Rocket Chinese, part of the Rocket Languages series, has been a fairly well-known name in language learning for about 13 years now.
I recently had the chance to sample the complete Works package (all ‘Premium’ and ‘Platinum’ tiers) thanks to the folks over at Rocket.
These come packaged in the form of three different lifetime subscription options – 1. Premium, 2. Combo and 3. Works. The higher tiers are very recent additions and give consumers up to an additional 180 lessons.
Specifics on the tiers can be found here.
I’ve spent some time putting Rocket Chinese under the microscope and shared my findings (some positive and some negative) with you below.
Here’s a video demonstration I put together recently showing the interface and features of various editions (unfortunately this was before I tried the Chinese version however):
Have you used Rocket Chinese? Share your experience below in the comments.
Dealing with an unfortunate lack of quality online Mandarin Chinese courses
Mandarin Chinese has the most amount of speakers in the world and is arguably the most important global business language.
It’s also desirable for a lot of people who want to travel there or teach English since jobs abound.
Yet it often amazes me that Mandarin Chinese still lacks sufficient choices of quality online resources to learn with. There have been some great innovations and niche sites pop up over recent years that I think are fantastic (e.g. ChinesePod), but as far as comprehensive courses go, still not a lot!
Rocket Chinese is (particularly with their brand new 3rd level tier) possibly the best structured course currently available.
I say best because as a course, it’s the most comprehensive in terms of its depth and quantity of lessons, and the natural audio quality is superb.
The lessons on reading and writing Chinese characters in Rocket Chinese
Rocket Languages is a series of 13 language editions – Chinese being one of them.
With the exception of Japanese, their Chinese edition is the only other edition where teaching written characters is a core component of the course. So from the outset, I was most curious about how successfully (or not) they go about doing this.
This is not because I believe Chinese characters are vital to learning how to speak fluently (you can speak Mandarin fine without ever reading characters) but it is very important for anyone planning to migrate to China (or Taiwan) or wanting to read literature.
There are over 50,000 Chinese characters in total, most of which don’t necessarily need to be taught in a conventional course.
Characters are one of the most arduous and time-consuming aspects of learning Chinese and while there are mnemonic strategies you can employ for learning many of them, they take serious time to commit to long-term memory.
While I don’t have a total on the exact number of characters taught by Rocket Chinese, they do an excellent job breaking the characters down into digestible categories by level of difficulty.
For example, there’s a writing lesson on renting an apartment and the first character listed is:
租(zū) – rent
They then proceed to explain that the first part of the character means ‘crop’ and this is because historically, landlords in China would take some harvested crops as their payment.
Rocket Chinese is full of these explanations that really help commit characters to memory.
Drawing the characters is also demonstrated slowly on video which I found very helpful.
The recently added 3rd tier of Rocket Chinese goes right into advanced-level writing lessons on Chinese stories too so there’s a LOT of material to keep you busy.
As far as structured online audio courses go, Rocket Chinese has no competition
As I intimated above, there are some great sites out there for learning Chinese.
ChinesePod is one my personal favorites.
But it’s content style and delivery is completely different (unorganized video, random situational lesson topics, off-the-cuff). It’s great but it’s not a linear, structured audio course.
Rocket Chinese is, however.
As I’ve learned over the years through my interactions here on this site and elsewhere, a lot of people desire and learn better with structure. In other words, here’s lesson one, now on to lesson two, and so on.
This doesn’t mean that you have to use Rocket Chinese this way either.
You can jump to any lesson you want on any tier.
While there are tests at the end of each lesson to challenge you on what you’ve learned, you’re not obligated to pass tests in order to move forward. So the great thing about Rocket Chinese is that although it does give the option of learning in a linear fashion, you can use it however you want.
But really I think it’s the quality and comprehensiveness of the dialogues that set Rocket Chinese apart from its competitors (e.g. Rosetta Stone Chinese).
You’ll only find naturally spoken Mandarin Chinese dialogues – something that’s hard to find in many other Chinese resources.
I should also note that unlike Rosetta Stone and Pimsleur (household names in language learning), Rocket Chinese uses a humorous and relaxing approach in the way it presents lessons.
The lesson hosts occasionally comment on and engage with the lesson content making it fun and interesting to learn from.
The Rocket Chinese forum isn’t as active or responsive as it should be
One disappointing note I should add is regarding the forum.
Some of the Rocket Languages editions have great, really active forums where learners can help each other and request direct advice from native teachers.
At first glance, it seems as if the Rocket Chinese forum is not very active.
For example, as in the screenshot here, a learner asked a question and received a response from a tutor 3 months later.
This means that either: a) they missed it, or b) they don’t check it regularly.
Hopefully the situation with the forum improves as there appear to be thousands of users who I’m sure could help one another with Chinese. Of course, at the end of the day, it depends on users to want to use it in the first place.
Notes on the Rocket Chinese mobile app (iOS and Android)
Like other editions, the Rocket Languages app is my preferred choice between it and the web app.
It actually works smoother, feels nicer and in some cases even seems to load faster than the browser version.
The good thing about the app feature is that it’s totally free for everyone who purchased a course online. You can access the exact same content on your iOS or Android wherever you are.
And all the features from the site seem to work and display perfectly on mobile too.
The Rocket Chinese points and leaderboard system is Duolingo and Memrise-esque
I’ll make quick mention of this even though it’s not a hugely important feature.
If you’ve used Duolingo or even Memrise before, you’ll be familiar with gamified motivators that allow you to “compete” with other members.
As you study and finish lessons, you earn points (there’s a points indicator on the sidebar) and climb up in rank. This helps encourage study streaks so you keep coming back daily.
These keep you challenged.
It’s not something you have to do of course but if you find that friendly competition helps you study harder and more often then you’ll appreciate this feature.
With Rocket Chinese, you have full ownership of the course that you paid for
Seems like an odd thing to point out, right?
But you’d be amazed how many products – especially these days with subscription-based courses becoming the norm – actually don’t give you everything you pay for.
With Rosetta Stone for example, you’re restricted by the software or online subscription limitations and can’t easily save content.
With Rocket Chinese, you can easily download all of the course content as MP3’s and PDF files.
This makes it possible to print out lessons or put lesson MP3’s on a portable listening device to learn on commutes and so on. You pay once, and own it for life.
Rocket affiliates do harm to the company’s reputation
Unfortunately for some people, Rocket has developed a tainted reputation over the years because of spammers.
This is because of unrestrained partners who go around spamming YouTube with ads for Rocket Languages courses which annoys the heck out of people.
I was put off by this for years myself!
What I learned however through my interactions with the company and using their courses is that this behavior actually has no connection to the company itself. It just can’t be easily policed.
My advice to you is to look past this nonsense and take some time to explore the product. Rocket Chinese is a high quality, legit resource despite abusive spammers.
Rocket Chinese verdict: undoubtedly the most comprehensive online Chinese audio course currently available
With the most recent (2017) Platinum tier added to Rocket Chinese, it’s certainly the most comprehensive course you’ll find online.
While it may come across as slightly expensive, compared to other competitors who restrict access or have limited lesson material by comparison, it’s a no-brainer.
There are some minor issues that need polishing and improvement but I’d be happy to recommend it due to its comprehensive content, natural dialogues and detailed Chinese character lessons.
Used Rocket Chinese before? Let us know what you think down below. 🙂
Reviewed by Donovan Nagel.