- October
Posted By : talkingofchinese
Why a tutor in China is WAY better than university (in my opinion!)

I have tried four different ways of learning Chinese in the two or so years I have been learning (part time while working full time).

***Disclaimer*** I’m not getting paid to write this and this post is NOT about bashing universities – different ways of learning work for different people, I get that, this is just about sharing what I have found works best for me. The programs/websites I mention in this post they are just the programs/websites that I use I am NOT getting paid by any of them***End disclaimer***

Self learning

I started out using a self-learning program called Fluenz Mandarin I found that this program (while a bit more expensive than other self-learning programs) really took care to introduce the most useful things first and to provide simple, accessible explanations.

When you start learning Mandarin there are SO many voices telling you that learning Chinese is IMPOSSIBLE, that you have to learn THOUSANDS of characters and that tones are so DIFFICULT you will never be understood let along be able to understand other people.

I found that I needed to cut out all this unhelpful “noise” and Fluenz offered a calm voice saying “sure, learning Chinese takes work but there is a logical way of approaching this – let us get you started”.

Tutor in Australia

While Fluenz gave me a solid start in the very basics I needed someone to talk back to me, correct my pronunciation and push me into more complex content.

So, rather than shelling out big bucks for a professional tutor (wages are high in Australia and private tutoring can be very expensive) I found a Chinese student who had some experience teaching Chinese who helped me out with pronunciation at took me through the first level of Integrated Chinese.


After some months I found myself craving a more formal learning environment with other students to bounce off and give me extra motivation.

Now, the one thing I will say about University is that if you are a competitive person (I don’t think I am overly competitive but I like to do well) then other students can help provide you with the extra push you need to take your learning to the next level.

HOWEVER, I found that for every student motivating you there was another one wasting your time. Somehow every university class (despite costing money) seems to have at least one or two people who don’t want to be there. Even in the best case scenario – where these people at least stay quiet (even fall asleep) – I have found they somehow slow the class down. When you see a good teacher with motivated students the energy drives everyone forward and, while I can’t explain why, unmotivated students – even if they just sit quietly – seem to create drag and slow you down.

On top of this I have found university administration usually adds further headache. I have had classes cancelled the day before they were supposed to start – I’m currently enrolled in a course that has neither started or been cancelled. This is at one of the top universities in the country.

Tutor in China

Enter italki and the world of tutoring via Skype.

There were some teething problems at the start – it took me a while to find the right tutor for me and, of course, sometimes there will be a bad internet connection or some other technical difficulty but, on the whole, it has far exceeded my expectations.

I now have an excellent tutor who I’m making great progress with. Rather than explaining how iTalki works (you can check it out for yourself) I will just say that in terms of flexibility and value for money it has been a game changer for me.

I can fit sessions around my full time job and the cost is approximately quarter what I would pay for a private tutor here.

The key is finding the right tutor (maybe I will write another post about that later!).

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  • Very interesting. I am not motivated enough to learn Mandarin, but I know people who are, and I will have to pass on your thoughts. 🙂

    I think you are absolutely right about the energy level in a classroom driving or hindering progress. I never thought about it quite that way before. 🙂

    • Thanks Autumn 🙂 I really do find the motivation of others infectious I guess it’s just surrounding yourself with the right group of people (but a whole group of motivated people is a lot harder to find than one great tutor!)

  • I can see why you think the university classes are not that useful. I studied for 4 years in Spain and when I arrived to Beijing I didn’t understand a word, haha. However, once you are in China it is different. I actually think going to university in Beijing really helped me. Apart from the classes, I just got used to talk to everybody in Chinese (well, except the Europeans and Americans) and I was practising my listening and speaking skills all day long!

    • Yes I’m definitely just talking about studying at university outside of China! I’d be interested to know what you (and others) think about studying at university in China versus studying at a private language school in China. I am planning to go to China to study early next year. As I can only go for a short time (just over a month) I am planning to do intensive 1-on-1 classes at a private institute but if I had more time I’d definitely consider the university option.

      • Yes, if you are only going to be there for a month, then an intensive course at a private institute should be the best option. Also, it will be waaaay cheaper! If you could find one that is mostly attended by Korean or Japanese students that would be even better, you would need to speak Chinese with them all the time, haha. Which city will you go to?

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