a lot of momentum right now. Every school seems to offer online programs of some sort, but LTL’s new live class system – Flexi Classes is one of a kind.
With this revolutionary program, you can study 24/7, anytime, anywhere in small groups or individually with professional teachers in China, and you have the complete flexibility to book, re-book and cancel classes. In all honesty, it’s my #1 recommendation for online Chinese classes.
What I Don't Like
To be honest, there isn’t much I dislike about the school, although I wish they could improve the learning environment a bit – unlike some of the other schools here that have their own building or campus to offer a more relaxing learning and social environment, both LTL schools in Beijing and Shanghai are located in busy office buildings and can get overcrowded in high season.
What Other Reviewers Say
With over 110 reviews giving a 4.8 out of 5 rating on Trustpilot, LTL got excellent recommendations from former students. A lot of reviews mentioned they loved the school’s online program and called it the best way to learn Chinese without actually being in China.
With nearly 20 USD for a group class and 40 USD for a 1-on-1 class (20 classes/week deal), this is not a low-budget school. But quality has its price and LTL school can easily prove why it is worth it!
If you are a serious student seeking a meaningful learning experience in a warm and supportive atmosphere with a focus on cultural understanding, you don’t have to go too far beyond LTL.
2. That's Mandarin
With 1,400 USD for a two-week group class offer (2015 weekly hours + homestay), That’s Mandarin is one of the most pricey Mandarin schools in China. Losing rating points for the higher costs and still making 2nd place on this list means it’s definitely worth checking out!
That’s Mandarin was founded in 2005 and has now three centers: Beijing, Shanghai, and Suzhou (their Shenzhen school is permanently closed).
If numbers are anything to go by then the school holds the record of having the most number of students studying Chinese. Over 50,000 students have taken courses with That’s Mandarin – simply mind-boggling!
All That’s Mandarin’s campuses are located in the heart of the city with great facilities. Every classroom is equipped with natural light, interactive whiteboards, and computers for multimedia learning. I particularly like their Shanghai campus. Their very own cafe and spacious terrace make it really easy for you to socialize and meet new people. You can enjoy unlimited tea and coffee at the lounge relaxing or self-studying after class.
That’s Mandarin is also the first Chinese language school in China to combine traditional classroom-based teaching and online learning (since 2010). With a specially-designed learning platform, they can support their programs both online and offline effortlessly. All of these aspects make That’s Mandarin one of the top Chinese language schools in China.
What I Like
1. Technology-driven classes. For beginners and elementary students, That’s Mandarin has probably the best Chinese learning platform – NihaoCafe (formerly “Mandarin Café”), on which they’ve created a course around a TV series they filmed in 2019, featuring 64 episodes with over 70 characters in 45 locations.
You can watch the videos, read interactive dialogues, learn new words and grammar, and practice with exercises on the platform, independently or with the help of their professional teachers.
2. The curriculum. That’s Mandarin’s curriculum is in sync with the current HSK level system. If your end goal is to pass your HSK test, then you’ll be in good hands.
What I Don't Like
Mandatory immersion for Beginners. All classes at That’s Mandarin are taught in Chinese, and students are expected to speak only Chinese at school, even beginners. While this is great for more advanced students, the “one size fits all” approach can be very frustrating for beginners in my experience.
Another thing That’s Mandarin can do better is to increase transparency in its pricing.
Unlike other schools, That’s Mandarin only advertises an attractive “starting price” on their website, which applies only if you buy loads of lessons from them in a lump sum. For any course, you have to contact them to get a quote. For short-term studies, the rate will increase sharply. Overall, I found it’s more expensive than most of the schools here.
What Other Reviewers Say
Over 150 online reviews give it a 9.5 out of 10 rating, pretty persuasive. I’ve heard nothing but good experiences with That’s Mandarin, so it’s no surprise that they’re one of the most sought-after Chinese schools in China.
If you’re looking for a holistic approach with a thorough grounding in grammar and conversation practice as well as a sociable learning atmosphere at a large school (and willing to stretch your budget for that matter), That’s Mandarin is the way to go!
Only in terms of scale, MandarinRocks is not at the top as it has only one center in Shanghai but where it gains some crucial points is the fact that it has a pretty big reputation for having the best Mandarin teachers.
This cozy Mandarin school, housed in a remodeled Shanghai-style lane house with a beautiful courtyard has been in the business since 2001 and has helped thousands of students integrate into Chinese society over the years. It gives great importance to individualized attention and student satisfaction, and has a variety of benefits that can’t be reaped from your typical chain school.
MandarinRocks offers Chinese courses for all levels. Aside from the standard General Chinese course, they offer Combined Chinese (group + private class), Business Chinese, HSK preparation, and a special Study-Internship program for college students and young professionals. They are also the pioneers of youth immersion programs, offering top-notch Chinese summer camps every year for the young ones.
MandarinRocks positions itself as the best affordable school in Shanghai, and possibly China as well – and they might just be right. Compared with the other big-city Mandarin schools listed here, it is the least costly option.
Spending your time studying Chinese at MandarinRocks in the center of Shanghai while staying with a local host family will cost you 1,500 USD for two weeks (20 weekly hours).
Even though it is the third Chinese language school in Shanghai we have listed, MandarinRocks is still an outstanding choice for learning Chinese in China.
What I Like
1. The teachers. When choosing a school, you’ll always want to find a school that employs the best experts in the field. MandarinRocks has a very competent teaching team. Many of their teachers have 10+ years of experience, which is way above average.
2. The relatively small school size. In larger schools, where teachers’ attention is spread thin, it’s easy for students to get left behind; however, MandarinRocks provides the opportunity for teachers to spend ample 1-on-1 time with the students.
They can dedicate time to the needs of each student and can customize their curriculum to ensure each student is learning at a speed that is comfortable for them and matches their learning style. Students will no longer feel stifled, or left behind, by the speed of the class.
What I Don't Like
Since the school size is on the smaller end of the spectrum, spots can fill up pretty fast. You may need to book and pay for your course well ahead of time.
The school is not internet-savvy. Their website looks archaic and doesn’t provide much useful information or any practical resources to support self-paced learning.
What Other Reviewers Say
Even though the school did not make it to Trustpilot yet, I’ve seen only positive reviews in Chinese learning sites and forums, with most reviewers giving a perfect score. They especially praise their friendly atmosphere and competent Mandarin teachers. Since the classes are limited to a maximum of 8 students you will have the comfort of full support from their teachers.
In my correspondence with the school, I’ve been impressed by their responsiveness and warmth. If you’re seeking a friendly, well-priced Mandarin school with a commitment to very high-quality teaching, choose MandarinRocks and you will definitely not be disappointed.
Located in picturesque Guilin, CLI is the place to be when you wish to study Mandarin and at the same time enjoy the relaxed pace of life in a smaller Chinese city. All the cultural opportunities, vibrant nightlife, and proximity to scenic natural spots make it easy to connect with people in the school and enjoy your vacation in China.
CLI was founded in 2009 by two American brothers and has hosted over 2,500 students as of 2023. The school prides itself in delivering focused 1-on-1 Chinese immersion, which includes 20 weekly hours of private intensive Mandarin training with 3 different Chinese teachers.
The program integrates all aspects of the Chinese language (reading, writing, speaking, grammar, listening, pronunciation, and vocabulary) into a unique learning experience.
You can combine your studies with an array of weekly activities, and monthly excursions to maximize your experience (included in the tuition).
For a 2-week Chinese immersion program, staying in a single room, CLI will charge you 1,490 USD. Homestay is also available at 1,760 USD. If you want to experience firsthand life in a small Chinese city, then this school is a great choice.
What I Like
The “three instructors” approach. When learning a language, it’s good to be exposed to different accents, vocabulary, and teaching styles. CLI provides each student with three unique Mandarin instructors: One teacher focuses primarily on reading and writing skills, another on listening and speaking ability, and an additional teacher ties all components together with in-depth daily lessons and reviews.
What I Don't Like
One thing missing from perfection at CLI is the variety of courses. There are very few options other than the standard 1-on-1 intensive instruction and semester abroad program (co-hosted by Guangxi Normal University). Group class is hardly available due to the insufficient number of students choosing to study in Guilin.
Long class periods that only include one student can have problems with class momentum. If you’re looking for classmates to interact and progress with you, you might need to look elsewhere.
If you prefer learning Chinese by surrounding yourself with mostly locals, then I recommend heading to a less foreigner-popular city.
Located in sunny Kunming where spring temperatures are present nearly all 365 days of the year, Keats Chinese School can help you truly immerse yourself in the local culture and learn Chinese quickly.
Their two-week small group Chinese class offer (20 weekly hours), with single-room accommodation, and 3 meals daily for 1,027 USD, make this Yunnan-based Mandarin school a great deal. It’s one of the best cheap Mandarin schools in China that also delivers quality Mandarin lessons.
However, it’s not just the price that makes Keats an appealing option. The 18-year-old school understands how stressful it can be to study abroad, especially for first-timers, and they work hard to ease the transition by providing 24/7 support throughout your stay, for free!
Their Mandarin Plus Program allows you to extend your intensive Mandarin course with another theme. You can either top it off with Kung Fu, Tai Chi, Chinese calligraphy, or cooking. Well, obviously the best way to learn Mandarin, apart from Mandarin classes in China, is to get involved and really explore Chinese culture!
What I Like
The school provides a lot of free benefits for full-time students: access to a gym, cultural workshops, Saturday excursions, and even one free Chinese massage every week.
The school has 9 teaching locations across Yunnan Province so that you can explore different places and dive into the local cultures while participating in their intensive immersion program.
What I Don't Like
Like Guilin, Kunming is not the top pick among Chinese language students. Quite possible there will not be any other students at your level to share a group class.
If that’s the case, you would have to pay more for their 1-on-1 program (the price will increase from 1,027 USD to 1,350 USD for two weeks). Also, Kunming isn’t much of a tourist attraction and can be a bit boring to live in by western standards.
The school mainly offers all-inclusive study and living programs. If you just want to take lessons without staying at their residence, the hourly tuition rate can get pretty high.
6. Hanbridge Mandarin
Founded in 2006, Hanbridge Mandarin is a Chinese language school chain with locations in Shenzhen, Zhuhai, and Chengdu. To learn Chinese in China you get some great options for destinations with their Chinese courses. One of those made our list: Hanbridge Mandarin Shenzhen.
The school is ideal for those staying in the Canton area or wishing to explore Hong Kong on weekends for its excellent location on the Hong Kong border.
With 2,120 USD for a standard two-week group class offer (20 weekly hours + homestay), Hanbridge Mandarin is the priciest of our top 7 Mandarin schools, but compared with the cost of studying Chinese in neighboring Hong Kong, it’s still a good deal.
The school has special offers like AP Chinese courses for high-school students, industry-specific Chinese courses for professionals, and Chinese summer camps for kids. After Chinese lessons, the school keeps you entertained through after-school activities in Chinese like city tours, excursions, and cultural experiences.
What I Like
The academic strength. Holding adequate courses means little if the teachers in charge of those courses are insufficiently versed in them. Although you might think it all comes down to teaching Chinese, it’s a bit more complicated than that.
Hanbridge Mandarin has a great teaching team – 65% of their teachers have a master’s degree, and 30% of the teachers have experience teaching and living abroad.
What I Don't Like
For a school of its size, it’s intriguing that they only have female teachers according to their “Meet the Team” page. No offense, but they’d better employ guy teachers as well for those who don’t want to sound all feminine when speaking Chinese.
Like That’s Mandarin, the school also hides pricing information on its website. You have to get in touch with them to see the price.
7. GoEast Mandarin
GoEast Mandarin was founded by three Chinese girls in 2012 in Shanghai. It’s the youngest school on my list. However, with a 4.7 review on Trustpilot and Google My Business by former students, the Mandarin school is another good option to study Chinese in China.
The school offers Chinese courses for adults and kids at all language levels. If you also want to learn Chinese characters, then they have a special Hanzi Character course. With Chinese being increasingly important in the business world, they also help companies to become more competitive through corporate Mandarin training.
GoEast Mandarin has two campuses in Shanghai – one in the vibrant Yangpu university town, the other in the posh former French Concession, so there are plenty of things to see and do outside school.
What I Like
Chinese learning is a field that is constantly changing, and a good Mandarin school is able to keep up with all the latest trends.
Besides employing experienced teachers who don’t shy away from using innovative techniques in their teaching efforts, GoEast Mandarin actively employs these trends. They’ve incorporated some of the best Chinese learning apps and tools like the Chairman’s Bao, and Du Chinese in their courses, making your Chinese learning more effective.
What I Don't Like
The school is mainly focused on Shanghai-based students and online learning. They don’t take care of student accommodation and logistics like other schools do, which could be a massive headache for students traveling to China for the first time. They don’t run any residential youths programs either.
How I Chose the Best Mandarin Schools in China
To be fair, I knew from the beginning that I wouldn’t be able to research and review every Mandarin school in China – there are easily hundreds of them. So I decided to only take schools into consideration that are:
- accredited by the Chinese Ministry of Education
- recognized by international associations in the language industry
- popular among students (measured by social media mentions and reviews)
After roughly two weeks of research (reading extensive reviews, sending email inquiries, and even making cold calls), I picked up the top seven Chinese schools that stand out to me.
(Not to mention that my job here is to research the best language-learning resources all day.)
The Ranking System
The best Mandarin schools should have a solid, proven track record, provide small class sizes, quality teaching, easy communication, visa application assistance, a variety of course and housing options, after-class activities, and reliable student support.
Besides, having a special test preparation program is one of the indicators of high-quality Mandarin schools. This is why I gave a lot of credit to schools with HSK courses or being a registered HSK test center.
Living in a post-pandemic world, being able to offer Chinese courses online is also a vital ranking criterion.
I purposely looked at schools located in different areas of China, because you might be looking for a course in the center of China’s capital while the next guy wants to study and chill in a laid-back town.
No matter what type of learner you are, this list has the best option for you.
Things You Should Consider When Choosing a Mandarin School
There are a couple of things you need to take into account while choosing a Mandarin school in China. Here are the most important ones to look for.
Types of Courses
To choose the best school, you first need to determine why exactly you’re learning Chinese and go from there. Mandarin courses come in all shapes and sizes, from conversation and Pinyin courses, reading and general courses, to AP and HSK preparation courses.
Do you want to focus on speaking Chinese, or learning characters at the same time? Choose your style, and then find a school that can offer you the type of learning you desire.
If you purely want to improve your Mandarin, you can choose any school. But if you want to make full use of your time in China, you should put a little more thought into where to study.
Not all cities in China will grant you the same experience. If you enjoy cosmopolitan life, Shanghai is hands down the best place to study Chinese – the city has it all: great culture, world-class food, nightlife, and diversity. You get to meet interesting people from all over the world.
If history is more of your thing, then Beijing has the upper hand – You’ll be amazed by the sheer number of ancient palaces and temples the city boasts.
If you want to fully immerse yourself in Chinese, probably a less expat-popular, non-touristy city like Kunming will suit you better. There aren’t as many fun things to do (also not much variety in food), but without the “foreign distractions”, you might actually accelerate your Chinese skills. Plus, the living costs are lower.
Of course, you can look for a Mandarin school that has multiple locations. That way, you can easily continue a course without switching schools as you explore different places in China.
Mix of Nationalities
Where do other students come from and what are their ages? Ask the school about your schoolmates. Trust me, you don’t want to be placed in a class where everyone already speaks Cantonese or Japanese and you’re the only one who can’t read characters…
Is it better to learn Chinese at a language school or a university in China?
It depends on your budget and how long you plan on staying in China.
If you are on a shoestring budget but are there for an extended period (e.g. 1 year), then it’s better to take a semester or year program at a Chinese university – it’s cheaper (due to their run-by-the-government nature and huge class size). Otherwise, pick a Mandarin school.
Mandarin programs at Chinese universities are known for their inflexibility and slow progress. The learning materials are most likely outdated (e.g. talking about university libraries), and so are the teaching methods. The curriculum can work in the long term but is quite boring to follow, especially for beginners (true with even the “best” universities like BLCU or Fudan).
How long does it take to learn Chinese in China?
Chinese is one of the most useful languages in the world, yet it probably takes the longest to master. Most experts estimate that it’ll take a western learner with average aptitude about 2,200 hours of traditional learning to reach full proficiency. I agree.
Here’s the good news. With the combination of good Mandarin teachers, cutting-edge learning apps, focused immersion, and a well-structured curriculum, anyone can speed up the learning process tremendously.
The best Mandarin schools can help you learn Chinese faster. GoEast Mandarin, for example, proposes 300 hours of lessons to reach a conversationally fluent level. LTL states something similar – their full Chinese immersion program aims to get a complete beginner to HSK 5 (intermediate/B2-) within a year.
How much does it cost to learn Chinese at a language school in China?
Although it costs more than an average Chinese university, learning Chinese at a Mandarin school in China is considerably cheaper compared with the US and UK, and many European countries. Depending on the location, you can expect to pay between 1,300 – 1,800 USD for a 2-week intensive program with housing included.
Additional costs might include registration fees, textbooks fees, visa support, and extracurricular activities. Budget 20-30 USD per day for meals and other daily expenses as well.
What type of visa should I apply for to study at a Mandarin school in China?
The Chinese government does not have any specific requirement on the type of visa for people to study at a Mandarin School in China. For short-term studies, most students opt for a tourist visa, which takes less paperwork to process. (Citizens of Japan, Singapore, and Brunei can receive a 15-day visa on arrival. All others need to have a visa before boarding a plane to China.)
The validity period of a Chinese tourist visa usually ranges from 30 to 90 days, depending on your nationality, the country you live in, and your previous Chinese visa history. If you intend to stay in China for over 3 months, you can ask your school to provide visa support documents to help you get a student visa with longer validity. (The service is usually available at an additional cost.)
Keep in mind that the Chinese authorities only issue student visas to people who study Chinese full-time. It’s not possible to get a student visa if you only learn Chinese a few hours a week. Consult your school about their requirement to qualify as a full-time student before booking a course.
Ready to Learn Chinese?
Not all Mandarin schools are created equal. If you’re planning to learn Chinese in China, it’s important to pick the right Mandarin school according to your needs.
Even though I couldn’t cover every amazing Mandarin school in China, I hope to have helped you in your process of finding the perfect place to study Chinese with this post.
If you’re ready to learn Chinese, check out our top hand-picked resources to get started!
Bonus: Has COVID Affected Your Chinese Learning?
After three years of pandemic border controls, China is fully reopening to international students without quarantine requirements! But don’t wait till you land in China to start learning Chinese. We’ve reviewed the best Chinese classes online so that you can learn already from the comfort of your home! Read this.