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Mandarin Online Learning Review

Updated on October 16, 2015
VirginiaLynne profile image

VirginiaLynne is an educator with two adopted Chinese daughters She has studied Mandarin and how to teach children about China.

Over a billion people speak Chinese.  American companies need employees that speak Mandarin.
Over a billion people speak Chinese. American companies need employees that speak Mandarin. | Source

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Learn Mandarin for High School Credit

Do you want your children to learn Mandarin? A recent New York Times article talked about high-powered executives taking their children to China for a year to learn the language. You don't need to go that far to get your child a chance to have a competitive edge when they go into their career.

I've written about teaching Mandarin to Children, and how my husband and I have learned Mandarin on our own. However, we wanted to see if our two high school aged children could learn Mandarin for High School language credit, as well as for preparation for our family trip to China.

Luckily, our school district has partnered with some online Mandarin Learning programs. For the first year of Mandarin, our kids took classes online from Powerspeak K12. They did most of their work online but had access to a teacher as well as having a teacher review their assignments.

For their second year of Chinese, our district switched to a different online language learning program, Language 360. In this program, my two high schoolers use skype to meet in a class twice a week with a teacher, as well as finishing lessons online. Language 360 has classes for Chinese from beginner up through AP Chinese 4, so a student can actually receive college credit by following the courses and taking the Chinese AP test.

Both Powerspeak K12 and Language 360 (now called Proximity Learning) were both fun and effective at teaching language to my kids. More importantly, our kids have been able to earn High School Language credit for Mandarin through the program.

Trip to China

Tour group at Great Wall
Tour group at Great Wall | Source

Powerspeak K12 vs. My Language 360

Powerspeak K12 Offers Languages for Personal Study or High School Credit

Scouring through the Internet, I discovered the Powerspeak K12 program ( note: I'm not affiliated with this or Proximity Learning, and I offer these links just for the reader's convenience). It offers a number of different language courses for elementary, middle and high school students, including:

  • French
  • Spanish
  • Latin
  • German
  • Mandarin

Language 360

This year our School District switched to Language 360 for their online language courses. Like Powerspeak K12, My Language 360 (Proximity Learning)offers numerous languages at several levels. At first, I was concerned about switching programs, because I wondered if my kids would have problems. In fact, my high schoolers found that Langage 360 moves faster than Powerspeak and that they are now required to be able to carry on a conversation entirely in Mandarin

Good Support from Teacher: Although the class is harder, Brendan and Maggie have found the teacher to be helpful and supportive. Instead of feeling frustrated, they have been challenged. When they have trouble, the teacher gives them repeated practice to make sure they understand the lessons. That makes sense to me since I've also found that learning Mandarin is something that I can't always "force" into my brain. Instead, I need to give it time and practice.

China is a beautiful country and studying Mandarin helps you understand and appreciate this ancient culture.
China is a beautiful country and studying Mandarin helps you understand and appreciate this ancient culture. | Source

How does Online Mandarin Class Teach?

Very well! The programs are fast paced and work in a quiz format with a variety of listening, speaking and reading skills. My kids all enjoyed the trial lessons, and my high schoolers have been very motivated and encouraged all the way through the program. It teaches them but doesn't make the learning seem "hard" because the online format uses games to teach Chinese words and characters. There is a lot of reinforcement through repetition too. As a reward for their progress, students get money to create an avatar and dress it with different accessories that they win by passing quizzes.

Powerspeak K12

How much Mandarin do Online Classes Teach?

The U.S. State Department puts Mandarin in the hardest category, as level 4 language, along with Arabic and Russian. So mastery of Mandarin in 1-2 years of lessons, whether online or in a class, is probably not realistic for a High Schooler. Considering that, I think my kids have learned a lot. They can:

  • Communicate basic phrases for greetings and getting around.
  • Understand and reproduce Mandarin tones.
  • Read Pinyin, which is the romanized Chinese script.
  • Read some common characters.
  • Explain about Chinese festivals and traditions.
  • Teach their friends and younger siblings about Chinese culture, colors, days of the week and how to write characters.

When we traveled together as a family to China in the summer of 2013, my children were able to have simple, basic conversations and help with our travel plans. We traveled for seven weeks without a guide and our basic Chinese made it possible. Online Chinese did work for my children as well, or maybe better than a traditional class.

Can Online Chinese Work?

Having fun with the Terracotta Warrior!
Having fun with the Terracotta Warrior! | Source

Online Mandarin Classes Work

What impresses me the most, however, is that learning Mandarin Online has been a very positive experience for them. My daughter now talks about wanting to become a fluent speaker. She volunteered in a Chinese orphanage and business in the summer of 2014 and found that she was able to communicate with her office co-workers who spoke little or no English.

Now she is enrolled in Chinese at college and she feels confident that she will be fluent in two to three years. Her plan is to go and work in China for a year or two after graduation in order to build her speaking ability and confidence.

My son is less interested in fluency but still plans to continue his Chinese studies when he goes to college next year. Was having our children do online Chinese worth it? We would have to say that it was certainly helpful in our family.


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    • profile image

      Margot Leiner 5 years ago

      I am going to be a

    • VirginiaLynne profile image

      Virginia Kearney 5 years ago from United States

      Jonp31--Thanks so much for the suggestion about Popup Chinese. I will definitely look that up. I very much agree that Pimsleur is tough to keep up with--it tends to be kind of boring to listen to over and over--but I do like the way it continually quizzes me. But I do best with several different things at a time. Thanks!

    • jonp31 profile image

      jonp31 5 years ago from Phoenix, AZ

      That's great that the whole family is learning Chinese! Definitely not an easy language and especially when you're not surrounded by Chinese speakers. You encouraged advice/suggestions in the comments section and I have to recommend Popup Chinese (a Google search will take you there). I'm also not affiliated, but I've found this to be a nice resource, particularly for listening comprehension. They have paid subscriptions but I use the free trial and have access to all their audio as well as HSK practice tests (which, admittedly I have barely used). The reason I like it is they teach real, colloquial Chinese. I tried Pimsleur but it was just too "textbook" for me, and did not really mirror the way locals really speak either with the inflection or vocabulary and phrases used. It has its uses, but I wanted something more "real." Anyway, good luck in the Mandarin studies!