What’s The Deal With Babbel Chinese? (Course Info)

Updated December 13th, 2023

So you've decided to take a huge step and learn Chinese Mandarin. You can't wait to get your feet wet in the language, but you also might be unsure where to start (I certainly was when I started learning a foreign language). 

Some where along the line you heard about Babbel. The online course/app has more than one million users across the world, and is an effective way to learn the basic but most vital parts of a foreign language.

There's just one problem...

Babbel doesn't offer a course for Chinese.

Why Doesn't Babbel offer a course for Chinese?

Chinese Mandarin is difficult to learn and to teach

To make a long story short Mandarin differs greatly from the English language. Mandarin is a tonal language. This means that the inflection you give a word (literally the tone of your voice) changes the meaning of that word. 

Also, Chinese grammar differs widely from English (though not as bad as some other Asian languages like Japanese). Not mention the Chinese writing system uses characters instead of an alphabet. 

Some language learning companies cut corners when making a course for Chinese

Many a language learning company has taken a successful Spanish or French course, and stuck a "learn Chinese" sticker on top. Unfortunately though, a course that teaches Spanish well doesn't necessarily teach Chinese well.

Chinese is a unique language far removed from English and the Romance languages. It deserves a language course all its own. 

5 Alternatives to Babbel for Chinese

Perhaps the day will come when the folks behind the Babbel courses craft an effective and affordable course to help us learn Chinese. Until then here are few comparable courses to help you learn Chinese:

Rocket Chinese

Rocket Chinese offers a comprehensive, structured program that can take you well into the intermediate level if you purchase the premium package. It provides lessons on grammar as well as excellent audio, which is so important when learning a tonal language. It even has a focus on learning to use Chinese characters to read and write.


One of the things Rocket Chinese does really well is helping you understand the meaning behind characters, making them easier to remember. You might get a brief explanation of the history of a character to tell you why it uses certain elements, for example.


You also get to see character strokes demonstrated so you can learn how to form them yourself.


Another great feature of Rocket Chinese is its audio lessons. Not only do the lessons progress in a structured, linear way to help you go from basic to more complex material, but they also feature natural-sounding dialogues between native Mandarin Chinese speakers. This is an advantage over many other language programs that use formal, stilted-sounding dialogues.


This is a huge help in learning how to pronounce Chinese correctly, too! Plus, Rocket Chinese features voice recognition software. If you use the app, you can speak into the microphone on your phone to get feedback on your pronunciation.


If you have a very goal-oriented mindset when it comes to learning Chinese, you will like the points system Rocket Chinese uses, too. While the program itself is more structured and comprehensive than a gamified app like Duolingo, you can still get that little boost of accomplishment by earning points as you go.

Chineseclass101

Chineseclass101 is a structured learning method created by Innovative Languages. It includes audio and video lessons with several different focuses, like culture vs grammar. The program also features a variety of study tools like flashcards for vocabulary review.

If you can afford the Premium Plus version, ChineseClass101 even connects you with a personal tutor who tailors a learning program to suit your particular learning needs.

One of the good things about the audio/video lessons is that you can change the speed to slower or faster depending on your listening comprehension skills. 

You can also select the line-by-line breakdown option to see the transcript and get a word-for-word translation of the audio. This is super helpful in developing listening comprehension, and in building your vocabulary!

Another really cool feature is that you can listen to part of the audio lesson, and then record yourself repeating a word or phrase to compare your audio to the program’s audio.

Unfortunately, some of the video lessons have super poor quality, which may turn you off using this program. 

The podcast-style audio lessons typically have better quality and feature helpful grammar, culture, and general language-learning topics presented by two hosts in English, and sometimes featuring native speakers presenting Chinese dialogues.

Italki

Unlike most of the other resources listed here, Italki  is not a Mandarin course. Instead, it is an app-based platform to connect you with a Chinese tutor. You will find hundreds or even thousands of professional tutors here!

It is probably obvious to you that one of the huge advantages of working with a personal tutor is that you can target your own specific language weaknesses and work at your personal level. You can also get super valuable conversation practice with real-time feedback on your pronunciation.

So, what makes italki better than simply googling “Chinese tutor near me”? First, you can search for a tutor using many different metrics. You can look for tutors with the most experience or the highest ratings. You can search for a tutor who has available hours that match up with your schedule. Or you can search for a tutor who fits your budget.

Another benefit is that italki does perform at least a basic background check and verification process when hiring tutors, so you don’t have to worry about getting scammed or ending up with a tutor who doesn’t really know anything!

Plus, you can set up safe virtual tutoring sessions to protect yourself without worrying about meeting up in person or giving away too much personal information like your own phone number.

One thing to note about italki tutors is that they set their own rates. This means that you can find some tutors offering a half-hour class for as little as $6, but you can also find tutors charging up to $60 per hour. 

Italki also features an online forum for users, where you share tips, ask questions, and possibly even connect with language partners for additional conversation.

*Use this link to purchase a minimum of $20 (US) of Italki credits and receive an extra $10 free! (Bonus added after completion of 1st lesson)

Chinese Uncovered (Storylearning)

Storylearning’s Chinese Uncovered online course offers a 100-hour program that uses an ongoing narrative to teach you Mandarin. The idea behind this method is that humans mostly communicate via story. This makes learning a new language through a story a natural progression.

The course is structured in 20 chapters, plus some introductory and auxiliary materials. Every chapter starts with the next segment of the story. You hear the story, read the story in Mandarin, and then get the translation in English. Then you move on through a series of lessons that build on an element of the story. 

Every chapter features lessons on themes like grammar, culture, and vocabulary. The lessons also feature many Chinese-specific elements, like learning the basics of Hanzi, the Chinese character-based writing system.

One of the great aspects of the program is many of the lessons include video lessons taught by a professional Chinese tutor. The tutor does a good job explaining in-depth sentence structure concepts, as well as teaching how to form Chinese characters.

The downside to the online course is that it uses a pretty minimalist and ugly online course format, rather than a sleek app. It also does not feature voice recognition software, leaving you to guess at your pronunciation and whether or not you are voicing tonal sounds correctly. 

On top of this, Chinese Uncovered has a high one-time payment rather than a low monthly subscription rate.

Despite that, the comprehensive structure of the program really does give you a better foundation in Mandarin than many programs.

Mondly Chinese

The Mondly app opens up with a visual map, allowing you to select from topics like family, weather, or romance. Each topic features at least six lessons focusing on everything from grammar to pronunciation. The map also gives you landmarks to select like the chatbot for assistance or your own daily lesson log.

You can also use the daily lesson tool to let Mondly give you lessons in a structured order if you prefer not to jump around from one topic to another.

Much like Duolingo, Mondly uses really short 5-to-15-minute lessons. These focus more on interactive activities than on in-depth structured teaching.

Mondly tracks your consistency and progress and rewards you with “streaks” when you hit certain milestones.

One of the other good things about Mondly is that it has a relatively low subscription rate compared to other programs. Actually, it does have a free version as well, but this offers very limited access to the app’s content.

Mondly also takes Chinese learning much further than most programs because you have the option to also get the Mondly VR or AR apps. These can put you in a simulated environment where it feels like you are experiencing immersive, real-life everyday life in China! 

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