ChineseTeachers.com – My Review

“I’d gladly pay someone to help me with my Chinese if I could just find someone good enough.”

ChineseTeachers.comIf that’s you, there’s a new service that will take you up on that offer: ChineseTeachers.com.

Although this particular site launched for students in April of this year, interactive online language learning/teaching is not a new idea and I’ve long been interested in trying it out. So when I got a personalized email from ChineseTeachers.com inviting me to try out the beta version of the site I was just too flattered to turn it down. (If everyone else got that same email, don’t tell me OK? I want to feel special.)

The Concept

ChineseTeachers.com provides what’s basically a big chat room where everyone except you is a native speaker of Chinese who’s qualified as a Chinese teacher. But you can only chat with one teacher at a time (which is plenty) and you can only voice chat (no typing, which I’ll list later in the cons). So anyone who’s used Skype, GTalk, or QQ to voice chat over the internet should know what to expect as far as technology goes.

You log in, see who’s online, choose a teacher you want to talk to, and then ring ’em up. As soon as the call connects, the clock starts ticking and you pay for every minute you chat (starting at about $0.20 USD / minute). The first two minutes are always free in case you have some technical difficulties or can’t understand the other teacher. So it’s “Chinese on your terms” like ChinesePod says, but this is interactive instead of just listening.

The Lessons

I tried three different teachers, all female. (I tried to talk to a male teacher but the few that were online were all busy. No, really!)

I deliberately left my profile blank and jumped straight into the lessons just to see how the teachers would handle a new student without any info (such as my Chinese level, goals, etc.). It was surprisingly easy to click a button and immediately start talking to someone with almost no setup whatsoever. The teachers each quickly determined my level and initiated interesting conversations (one of which was about research the teacher had done on pronunciation of certain fāngyán 方言!).

The 1st and 3rd teachers started in English and then asked me to speak a little Chinese. The 2nd teacher started in Chinese and we never used any English. That lead me to believe that the first teacher might have communicated somehow with the 2nd teacher. But then the 3rd teacher didn’t seem to know my level, so I don’t think there’s any interaction between the teachers, even in the form of shared notes about the students.

Now on to my favorite part of the review where I get to mix 1st and 2nd person whenever I feel like it!

Pros

  • You direct the learning – You can upload documents or any materials you want help with. If you don’t have any documents (like I didn’t), you can chat about whatever you want and then the teachers will make suggestions and email you study materials for the next class. You also decide how long the lesson/call lasts. All the teachers were very good about sensing that I was drawing the call to a close and didn’t try to keep me on the line any longer than I wanted (even as short as 4 minutes with one teacher).
  • Flexible schedule – You log on whenever you want and see which teachers are online (and it seems there are always some). I suppose you could find a teacher you really like and ask him/her when a good time to meet again would be.
  • Good teachers – I only spoke to three of the 150+ teachers, but they all spoke slowly and clearly and were very patient and willing to repeat things that I didn’t understand. They were all proficient in English and they were all good conversationalists who could keep the ball rolling (I deliberately left some awkward silences to see what they’d do, and they didn’t miss a beat). It’s clear they would all be good informants or “Chat Buddies.”
  • Nothing to install – This is huge to me because I HATE installing things on my computer. With this site, you don’t have to install or download any software. You just need the standard Flash Player that anyone who’s watched Youtube (before it was banned!) has.
  • Sound quality acceptable – It usually sounds just as good as a normal phone call. I didn’t notice any difference between the quality of these calls and Skype calls. There was a little delay on the 3rd lesson, but that happens sometimes with Skype too.
  • Don’t call me, I’ll call you – One of my calls got cut off while we were chatting and I was waiting to see if the teacher would call me back, but she either wouldn’t or couldn’t. Either way it’s good because it keeps the ball in the student’s court.
  • Free, immediate tech support – There is at least one staff member in the chat room, whom you can call for free and ask any questions about the site or setup. Even though I’d already done some calls without any need for tech support, I called with one minor question just to see what would happen. The staff member was very helpful (although it was a bit unnerving when she answered with “Hello Albert” but never told me her name – I guess my profile wasn’t completely blank).
  • Lots of feedback – After each lesson you evaluate the teacher (out of 5 stars) and the sound quality (out of 5 stars). Then you can write notes to yourself about the teacher and/or the lesson. You can also write a note to the teacher about the lesson. The teacher always seems to write you a little note about the lesson as well.
  • Reasonable rates – $12 USD / hour is very reasonable for a private tutor in the States. According to the comparison table, this site seems to be quite competitive in their pricing.

Cons

NOTE: Some of these are not really problems with ChineseTeachers.com as much as they are with the whole concept of online language tutoring.

  • Phone calls are hard in a foreign language – You don’t have any visual clues like body language or facial expressions. Also, regardless of how good the sound quality is, it won’t be as clear as talking face-to-face. Misunderstanding was rare, but ironically I misunderstood the word qīngchu 清楚 at one point because I just couldn’t hear the initial consonants clearly.
  • No typing – There were a few times during the lessons when it would have been very helpful if the teacher could have just typed a quick word to me (like qīngchu 清楚) or I could have sent a quick note. There may be some reason why they don’t want the teachers and students to have the ability to communicate outside the headset, but I think it would have been very helpful.
    [Update: I just got an email informing me that the teachers actually can type things to me, but I can’t type back to them. I guess none of my teachers thought that was necessary.]
    [Update #2: Now both sides can type chat.]
  • It’s Scary to Call a Stranger – If you’re insecure about your Chinese during face-to-face interaction with people that you know, this will be even more difficult. I’m paying them so I assume they want to talk to me, but how do I know?! And how do I know I’ll like talking to them? The initial two minutes of free chat are supposed to give me a bailout if the chemistry isn’t right, but for some reason I wouldn’t feel right just ditching someone. I’m the one who called after all! I suppose I will eventually build up some relationships with my favorite teachers, but I found it a bit awkward at first.
  • Time pressure – I couldn’t help looking at that ticking clock thinking, “Am I really getting my money’s worth out of this?” I probably was, but how would I even know? For a paid service there’s no way to escape that feeling, but I was surprised how distracted I was by the clock. On a positive note, I was also surprised how quickly the time passed.

Wish List

  • Added!Added! Typing chat built in to the lesson screen (as mentioned above).
  • Added!Added! Word list – It would be cool if there were some integration with online dictionaries and/or Skritter so that I or the teacher could add words that came up in the lesson for me to review later. There’s a place on the site for notes, but a personal glossary of my own vocabulary would be useful. It would also be good when I switch teachers so the teacher could see what words I know and might like to review.
  • Time remaining countdown – I know I just finished complaining about the time pressure, but I needed to know when I was out of time. When my account started running low, I got a little message that said I would soon be out of money and I should recharge. I panicked and quickly said goodbye to the teacher who was on the line with me. When I hung up I saw I still had several minutes left. A little countdown timer would help so I know when to expect the red light (like a lawyer before the Supreme Court).

If you’re willing to pay but you can’t find a good Chinese tutor in your area, or if you’re tired of the Chewbacca Method, this would be a good site for you. But if you don’t like talking on the phone in a foreign language, or are afraid to talk to strangers, you might want to just look around your neighborhood harder.

I haven’t really examined it closely, but apparently, if you’re a Chinese teacher and you’d like to register to be included in the site, it’s free as long as you pass the selection process. Has anyone done that and would like to tell us about the experience of teaching for an online platform?

Has anyone else tried ChineseTeachers.com or a similar service as a student? What did you think? Do tell.

Comments

  1. Hey Albert, good post, this makes me more interested in trying out ChineseTeachers. We’ve been talking with the CEO of the company for a while, sharing experiences and techniques regarding business operations mostly, but at the beginning when we were talking with him, he wanted us to try out an alpha version and I was too shy/nervous to do it. I’m even a little flustered when talking to my very understanding and helpful laoshi here at Oberlin college.

    Your experience (and specifically the lack of awkwardness in the communications) makes me interested in giving it a try now. If only I’d tried it a while ago when I could have done it free!

  2. I found it took a while to nerve up and call the teachers, but once I was talking to them, it was no problem. I was trying to come up with Chinese names for Skritter, and it was so fast to just call up a Chinese teacher and ask.

    It’s definitely not something I had considered, but if you just have a few quick questions, you can now get an instant answer for cheap. That’s pretty cool.

  3. I was also wondering if there was any good online tutoring websites for chinese. i got a pretty exhaustive list from Chineseforums but chineseteachers was the one i preferred for these reasons:
    – flexibility : i love that you can choose how long the lesson will be, even if it is true it is a bit weird to suddenly tell the teacher “i am tired can we stop the class’. In regular class you expect the teacher to stop the class. What i did is usually notice the teacher at the beginning how long i wanted the class to be.
    – pay as you go:most (if not all) other online tutoring websites i tried sell a package of lessons. Here you pay as you go…you can have class every day for 1 eek and finally stop for 2 months, come back…it is pretty cool.
    – Transparency on the teacher: there is different grade for different qualification and you can refer to users vote/grade to know how good is the teacher. Senior teachers are the most expensive…of course.

    Overall good website. The minus generally for online tutoring is the sound you get is not as clear as offline. It is already very difficult face to face to get the difference between qing/jing/ting. But having chatting function between student-teacher could help.

  4. Hi Albert!

    Still in Guangzhou?

    It’s great to read your words here. We only tried once and unfortunately we encountered a disconnection before we talked more. Sorry that teachers cannot call the students, but you can feel free to call me whenever you want to try again.

    I hope that you enjoy your Chinese study and the Autumn.

    P.S. To Carole (if you can read this): Hi Carole! I guess Beijing is much cooler now. I asked Chineseteachers.com to forward some study files to you. Those are just F.Y.R. If you don’t like them and you want to try some other topics with me, just let me know.

    Wish you great progress and pleasure with Chinese study!

  5. Hi All,
    I tried ChineseTeacher.com after reading this post. It did take a little time to get up the nerve to call but like others have said, once you get going it is fine. The teachers are very nice, encouraging and professional. I was really pleasantly surprised at how good everything was. I will make this a regular part of my program. I wish they had a download page of the learning materials the teachers are using. wenwen, can I have materials sent to me as well?

  6. Hi Mike!

    I’m glad you like the experience learning Chinese on Chineseteachers.com.

    I will be pleased to send some of learning files to you, but I’m not sure which one suits you best. I found on your profile that you can not read Chinese. I have some topics FYR. You can make the choice, and tell the Chineseteachers.com. When I get the message, I will send you the files you like.
    1. Basic Expressions
    2. Biz Chinese
    3. Travelling Chinese
    4.living Chinese (Greetings&conversations)
    5. Chinese custom/culture
    6. Cooking.

    If we can get into touch on Chineseteachers.com, we can talk about it. It’s better to make a learning plan. Feel free to call me whenever you are ready.

    Have a nice day!

    wenwen

  7. It’s funny to see that the Mandarin learners world is quite small as I recognize here my friends from Skritter.com and Wen Wen who is a professor on Chineseteachers.com.

    I had the chance to try Chineseteachers.com (Disclosure, I have the chance to know some people of the team) from day one, and I’m happy to see that I’m not the only one to think that this service is quite amazing (even more when it’s combined with Skritter btw).

    There is a funny however to see that I wasn’t the only one to get (really) nervous when one is about to call a new teacher! Hopefully once you get going it is fine (but I have still some apprehension to call a new teacher :-/ ).

  8. My name’s Chuck and I’ve started chineseteachers.com couple months ago for my customers and clients.

    I’ve been learning more than 3 new languages for work/life for the past 5 years and the last thing I need is

    : a classroom of lackluster beginners
    : in a language school
    : less than 5 times-a-week
    : plus rushing after/before work.
    : & only to realize you’ve been missing most of the classes ‘coz of your working hours.

    Chineseteachers.com was the best solution for my in-between-flights’ lifestyle.

    All I need is the internet, 1-2 short sessions of 20 mins for myself and the teacher to find the ‘fit’!

    It’s kinda like the fully-web-based Skype.com for Chinese language classes, with the function on the side for the teacher to jot down the characters for you, too!

    No commuting. No cancelling. No lazy teachers but less costs for better quality and customized classes.

    Time is money.

    And in Chineseteachers.com, all the time is yours.

    Plain and simple.

  9. Hi Albert,

    It’s really refreshing to hear such an honest opinion from the student’s perspective. I have taught on ChineseTeachers.com for a while now, and I have often wondered how come there are so many students who are ‘not-in-lessons’. (I guess this is a feature which you probably haven’t experienced, but as a teacher, I can see how many students are online and if they are ‘in lessons’ or ‘not in lessons’), your post really helped shading some lights to this!

    For me, when a student is taking their very first lesson, my approach is to always use it as the opportunity for us to discuss and agree on what to study and how much to study each time. This way, I get to understand a little more about what will make the student ‘tick’ and I can work on a study plan according to their capabilities and needs. I’d like to think that when they call me, they feel as welcomed as you have experienced with the other teachers 😉

    I guess because I joined the service very early on, I have seen the site evolved over time. I am probably one of the few teachers who thought it would be better NOT to have the text function during the lesson, as I was convinced that both my students and I can be more focused without the distraction. However, as you have correctly said, the lesson now allows text exchanges between teachers and students in both directions, and I do use it from time to time, but whenever possible, I still prefer to explain the words to my students in Chinese – after all, the lesson is about listening and speaking, so I try to give my students the maximum opportunity to hear me and to talk with me, rather than reading my text. But for beginners, I do see the benefits of having a way to send the pinyin over, so they know how to pronounce the words more quickly.

    I think the only downside I have experienced with ChineseTeachers.com is that sometimes the internet quality is not consistent. I hate to disappoint my students when they have set time aside to have lessons with me, and I know it’s frustrating for my students, too. But at least I feel comfortable asking my student to try other teachers if the connection is not working out with me, because I know there are many other really good teachers on the website, who are just as passionate to promote Chinese learning as me, so my advice to using this site would be, enjoy the most of what it offers, which is a large number of great teachers! If we have a chance to have a lesson, I am sure we will have a very interesting discussion!

  10. Thank you for your very thorough review, and for all the nice feedback from others.

    We are really pleased to announce a few improvements, some of which were in your wish list!

    1) Messaging function for both students and teachers during the lesson: Unlike ‘chatting’, this is a supporting learning tool and you can decide which messages to keep during the lesson. This feature is designed to help student learn the right Hanzi (Chinese characters) and pinyin when needed.

    2) New format for the customized documents from our teachers: The new format avoids the documents from being sometimes blocked for our students (and teachers) based in China. We also added a zoom function that was requested by students who wanted to see Chinese characters in bigger size.

    3) New tool to add your own learning materials: You can now quickly create a document by copying and pasting texts from other sources, like documents or web pages.

    4) Messages to teachers: Student can now send messages to any teacher, to make any lesson related request. You can even ask your teacher to prepare a learning material for your next lesson with specific topics/vocabularies. Please note: To protect our teachers, and our students, all messages are screened by our staff to make sure the contents are related to learning Chinese.

    5) Reserve next lesson time: From next week, students will be able to propose time and length for their next lesson with our teachers. Don’t worry, you can still just login and take lessons with any teachers who are online without booking in advance! In both cases, we hope to help students in their regular practice, whether planned or not.

    6) Students can choose to start from any amount (even $1) but we have added a special $500 package that attracts a $100 bonus, that makes the hourly rate as low as $10 per hour (and of course the pricing is still per minute with the first two minutes always free).

    We are also pleased to report that we now have students from 88 different countries, which is a very lucky number in China 🙂

    Finally, we would like to thank our teachers who have kept impressing our students, and us! After all, ChineseTeachers.com is about helping students finding the best Chinese teachers for their respective learning needs and goals.

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