If you aren’t lucky enough to live in an area with low cost Mandarin schools, or 1-1 private teachers, chances are you’ve already taken your search for tuition online.
There is a vast array of Skype-based language schools offering various Mandarin classes. A quick google search will give you a list of promoted and non-promoted options, with different specialties and technologies.
For example, you might recognize:
Language Teacher Marketplaces:
But how do you choose?
With class pricing and marketing content (such as websites, testimonials) very similar, it’s hard to tell which school you should choose to invest in. Sure, you can go online and view sample materials and view testimonials, but how do you know what the teachers are like?
The exception to this is the platform format websites such as italki and verbal planet, which allow you to choose the teacher for yourself based on their personal profile. However, this also has its drawbacks. Quality and price are often connected and if you look for the cheapest teacher available, you’ll probably find that they’re more of a conversational partner than an instructor.
Many people are reluctant to take a free trial for fear that they will be pressured into buying, or spammed/called into oblivion, just like an in-person school.
Well I’m here to say, take a deep breath and r-e-l-a-x, taking a free trial is a great way to get started on choosing a Mandarin school.
Step One: Arrange a Free Trial
I would suggest arranging a free trial with 3-4 language schools, to get a sense of their material and instructors. It will also give you a good basis of comparison and provide valuable information to use when negotiating with your course consultant.
Step Two: Assess what you need and where you are at. Not all schools are the same.
Depending on what you need to learn and who you need to talk to, certain schools may fit your needs better than others. Are you already conversationally fluent? Then it’s probably a good idea to choose a school that has teachers with a high level of English. Do you need to learn vocabulary that is specialized to a certain industry? You should look for a school with teachers that have a long track record of established experience. Perhaps you are looking to record your lessons and use them as a study tool? Choose a school with a high level of technical capability. Hanbridge Mandarin gets a special mention here for being the only school that we trialed that had a cisco webex whiteboard, and the ability to record and download lessons.
Step Three: Build a relationship with the course consultants and ask as many questions as possible.
Many schools are flexible and are willing to accommodate your requests. This could even include requesting discounted rates for longer duration contracts. When you are negotiating your lesson contract, make sure that the course consultant is aware that you are talking to other schools and that you will compare price with quality and features. If you do they may be more willing to help incentivize you through a discount.
Step Four: Make a decision
Here I can only give general guidelines. When making decisions, I like to write all of the pros and cons of a potential option on a sheet, and if the pros don’t outweigh the cons by 2x, then I hesitate to move on that decision. Of course you may find that this ratio doesn’t apply, in which case, try and follow your gut.
Did you have a good experience with the teacher? Do you feel like you had a real take-away from the learning experience? Were they attentive and did the conversation flow naturally? You’re going to pay to spend time with them and if it felt forced during the trial, chances are it will remain that way.
Do we have any suggestions for schools?
As I am a nerd, and probably very biased, I lean towards a balance of technology and quality instruction as my preferred option for an online school. That being said, they are not the cheapest option out there. If money isn’t an issue for you, I would endorse them, but if money is an issue, I would say to try a platform such as italki where you can find a quality instructor for $15-20/hour at a more flexible pay structure. Whether that be a la carte learning, so to speak, or a full course meal!
Do you have a suggestion for a quality online school? Have you found any other good ways to test them out before you book a course? Please add your comment below.