How to Choose a Chinese Tutor Online (the No-Fluff Guide)
Whether you’re taking Mandarin classes or learning Mandarin on your own, you might feel like you need a little extra help from a good Chinese tutor online.
If you’re struggling with determining the right Chinese tutor to work with, you’re not alone. Surely not just anyone is fit for the job. While there are thousands of people claiming to be “pro teachers” on the internet, only a small percentage of them are actually worth your time and money.
I am primarily a self-learner who’s lucky enough to have worked with a few good online Mandarin teachers, and have found the experience to be extremely positive and beneficial. In this post, I am going to show you how to choose a great Chinese tutor that is completely right for you and get the most out of your tutoring sessions.
How to Choose the Right Chinese Tutor Online
Here are the top ten factors you should consider when choosing your online Mandarin Chinese tutor.
First, identify your target accent and choose a teacher who speaks the version of Mandarin that you want to speak – this is the single most important consideration when you are looking for a Mandarin tutor online.
To get all the subtleties of Mandarin like colloquial expressions, slang, and idioms, you’ll want to look for a native speaker, but pay attention to the differences between Mainland China, Taiwan, and Singapore.
While learning the type of Mandarin could be a matter of what you personally enjoy, consider the future use of your Mandarin. Do you need Mandarin skills to communicate with a particular community? Are you planning to move there someday? All of these are great questions to ask yourself before choosing the right tutor.
If you have no preference, then I’d suggest you learn Mandarin from a tutor that grew up in China. The version of Mandarin spoken there is far more widespread – you’ll have a much higher chance of hearing it globally. There are many southeastern Asians, for example, who wouldn’t go for a teacher from Singapore and would insist to have a tutor from China because they feel it’s the more proper way to learn Mandarin.
A cautionary note: due to countless dialects that exist across the country, only 7% of the people in China can actually speak standard Mandarin, aka Putonghua, decently. The rest of the population either speak not-so-standard Mandarin with a regional accent or can’t speak it at all. Make sure your tutor speaks unaccented, perfect Mandarin, so you’ll have flawless pronunciation to model.
You’ll be surprised to find out the sheer number of “Mandarin teachers” online who can’t speak Mandarin properly themselves. This tutor from Guizhou province of China, for example, has big trouble pronouncing basic sounds like “zh”, “ch”, “j”, and “x” in Mandarin.
The second important thing to look for in an online Chinese tutor is experience.
Just like learning any language, you want your Mandarin tutor to have the right level of experience – not just in the Chinese language, but also in the tutoring field.
Watch out for those teachers who’ve only done classroom teaching – it’s a very different dynamic tutoring one student as opposed to an entire class. If they haven’t done anything else or taught as a tutor, they may not be so good at customizing content and interacting in a fun way.
Also, some professional Chinese teachers have rather firm and antiquated ideas about Mandarin learning. This is particularly a problem with teachers who’ve done a lot of formal training in China (which is why “having a teaching degree or certificate” isn’t one of the things included on my list – many great Chinese tutors don’t have that).
While experienced teachers can be life-savers when navigating the more technical areas of the language such as grammar rules or vocabulary (they’ve done the same explanations hundreds of times), it may be worthwhile to check in with less experienced (and usually cheaper) tutors who are more flexible about letting you plan your own lesson (especially if you’re an experienced learner) and adapting to your learning style.
Bottom line: The best tutors know more than just the content. They know how to present it in a way you can understand, and enjoy. Whatever experience the tutors may have, discuss the type of lessons you want to have before you start your first session, and make sure they are on board with doing the sessions your way.
3. Teaching Methodology
The next thing to look for when choosing a Chinese tutor online is their teaching methodology. Let me break down the specifics.
The most important part of this legwork is to check out the curriculum. Does the tutor have a specific curriculum for teaching Mandarin? If so, check it out to see how closely it matches your goals.
If there’s no set curriculum, can the tutor offer a tailored course specifically for you? If yes, spell out all aspects of Mandarin that you want to learn. See if the tutor is well equipped and ready to help you in those areas.
Every teacher’s style is different, and the preferred style for you depends on your personal goals.
Do you want a teacher who will stop you and correct every single mistake coming out of your mouth to push you to a native-like level? Or maybe you prefer someone more laid-back who will only correct major errors? You know your learning style better than anyone else, so make sure your tutor is compatible.
Be sure to ask about what type of teaching materials they use. Good Chinese teachers will almost always utilize a wide variety of resources (news articles, comics, TV episodes, podcasts, apps, etc) for structuring a fun class. If the teacher has nothing to offer other than a textbook, that’s kind of a red flag.
4. Language Skills
Most likely, you already prefer your tutor to speak as much Chinese as possible during a class. Nevertheless, you should choose a tutor that speaks fluent English or your native language apart from Chinese.
The reason is that when a tutor speaks a foreign language very well, it shows they understand how to acquire a language. And they may be able to relate to their own learning experience and offer you advice and tips that other tutors can’t.
Besides, my personal experience tells me if you’re a beginner in Mandarin, you’ll learn best and most efficiently with tutors who are capable of explaining concepts and grammar stuff in English (or your native language).
So if a tutor insists on speaking Chinese with you when you are already frustrated and can’t understand a thing because they can’t find an easier way to show you what they mean in clear English, I highly encourage you to reconsider.
Number five on the list for what to look for in an online Chinese tutor is a very practical one: availability.
Scheduling may be one of the biggest factors in choosing a tutor online. In the first year I started learning Mandarin I had a “great” tutor. She was experienced, knowledgeable, and fun…
But there was one problem:
She was always busy and I couldn’t get hold of her for more than a couple of lessons a month. I had to compromise and schedule my lessons around her busy life. Eventually, I got burned out, stopped booking, and lost pretty much everything I had learned.
Some popular teachers on tutoring platforms have very rigid schedules that are not very flexible. And many others are just tutoring Chinese online as a side hustle. So even if the teachers are great, you need to consider their availability and flexibility.
You want to be sure that the tutor you choose can accommodate your schedule. If you are serious about learning Mandarin but your tutor is only taking you as a second fiddle to their full-time gig, then you should probably find someone else who’s on the same level of seriousness.
Unless you don’t plan to meet with the same tutor again, you want to be able to stay in close touch with your tutor. That’s why responsiveness is also key in choosing the right online Chinese tutor.
When a tutor is responsive, it means they are quick to provide answers to your questions before, during, and after your lessons. You can test a potential tutor’s responsiveness the first time you reach out to them for more information about their services.
Expect a response within a day or two. If you have to wait days to hear back from them, the tutor might not be a responsive person, and your future communication will likely get stifled, leaving you with more questions than confidence heading into your next session.
The right Chinese tutor also gives you instant feedback and guidance during lessons. Most tutors will have their lessons planned, but they should also listen to what you want and have the flexibility to acknowledge and answer your questions.
When choosing a Mandarin tutor, see if they have hours of operation posted on their website. They may also include when they’re available to respond to calls or emails. You know you’ve found a great Chinese tutor when you feel confident communicating both during and outside of sessions.
Just remember that your tutor may be in China, so factor in the time difference when considering who to work with.
7. Personal Connection
Choose a tutor you feel a connection with. A good vibe is one of the keys to success when taking Mandarin tutoring lessons online.
You want a charismatic tutor who can turn otherwise dry materials into an engaging lesson so that you’ll be motivated to study even more. You also want your tutor to remember you and adapt to your learning behavior and pacing. Without this connection, it could be difficult to advance your understanding of Mandarin.
It can be hard to know whether you’ll have a connection with a tutor until after you’ve tried a couple of lessons and seen how they interact with you. But here are four things you can factor in when browsing his or her profile in the first place.
What kind of interests do you have in common? This is the person you’re going to have long conversations with, especially if you’re at an intermediate level or higher. If what you want to talk about isn’t something they share any interest or experience in, the lessons are just going to be painful!
But if there is something you can both passionately talk about, then words will flow out of your mouth naturally.
It takes lots of patience to communicate with someone who’s learning Mandarin and continues to make the same mistakes over and over again. Good Chinese tutors should be patient, communicative, and genuinely encouraging to help you feel confident about your speaking skills.
By asking questions and corresponding with them, you can get a feel for their personality and how they react to various situations.
Assess which age group you will most likely communicate with and look around for a tutor in that age range.
For instance, if you’re learning Mandarin to communicate with your in-laws or grandparents, an older teacher is usually the better choice. Whereas if you’re looking to fit in with a group of local 20-somethings, you’ll want to learn the Chinese internet slang and buzzwords with a younger teacher to keep your Mandarin skills fresh.
If you’re at a high level already and want to discuss industry-specific topics (finance, politics, medical, etc.), you can try finding someone in your same profession that teaches Mandarin on the side. Utilizing these special traits that prospective tutors have will greatly improve your fluency!
One of the best ways to learn more about a Mandarin tutor online is by reading reviews from previous students who’ve already taken lessons with the tutor you’re considering working with. Their honest experiences will show you whether the tutor is experienced and efficient, give you information about what to expect from their classes, and perhaps even warn you if things don’t work out.
Remember, the number of reviews can be more valuable. For example, a tutor with hundreds of 4-star ratings may sometimes be a better choice than a tutor with only two five-star ratings. By reading many reviews, you’ll have a better understanding of the tutor and know if he or she is worth pursuing or if it’s time to carry on your search elsewhere.
However, you need to approach reviews and ratings with a bit of caution. As testimonials on the tutor’s own website or tutoring companies are moderated by themselves, try to look for impartial sources of opinions on third-party platforms. If possible, use social media to look the teacher up and get some feedback and students’ experiences.
9. Trial Lesson
Reviews only contain a sliver of information. Nothing is better than a first-hand experience from yourself.
Many online Mandarin tutors and Mandarin tutoring sites offer a free or discounted trial lesson to give prospective students a chance to get a feel of what’s it like to have a one-on-one Chinese lesson with them (both italki and Preply offer trial lessons, among others). If it’s offered, take the opportunity to test your compatibility before you pay for a full lesson or a package.
To take full advantage of the trial lessons, you should contact your tutors maybe via message before the meeting, articulating clearly to them what your level is, and what you want to work on. By making your expectations clear, both you and your tutors can prepare for the trial lesson to make it the most useful experience possible.
You can also ask specific questions during the class to understand whether the tutor is the right one for you. For example, you can consider asking the following questions to test how well the tutors know their stuff:
- What’s the difference between Mandarin and Chinese?
- What’s the difference between 但是 (dànshì) and 可是 (kěshì) – two “but” in Chinese?
- When do I use 两 (liǎng) instead of 二 (èr) in Chinese?
- How do I express distance in Chinese?
If the potential tutor cannot answer those queries promptly, you may wonder how they’ll be able to answer your specific questions as you begin learning Mandarin. Having your questions answered during the trial lesson can help you make a confident decision regarding who you choose as your online Mandarin tutor online.
The final element of your selection is the cost of tutoring sessions. The key is to choose the best Mandarin tutor in your price range.
Most online learning platforms are pretty transparent about cost. Tutors set their own rates, which means there are options for many different budgets, from as low as around US$10 for an hour to practice speaking with, and up to greater than US$50 to help you with an advanced topic like HSK, AP Chinese or to prepare for a job interview.
No matter which platform you choose, you can sort teachers by price to match your needs. In general, you can find some good professional Mandarin teachers online who are patient and creative at around US$20-25 per hour on a platform like italki (which we recommend), so there’s no need to break the bank when working with one.
And if your ideal tutor charges only a bit more than you can afford, then it may be a good idea to try to make a sacrifice somewhere else in your budget so you can afford it. Paying a little extra for a better tutor could be worth the increased quality of the lessons. Choose the right tutor who will give you the best value rather than just picking the cheap one.
Also, build the bigger picture of how much money you want to invest into Mandarin learning overall. You need to make sure you can afford your tutoring sessions as time goes by. Learning Mandarin can take a while, so be sure you can afford all the lessons you need before you opt for one.
If you’re planning to study with the tutor for more than a couple of lessons, check with the tutor if he or she offers a discount for long-term study.
Does a Chinese tutor need a teaching certificate?
No, it’s not a must. Formal training doesn’t necessarily mean anything. Chinese tutors come in many varieties and the key thing is to make sure they’re capable of teaching. Are they experienced, fun, and committed? The best tutor is the one who can accommodate your needs and offer a tailored approach, not just someone waving a certificate around.
Should I hire just one, or a few Chinese tutors online?
My preference has always been to find a good Mandarin tutor and stick to one tutor online – it’s so fulfilling to gauge how much progress I’ve made under her tutelage. But ideally, you should practice with teachers from different parts of the Chinese-speaking world.
Mandarin can be spoken in a variety of accents and voices, and every teacher has a different vocabulary to bring to the class so it’s ll be beneficial to expose you to a variety of Mandarin speakers. Having 2-3 regular Mandarin tutors online can be helpful when one goes away – you still have two others and don’t have to pause your lessons to look for another good fit.
How do I make the most out of online Chinese tutors?
1. Tell your Chinese tutor what you like to work on each time. If there are materials for a lesson, study them beforehand. Make notes on what you’ve learned during the class and finish the homework they assign you.
2. Focus on speaking. Talk more than your tutor if you can. Try to build meaningful conversations using the words and sentence structures you’ve just learned to consolidate them.
3. Use Chinese tutors for correcting your mistakes. Don’t feel bad about making mistakes. This is the perfect opportunity to polish your Mandarin pronunciation, tones, and vocabulary.
4. Ask to have a review lesson every 4-5 sessions with your tutor to refresh your memory through continued exposure. Even if you switch tutors, make sure the new tutor is on the same page about your language strengths and weaknesses and is able to build a curriculum from there.
How can I learn Chinese online without hiring a tutor?
Chinese tutors usually don’t work for free, but fortunately, there are many other free Chinese learning resources out there (such as our site ImproveMandarin.Com) that can help you improve your Chinese if you can’t afford a Chinese tutor. These are very much worth checking out, even if you do have a tutor.
Another possibility is taking a self-paced Chinese course online. Although this is not the same as working with a private teacher, you can still get the basics down in about 3 months at a fraction of the cost of online tutoring. (Check out the best online Chinese courses for 2022)
Best Platforms to Find the Perfect Online Chinese Tutor
No matter what stage of the Mandarin learning you’re in, having someone to guide your studies, gauge your progress, and keep you accountable is well worth it.
Now that you know how to choose a Mandarin tutor with our rundown of the important factors, it’s time to look at where you can actually find your perfect tutor.
We’ve evaluated every website, app, and platform for online Mandarin tutoring. italki is the best overall platform for finding high-quality online Chinese tutors, but you should check out our full review and other tips here for optimizing your experience of learning Mandarin online.