1. DOES IT MATCH YOUR GOALS?
Are you looking to become fluent in Mandarin Chinese or are you just trying to pass that AP Chinese course? Depending on your goal, you might be looking for different types of teachers.
For example, if you only want some extra tutoring help, you might want to search for an on-demand Chinese tutor. They are relatively inexpensive and have just enough experience to help answer elementary-level Chinese questions.
However, if you want to become fluent in Chinese, or learn Business Chinese, you need a much more structured curriculum (like TutorMing!) You need teachers who have had classroom experience and know how to explain the mechanisms of Chinese grammar to you.
If you want to learn more about a specific part of the Chinese language, like classical Chinese, or just dip your toes into the world of Chinese, you can search for free MOOCs or online lectures. You won’t get any Chinese practice, but it’s great exposure to the language and a way to see if it’s something that truly sparks your interest.
If you just want some speaking practice with a native Mandarin speaker, there are Skype “pen pal” programs that you can look into! They match you with a native speaker that wants to learn English, so it's a trade-off.
2. TECHNOLOGY AND INTERNET
Technical issues are the last things you want to deal with, especially when you have your hands full with learning a new language. Make sure the online program you’re choosing is up-to-date, software-wise. At the same time, you should also make sure that it’s compatible with your own devices and operating systems. The best websites allow you to “Test your Software” before committing to their courses.
One of the perks of e-learning is how convenient it is. You can learn from home and schedule classes around your busy life. At least, that's how it works in theory. Make sure in advance that the learning program you choose can accommodate your schedule. Some of them only have one or two Chinese teachers, and what little time they have is booked a week in advance.
4. FREE TRIAL OR DEMONSTRATION
You need to figure out whether an online teaching service if right for you! Some online Chinese classes only have one or two teachers, and maybe their teaching styles aren’t your cup of tea. Look for online courses that offer a free course or demo, and never buy a course package without trying it first. (This goes for everything in life.)
This is a big concern for many people, especially those turning to an online language education as opposed to being taught in a physical classroom. Online classes will almost always be cheaper than those taught in-person. For one, online education institutions don’t have to deal with things like rent and utilities. Teachers and students also don’t have to deal with transportation costs.
At the same time, the relationship of cost and quality is an intricate balancing act. You don’t want to sacrifice too much of one for the other. Review your goals. Do you want to become fluent or just practice casually with a native Chinese speaker? If it’s the latter, you don’t need to find someone who is certified or has had years of previous experience – any native speaker will do. If it’s the former, you might want to shell out some extra cash to find a more qualified teacher.
From our experience, online Chinese classes can be anywhere between $10 - $50 an hour.
6. CUSTOMER SERVICE
In an ideal world, there would be no problem with any type of online service or product, and you would not have any sort of contact with a customer service representative. However a lot of the time, you can’t predict what’s going to happen in an online classroom. Maybe the internet connection is shoddy, or you just don’t click with the Chinese teacher. Either way, you want a customer service team that’s going to advocate for you and make it right. Before buying a course package, review their customer service policies and check reviews if you can.
7. ADDITIONAL MATERIALS AND RESOURCES
Learning doesn’t end when the class is over. You should be given access to additional material so you can continue your studies outside of class. Before committing to an online learning program, ask if it has a course library or other resources. It’s not super important, but it’s a nice bonus feature to have.
Founded in 2004, TutorGroup, the parent company of TutorMing, created the first commercially available synchronous learning portal in the world. TutorGroup offers TutorMing for Chinese learning. For English learning, it offers VIPABC, TutorABC, and TutorABCJr. The company is backed by Alibaba, Softbank, Temasek, and Qiming Ventures.