Detailed And Brutally Honest ChineseClass101 Review

  • Donovan Nagel
    Written byDonovan Nagel
    Donovan NagelTeacher, translator, polyglot
    🎓 B.A., Theology, Australian College of Theology, NSW
    🎓 M.A., Applied Linguistics, University of New England, NSW

    Applied Linguistics graduate, teacher and translator. Founder of The Mezzofanti Guild and Talk In Arabic.
  • Read time7 mins
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ChineseClass101 is quite good but could be better in some areas. Plenty for all levels but there are better alternatives.
Detailed And Brutally Honest ChineseClass101 Review

Pricing: Starts at $4 a month
  • Innovative provides a good variety of lesson content
  • Leading podcast resource for Chinese
  • Inexpensive
  • Video lesson quality isn't the greatest
  • Navigation needs improvement


ChineseClass101 has become one of the leading online resources for learning Mandarin Chinese. It's consistent in its lesson quality, and the ‘Pathways’ feature makes lesson navigation simple and clean. Overall, ChineseClass101 is a decent option for anyone learning Chinese.

DepthThis is 'content' richness. How comprehensive is ChineseClass101 and does it take you far in terms of levels, or is it more suited to low level/tourist learners?
UniquenessIs ChineseClass101 innovative or is it just an imitation? Does it have a unique selling proposition (USP) that makes it stand out among competitors?
QualityOverall product quality indicator that covers everything from video/dialogue clarity, authenticity, explanations, and effectiveness.
CostIs ChineseClass101 acceptably priced and how does its pricing compare to market competition?

I studied Mandarin Chinese for 5 years in school and I’ve managed to retain quite a lot. 🙂

Unfortunately, when I studied Mandarin, there were no resources like ChineseClass101.

Things would have been so much better back then if I had what we have today.

I was confined to classroom study, stuck without tools like italki and the many other great online Chinese resources that exist today.

Rocket Chinese is a personal favorite of mine, but Innovative Language’s ChineseClass101 does podcast-style teaching really well.

What I like about ChineseClass101 is that it suits a whole range of learners from absolute beginner level right up to advanced HSK prep, and is delivered in both audio and video format.

I fired off some questions to Innovative Language a while back. They responded:

On ChineseClass101’s methodology:

Innovative Language believes in practical expressions, aligned to CEFR proficiency levels, in the natural context of native speech. Most lessons, then, begin with a dialogue in which a language skill is introduced in context. The rest of the lessons then go on to talk more about the cultural context in which the dialogue takes place, and the key vocabulary, phrases, morphology, and syntax that allow the learner to carry out the particular language task.

This is my own personal approach to learning languages (no grammar study).

ChineseClass101 focuses on authentic language and grammar instruction is minimal.

I then asked about the freedom that ChineseClass101 teachers use for lesson creation:

The native speakers who create the content have a lot of freedom to choose what they teach, though we have a few standard series, such as Survival Phrases, that teach roughly the same kinds of expressions across all of our languages.

Innovative Language lessons are aligned to CEFR levels, and we typically ask that teachers try to teach to a standardized set of internal Can Do statements when preparing the dialogues and the grammar and vocabulary information.

ChineseClass101’s “pathways”

ChineseClass101 Pathways

ChineseClass101, like other editions of the Innovative Language series, used to have a huge problem with messy, unstructured lessons.

They’ve now implemented what’s called Pathways.

This is a way of grouping together lessons into topics, goals or areas of interest so you can follow a more linear path in your learning.

They’ve basically grouped lessons into modules.

Just to give you an example, they currently have a module named Conversational Phrases which contains 35 lessons equating to 41 minutes (each module has a completion time like this). You can either complete modules according to your interests or move through them sequentially.

Seems to be good feedback from people on the Pathways feature so it’s a step in the right direction.

ChineseClass101 lets you learn Chinese the way you want to

Since the ChineseClass101 dashboard can be quite overwhelming (there is such a thing as too many features!) the Pathways feature that you can find under ‘Lessons’ is probably the best place to start.

Because the modules under Pathways provide more structure, it may suit most learners who don’t feel comfortable with self-directed learning.

It is optional of course for learners like myself who feel limited by imposed structure.

The material isn’t necessarily in ascending order of difficulty however as you’d expect them to be, even if you decide to follow ChineseClass101’s Pathways. They’re grouped together by topic rather than difficulty.

Lessons range from Introduction (covers some absolute basics as well as cultural information that may interest some people) through to Advanced (there’s quite a lot for the higher levels too).

There are 5 difficulty levels in total (with an extra “Bonus” level).

You can select either audio or video lesson content.

The good thing about ChineseClass101 is that lessons are thematic based on authentic situations you’ll find in Korea (rather than just grammar points).

While the content in ChineseClass101 isn’t quite evenly distributed across the different difficulty levels (there’s more lower level material than there is for advanced), there’s definitely plenty to keep most people busy for a long time.

ChineseClass101 video lessons can be good, but some are terrible

Like some of the other Innovative editions, the ChineseClass101 videos need work.

The videos by Yinru are by far the best they have (in the Beginner and Intermediate categories only) but there’s just an insufficient amount of them.

The rest of the videos are very low quality in my opinion.

It’s clear that they’ve just created video slideshows with an audio track so I’m not really sure if I’d call them “video lessons”. They belong in the audio lesson category.

There seem to be about 50 lessons in total by the Chinese host Yinru that are great quality.

That’s still a fairly decent amount of lesson material to be fair.

Overall (including the low quality videos) there is a lot to work through on ChineseClass101 – which will suit learners who prefer a visual learning style.

ChineseClass101 is a podcast audio lesson library

ChineseClass101 Audio Lessons

The audio lessons in ChineseClass101 are presented by multiple hosts in English with Chinese lesson dialogues.

It’s basically a Chinese podcast, but the lessons generally consist of quite a lot of conversational banter in English which can be a little annoying to listen to in my opinion.

It sounds too scripted and rehearsed at times.

I prefer to get right into the details of the Chinese vocab and dialogue.

So if you’re like me then you can easily skip the English banter and select just the Chinese audio.

You have the option of selecting ‘Line-by-line Audio’ or ‘Vocabulary’ to listen to specific parts of the Chinese dialogue (with the English translation).

Lessons are 100% downloadable (so important).

What this means is that you theoretically have the option of downloading the entire course content without having to renew your subscription. This is something I also loved about Rocket Chinese.

You aren’t restricted to online use only as you are with some online courses (you own what you pay for in other words!).

In the audio lessons, you can record your voice and compare it with the native speaker audio material (rather than use their Premium Plus correction service).

While I’m not a big fan of this method for pronunciation help (I’d prefer to use italki), it’s definitely helpful for some people.

The other features in ChineseClass101

One note on the PDF lesson notes:

They’re very thorough and clearly had a lot of work put into them. In fact, the ChineseClass101 written lesson notes are some of the most comprehensive I’ve seen anywhere.

I’d recommend printing the material and keeping it for reference after your subscription is ended.

Like I intimated above, there is such a thing as having too many features.

ChineseClass101 has so much to offer that it can be overwhelming. It’s also the case that not all of it is very useful.

Take for instance the grammar section (Grammar Bank).

It’s really scant and quite frankly a waste of time – just a simple page of text with summary points on Chinese grammar.

You could find more useful information online for free with a simple search!

But thankfully, explicit grammar instruction is not what ChineseClass101 aims to do anyway.

There are other features for Premium Plus members such as the My Teacher Messenger where you can request assistance with Chinese directly from an Chinese native teacher. I admit I haven’t tried this but again, I would prefer to use italki for this anyway.

I also recommend combining their word bank (in-built dictionary feature) with the in-built flashcard app they have and you have a very handy tool for memorizing words and phrases outside of the lessons.

Verdict: Is ChineseClass101 worth the money?

I like ChineseClass101.

There’s a lot of good content at most levels that will keep Mandarin Chinese learners busy for a while.

With consistency in topics covered in the Beginner levels you’ll find the structure you need, but you’ll notice that the Chinese teachers exercise a lot more freedom in the higher level content.

This unfortunately means that the content starts to become disorganized as you move up (which to a certain extent is normal for advanced-level course material).

The Pathways feature definitely improves this however and helps to structure the content.

Good news: ChineseClass101 (like other Innovative courses) costs peanuts (it’s really inexpensively priced).

Overall I’d recommend creating a trial account before laying any money down (create a trial 7 day account right here).

Definitely try out Rocket Chinese and italki as well.

Tried ChineseClass101 before?

Comment below!

Pricing: Starts at $4 a month

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Donovan Nagel
Donovan Nagel - B. Th, MA AppLing
I'm an Applied Linguistics graduate, teacher and translator with a passion for language learning (especially Arabic).
Currently learning: Greek


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