Teaching Yourself Chinese Through the Internet

We are all aware that the “sleeping dragon” has awoken, and that in the foreseeable future people and businesses will have much more interaction with their Chinese counterparts. It will then be sensible – perhaps even necessary – for Mandarin to be one of the Modern Languages studied in school. In the meantime, over the next few days Adrienne Blaser evaluates some websites for teaching yourself the language. These reviews were originally published in Computers in Classrooms.

With various parts of the world changing, language has become a vital exchange between cultures. Bilingualism, the ability to speak two languages, is becoming a common trend. Although many say that Mandarin Chinese is a difficult language, truly the biggest challenge is finding the right place to learn. Since there are so many great sites out there to learn Mandarin, picking the select few was definitely a challenge.


Livemocha has become one of my quick favourites as a free site unless you decide to buy one of their Travel Crash Courses.

When you first come onto the site, its warm coffee colours greet you. Livemocha is simple, clear, and without advertisement for other sites or products. What makes this site special is that it doesn’t just teach you one language; it’s a site for multiples such as Japanese, Korean, English, Spanish, and Portuguese and each having at least a 101 (beginner) and 102 (intermediate) program. Not only are they brain testers, but each course consists of 3 units with 5 or 6 lesson in each unit. That might sound easy, but in a single lesson you must learn phrases, including the pinyin (pinyin is the name for the system that makes it possible to read and write Mandarin Chinese without characters, by using the Roman alphabet), characters, proper pronunciation, and the English meanings, review them, write them, and then speak them.

Speak you say? Yes, this site expects you to practice speaking, by recording it on your computer microphone, then putting it out to the Livemocha public for reviewing. Sure, it might seem like no big deal but once you get a bad review about your tones, you go right back to the lesson to review each sentence, and then do it again.

What truly helps besides seeing the language in its different forms is the pictures. Each phrase has a picture, or in some cases pictures with bubbles to show who is speaking. I find that overall this site is for those starting from scratch who don’t want to be babied and plan to work diligently to learn their selected language. It takes lots of time and hard work because really this is like a college course, you don’t start out from numbers and colours, instead you start from nouns and go to negatives.  

Adrienne explained what this meant, in an email to me. Unfortunately I was unable to reproduce the Chinese characters in HTML, so I have taken a screenshot of her explanation instead:


For each lesson besides the required exercises, there are optional exercises for even more practice. In case you’re still looking for options to study, you can make your own flashcards or use ones made by others. Livemocha also offers chatting between language learners, with a handy dandy translator conveniently located on the side. Making friends comes with learning a new language, cultures are blended and bonds are made. I don’t know if I’ll ever meet any of my friends face to face but I can still say that I have friends that live across the world.

This site takes all the methods of learning and puts them together in a manageable way, and I know they are still expanding their site. The opportunity to teach is planned to be going to be available soon. Not only will future teachers be able to practice but they could earn credits or money. Although you must be invited to become a Livemocha teacher, consistently leaving instructive reviews or making helpful flashcard sets boost your teaching score and increase your chances.

Web address: http://www.livemocha.com/

Rating: 5

Adrienne Blaser is 14 years old. She plays tennis, the violin and loves to read. She one day hopes to learn many languages, hopefully one being Chinese, which she is currently teaching herself.