My frustration with learning Mandarin
Although I have tried to learn Chinese over the past few years, my Chinese language skills are basic to say the least. I used to take lessons locally with an in-person tutor. The biggest problem though was that I couldn’t take lessons with her on a regular basis. For one thing, my work is quite hectic, and for another, I travel a lot to other countries, which obviously makes it impossible for me to take lessons with my teacher.
When a friend told me about the one-to-one Chinese lessons provided by eChineseLearning, I was still somewhat hesitant in the beginning as I wasn’t sure whether it would work for me. But since they offer everyone a free trial lesson, I thought I would just give it a try anyway.
Arranging the free trial lesson
Once I had applied for the free lesson, I was contacted by one of their academic coordinators, to arrange a suitable time and date to have the said lesson. She explained that eChineseLearning offers tuition by native, professionally trained and experienced Chinese teachers 24 hours a day, 7 days a week—with the focus being on convenience of study time for the student.
The lesson itself
I really have to thank Julie，one of the teachers from eChineseLearning for a most enjoyable 30 minute Mandarin Chinese lesson. Whilst I am not quite fluent in Mandarin Chinese yet (joke!), I certainly learned more in 30 minutes than I did during my frequent travels in China.
Julie’s friendly personality put me at ease from the beginning and we had a quick chat about what my goals were and what, if anything, I already knew about speaking Mandarin Chinese.
We talked about the various tones (which I’m happy to say I did know something about) and moved on to some simple sentence structures. One of the joys of learning on-line via Skype is, of course, that you can see your teacher, as I always believe listening and observing are the best combination for learning. The other big plus is that with a blackboard behind her as a tool, Julie was able to write down the words or sentences she wanted me to learn both in Pinyin and traditional Chinese characters.
Julie was also great at encouraging me to repeat the basic tones until I managed to get them right (I think!) and we then had a mini-conversation using the phrases she had taught me. If I couldn’t remember, Julie was helpful in repeating the word or prompting me and I felt no pressure to learn—yet knew I was learning.
We rounded off the seemingly very quick 30 minutes with a short revision test and I like to think I didn’t do too badly—although, of course much of the credit has to go to the teacher for getting me enthusiastic and enjoying the lesson!
So, what does it all cost? I was told that it depends on which lesson plan you choose, but in my case I was given a price of about US$147 per month to take up to 2 classes per week, with a 30-day money-back guarantee.
The average price per lesson can be from 9 USD/lesson to 25 USD/lesson depending on the package, as the coordinator told me.
Professional Chinese teachers
According to the coordinator who helped arrange my trial lesson, all teachers at eChineseLearning are full-time Chinese teachers who have been well trained. Of course, you may have to try a free class before you can judge the quality of their teachers. But my free trial teacher Julie definitely lives up to their claim.
You will have a primary teacher after you enroll with eChineseLearning, which means you will be taking lessons with the same tutor most of the time, if not in each lesson (the coordinator explained that you would have a substitute teacher in case the teacher was sick etc). I think this is very important for learning a foreign language like Chinese, as you need consistence and you don’t want to be asked the same questions about your level over and over again by different teachers.
They have teachers available 24/7, so this means you can take lessons wherever you are. In addition, you don’t need to fix the times or days for your classes.
All of their classes are one-on-one so they can customize the classes for you based on your level, pace and learning goals. You get a lot more practice than you would in a group class, which I think is critical for language learning.
You need to purchase a 6-month or longer package to get a lower price. Shorter packages turn out to be more expensive. However, considering that learning Chinese may take several years and they do offer a 30-day money back guarantee, signing up for a longer package (so you get a better price) doesn’t sound that bad.
A relatively strong internet connection is required for the online live class. In case you travel to a region where internet isn’t available or not that strong, it would be difficult to take a class. They do have solutions though in such situations, where they would use mobile messenger apps like WeChat to conduct classes which sometimes are more stable and only require mobile internet when you don’t have access to wifi.
It’s important that you and your teacher establish a good rapport. After you enroll with eChineseLearning, you will be assigned a teacher based on your schedule and level. It could happen that you don’t like the teacher’s teaching style. They allow you to change teachers though, so just let them know if you are not completely satisfied with your teacher.
Despite the cons, I think their classes are of great value given what you will get – flexible one-on-one classes with a professional teacher for the prices you pay. Then again, they offer a free 30-minute 1-to-1 trial class which is totally obligation-free. What do you have to lose?