ShanghaiTutors Review – Finding Mandarin Tutors in Shanghai
When I decided to push my Chinese to the next level, I founded it very hard to find a group course matching my level in Shanghai (I was somewhere between HSK4 and HSK5). Most of the Chinese language schools didn’t have enough students to form an upper intermediate class, and the only one that did, failed to offer anything that could fit into my schedule.
I was left with only one option: private tutoring. ShanghaiTutors was the first company to show up in the results when I googled “Mandarin tutor in Shanghai”. Their website looked professional and neat. I decided to give it a try though there were very few mentioning of the company online.
Turns out, I couldn’t be happier with the result! I started with their 40-hour package and extended to 80 hours later. The service and support I received from ShanghaiTutors are impeccable, making me feel impelled to write an exhaustive review of this hidden gem.
What is ShanghaiTutors?
ShanghaiTutors is not a language school. It’s a platform where Chinese learners can find Mandarin tutors based on their budget and other criteria. It charges a service fee for successful matching/finding. In other words, it works like a real estate broker, but instead of finding apartments, it finds tutors for you. The company was founded in 2012 and has served over 2,500 Chinese learners. It operates mainly in Shanghai but has extended the service to Beijing, Guangzhou, Shenzhen, and Suzhou recently.
What’s Unique about ShanghaiTutors?
1. Diversity of tutors
ShanghaiTutors has a diverse tutor team. It’s easier to find a tutor that clicks with you.
People have different purposes for learning Chinese. I am learning the language mainly out of interest, but many are doing it for leveling up their career and business or simply passing HSK.
You can take private lessons at language schools for sure. Every school has private tutoring programs, but the problem I encountered consistently with teachers from language schools is that they all seem to live in the little box of linguistics with little knowledge of the outside world (and I had taken lessons at quite a few schools over the years in China).
For example, none of the teachers at my first school could recommend a local bar or club to me when I first came to Shanghai, apparently, they had never been to one in their lives. Nor were they interested in getting to know the culture of my country. And when an Iranian guy in my class, who was learning Chinese for his trading business, asked the teachers about factories and sourcing in China, again, a total blank. It was like running up against a brick wall.
The teachers working in Mandarin schools know little else besides teaching Chinese (and that is done in a highly standardized way). It just doesn’t matter if you are English, Columbian, Japanese or Arab, why you are learning Chinese, they teach you the same way as trained by their employers.
Don’t get me wrong, I love teachers with a relevant major or certificate; however, that seems like the only thing language schools ever look for when they recruit teachers. School size does not help with diversity either (a middle-sized Chinese language school in Shanghai, for instance, usually has fewer than 10 teachers). While the teachers are all “professional” (at least advertised to be), it’s hard to find a truly helpful teacher from a small pool that clicks with you outside the scope of simply explaining grammar and vocabulary.
In contrast, over 150 tutors of all sorts of backgrounds are present on the ShanghaiTutors platform (in Shanghai alone). On top of those teaching Chinese professionally for a living, many have worked in other fields from commerce, engineering to arts (nevertheless, they all need to go through interview and screening process to be selected to work with ShanghaiTutors). The bigger pool gives you a much better chance to find a tutor matching your needs and interest.
If you are a Chinese culture lover, you can request someone equally enthusiastic about culture, maybe you can learn calligraphy or even Taichi along with Chinese from the tutor. If you need Chinese for your financial consultancy service, simply ask for a tutor with work experience in the finance industry. I even discovered they had a tutor who had established 3 multi-million-dollar tech companies (he teaches Chinese to blow off some steam from work). Go to him if want to succeed in China!
In my case, I preferred to study with a tutor that has a genuine interest in Chinese history and literature – I love to know more about Chinese dynasties and be able to read novels in Chinese. I was lucky enough to be introduced to my current tutor. She has real enthusiasm in literature and even published a few short novels herself on the internet. We read Chinese sci-fi together in class (I am a big fan of Liu Cixin, author of the Three-Body Problem), discussed the Cultural Revolution, the Great Famine…lot of interesting topics.
Midway through my 40-hour package, I was convinced that I could learn much more productively with the right tutor because as a student, I am always excited for the next lesson and eager to learn more with someone I like, and that’s what propels me to progress fast.
2. Pricing Model
ShanghaiTutors adopts flexible pricing. It’s easier to find a tutor matching your budget.
ShanghaiTutors has a different pricing model from language schools. The biggest difference is that the tuition is not fixed, and you get to name your price.
For example, if your budget for a Mandarin tutor is 150rmb/hour (21.5USD). You can either look for tutors that charge under 150rmb/hour on their website or ask them to recommend a tutor within boundaries of your budget. (Technically, you can name any price you want. However, if you have very little to offer, you might not find an ideal tutor. Of course, there is no need to be overly generous, either.)
The suggested tutoring rates by Shanghaitutors are as below.
1. Amateur tutors: 80-110rmb/hour
(they are mostly college students doing part-time to make money on the side)
2. Professional tutors: 120-150rmb/hour
(who teach Mandarin as their primary job)
3. Star tutors: 160-190rmb/hour
(the most skilled and experienced of all)
The overall tuition fee depends on how many hours you sign up for. The minimum package required by ShanghaiTutors is 40 hours, and you can extend as many hours as you want beyond the basic 40.
As ShanghaiTutors is a platform, not making any profit from your tuition, they charge a flat 400rmb service fee for each successful matching/finding. (It won’t matter if you take 40 hours or 400 hours of tutoring in the long haul, the service fee is fixed and charged only once, as long as you study with the same tutor). They also provide 1-year service support (in case you have some issues with your tutor).
In my case, I chose a tutor from Star Tutor category that charged 160rmb/hour, so I paid 6,800rmb on the first day to kick off the 40-hour package (including 6,400rmb tuition fee for the tutor and 400rmb for the finding service). I was very happy with the lessons, therefore, after completing the initial 40 hour package, I extended another 40 hours and paid an additional 6,400rmb (I didn’t need to pay service fee the second time since I was taking the lesson with the same tutor). Overall, I paid 13,200rmb for 80 hours of tutoring.
My Experience with ShanghaiTutors
Their corporate website ShanghaiTutors.Com made a good impression on me. It looked clean, neat and was easy to navigate.
There are nearly a hundred tutors listed on the website in Shanghai alone. Their profiles are sorted by city, category, and come with pictures.
You can click on the picture to read details of the tutor, such as personal information (age, education background, experience, etc), a detailed description of their teaching skills, availability schedule, where they can meet, and how much they charge. You can also read reviews to see how other students think of their teaching performance.
You can book directly if you are happy with one of the tutors. There are also a dozen more tutors that prefer not to have a visible profile online for privacy, so you can only find them through ShanghaiTutor’s recommendation.
In my case, I found it too time-consuming to flip through all the profiles online, so I just filled out a request form for ShanghaiTutors’ recommendation.
You can fill in any requirement for the tutor, such as gender, age, teaching language, style, etc. I specified in my request that the tutor I was looking for should have real enthusiasm in teaching (this matters to me the most), preferably have some kind of background or interest in Chinese history/society/literature, and could offer some flexibility in scheduling lesson as I sometimes needed to work late or travel. I also wrote a detailed description of my present level and what target I wanted to achieve with the lessons.
The next day, I received a reply from a Shanghaitutors representative. (pasted below)
Thank you very much for contacting ShanghaiTutors. We are happy to provide a tutoring solution for you.
With your budget and requirement in mind, I reached out and found a very good fit. The teacher’s name is Vera, she is from our star teacher category, very experienced with intermediate and advanced students (she has taught in Confucius Institute abroad before), and her charge is very moderate (160rmb/hour). You can view her profile here: http://www.shanghaitutors.com/Shanghai-Mandarin-tutors/… (her profile is not visible online for privacy as she requested). She is able to teach you in your mentioned timeframe and can commute to the Shanghai Railway Station area for the lessons.
There is just one thing to note, per our payment policy, full tuition (minimum 40 hours) and one-time service fee (400rmb) will be charged on the first day of the lesson. The service fee enables us to maintain the operation of our site and give you one year’s support. I hope this is not an issue with you.
Please let me know if you want to set the start date on next Tuesday or earlier, as I need to make pre-arrangement with the tutor.
The email was well-written in English and the tutor seemed like a perfect match for me based on the profile, but since I had never used their service before, I asked them whether it was possible to arrange one lesson first for me to try out before committing myself to a 40-hour package, and they delightfully agreed.
ShanghaiTutors does not provide any free demo or trial lesson (totally understandable to me – no tutor with self-respect is willing to spend 30 minutes to an hour on public transport, come to your home, give you a 2-hour lesson, and go home unpaid), but they do allow you to buy one single lesson for trying out the tutor before committing to any package.
There are several places you can consider to take lessons: home, office, café, school campus, park…I chose to have the lesson in a café near my apartment (since ShanghaiTutors is not a language school, they don’t provide a classroom to hold class, but they can give you pointers of some quiet spots if you don’t know the city well).
To me, café is the best choice.
On the third day after I submitted the request form, Jessie, their consultant scheduled a time with me for the trial lesson. She also added me on WeChat (China’s WhatsApp) and asked me a few more questions about my level and past learning experience to help the tutor better prepare for our lesson.
I had to say, through chatting on WeChat, I already had good vibes with the company, and as soon as I met Jessie and my tutor in person, all my remaining concerns were gone. Both of them were friendly and professional. The three of us talked in English first for five minutes, getting to know each other, and figuring out what I really expected from the lesson (I couldn’t articulate my objective if I said it in Chinese), then we switched to Chinese, talked for another 5 minutes to assess my level and weakness.
At the end of the 10 minutes, Jessie gave both me and the tutor some suggestions on how to best utilize our time in class and left us for carrying out the lesson. (Later, as I discovered, Jessie herself is a great teacher; she even wrote a book on how to teach Chinese – I found it in Shanghai Foreign Language Bookstore)
The lesson with my tutor Vera went great. We spent the first hour discussing some recent news in Chinese and the second hour reading a story on her laptop. We chatted a bit more in English after class about our experience in Greece (she worked at the Confucius Institute in Athens for a year, and my grandfather was from Greece!). I could truly tell from her face how much she loved the teaching job, and I decided on the spot to take more lessons with her.
ShanghaiTutors has a “100% upfront payment policy” which requires students to pay tuition (minimum 40 hours) and service fee in full on the first day of the lesson. Since I was really happy with my tutor, I paid the full amount for 40 hours through WeChat right after the trial lesson. ShanghaiTutors also accepts other payment methods including cash, Alipay and bank transfer.
One particular thing I like about ShanghaiTutors is their Moneyback Guarantee. It gives me the right to claim the refund within one year of purchase if I am not able to finish all the lessons paid or unhappy with the tutor (some terms and conditions will apply – read their website).
I have no plan to request a refund. So far I’ve been very happy with my lessons and might book more hours when I finish the second 40-hour package, but it’s nice to be assured that I wouldn’t lose money if something unexpected happens down the road that interrupts my study plan. 99% of the other companies I know don’t make such promises.
Most of the time last year, I did one lesson (2 hours) per week (Tuesday or Thursday) with my tutor, and when either of us was too busy or had to travel that week, we hit the pause button and went on the following week.
It is easy to schedule lessons with my tutor. We communicate and make arrangements directly through WeChat.
According to ShanghaiTutors, in case I need to reschedule or cancel a particular lesson, I only need to inform my tutor one day in advance. For me, flexibility is a huge plus, since I often need to work late or travel to other cities at short notice, and their policy made it easy for me to adjust schedule penalty-free.
ShanghaiTutors provided me with a support number/WeChat at the time of booking and told me I could contact them immediately if anything went wrong. They guaranteed that I could either change the tutor or request a refund if I was unhappy with my tutor at some point in the first year.
Frankly, I haven’t found the need to reach out for their support so far, since the lessons have been going well and I never had any issue with my tutor. I only contacted the company once to buy another 40 hours. The billing and handling of payment remained smooth.
ShanghaiTutors Review: The Good
I’ve already said a lot up to now, here’s a quick recap of the good I found with ShanghaiTutors.
- 1. Easy to find a matching tutor
- 2. Easy to stay on budget
- 3. Prompt communication
- 4. Possible to book a trial lesson (just pay for that lesson)
- 5. Quality of the lesson
- 6. Easy to schedule
- 7. Continuous support
- 8. Moneyback Guarantee
ShanghaiTutors Review: What Could Be Better?
1. At this time, they don’t have an app, and their website was not designed mobile-friendly. It’s a bit difficult to make a booking on a phone or tablet. However, accessing the platform from the browser on a computer works perfectly well.
2. They require a minimum booking of 40 hours and all tuition needs to be paid upfront on the first day. To me, it’s not a problem. I am actually in favor of upfront payment because it gives them greater incentive to treat me as a valued customer and a serious learner, thus throwing their full support behind my course. However, as I understand, those who are tight on money need to find a way to finance the tutoring.
3. They don’t have a learning center for you to take the lessons. You have to find a place on your own. If you can’t study at your home or office, the only option left will be public places like a café (you also need to add the coffee cost to your budget). I did not have a problem with studying at a café, since the one near my apartment is spacious and quiet, but if you live in a busy area of the city, it could be a bit difficult to find a quiet place nearby.
ShanghaiTutors Review: Last Words
In the past, I’ve taken lessons with online tutors. Companies like MandarinTutor and TutorMing (they are experts in online tutoring) are worth checking out if you are learning Chinese outside of China or can’t find a real tutor where you live.
But having taken lessons with ShanghaiTutors for over a year, I can safely say NO online tutoring – however good it is, can beat the experience of learning with a real person face to face. It just feels like catching up with an old friend who really cares about me every time I meet my tutor, which is hardly the case with talking to a random face that showed up on a screen.
Of course, I understand this has only been my experience and the story could be different with a different tutor, but since ShanghaiTutors did an excellent job understanding my needs and providing the perfect tutor I wanted, I would go out on a limb and say that they are a reliable company whose judgment and expertise you can trust.
If you are someone looking for a good Mandarin tutor in Shanghai, Beijing, Guangzhou, Shenzhen or Suzhou, from a company that pays close attention to your needs, provides great service and strong support, then definitively do not miss the chance to check out ShanghaiTutors.