I’ve been researching options for kid-friendly, online Chinese and Korean tutoring programs.
If you live in a small city like us, we can commiserate about how tough it is to find foreign language teachers. English is the dominant language in our community, and few people speak Chinese and Korean, our minority languages.
Since our California beach town has a population of <3% Asians, we are extremely lucky to have a Chinese tutor, a Chinese-speaking piano teacher, and a Korean nanny for my 5-year-old daughter and 2-year-old son!
Why I am considering Chinese and Korean online tutoring for my 5-year-old
Although I hope my children can be proficient in their heritage languages, I am not fluent. Our nanny is also only conversationally proficient in Korean.
After searching high and low for bilingual Chinese and Korean teachers, we have a Chinese tutor who comes for 90 minutes each week, but she’ll be away for most of the summer. In addition, my daughter’s Mandarin-speaking piano teacher comes for 1 hour each week. Therefore, I am the main Mandarin source for my children, while the local teachers are supplemental.
Since I’m with my children on most days of the week, and I am practicing Chinese with them, they switch comfortably between Chinese and English as their main languages. However, we all would benefit from more chances to communicate with fluent Mandarin speakers.
On the other hand, Korean is their weakest language, simply because they don’t get enough exposure and practice. Our part-time nanny is their sole source of exposure; they are together for only a few hours 2-3 times per week.
When to hire an tutor to learn Chinese and Korean
To quote language researcher Dr. Munoz, “You have to live with the language, use the language and function in the language.”
Human connection and active participation, particularly with native speakers, are vital for language acquisition. In addition, a teacher can provide invaluable guidance and feedback on tones, grammar, and pronunciation.
Furthermore, Chinese and Korean rank among the top most difficult languages for native English speakers to learn.
For Asian languages like Chinese and Korean, tutoring can provide extra communication opportunities.
3 Benefits of online Chinese and Korean tutoring
If you don’t have the support of fluent friends or family members, an online private tutoring program can be a valuable resource.
Compared to in-person tutoring, online Chinese and Korean tutoring is beneficial because it’s relatively:
- Affordable: Online tutors are generally much less expensive than local tutors.
- Convenient: You can learn anywhere, including the comfort of your own home.
- Flexible: Lessons can be scheduled at any time.
4 Downsides of online Chinese and Korean tutoring
Whenever possible, in-person lessons is preferable, especially for children.
Downsides of online language tutoring include:
- Poor network connectivity: Time lag and strength of internet or cellular signals can disrupt conversation and take time away from learning.
- Movement restriction: In addition, in-person tutoring allows for more freedom of movement and activity rather than being confined to a chair.
- Less context: Live experiences provide more context via body language, hands-on demonstration, and fun activities. Meanwhile, an online tutor may show only their face on the screen.
- Screen time: Using digital media for short periods of time is probably okay, but it must be factored with other screen sources during the day. The American Academy of Ophthalmology offers guidance on how to protect vision from excess media use.
As with any teacher, lesson quality may vary depending on the instructor. You want to make sure that the teacher enjoys working with children and knows how to engage them!
Duration and frequency of online Chinese or Korean tutoring lesson
Most online tutoring companies give students the flexibility to schedule lessons at any time of the day.
Some tutoring sessions may run up to an hour; others may be as short as 20 minutes.
What age can a child start online Chinese and Korean tutoring?
Since online tutoring requires sitting at a computer or mobile device (eg, iPhone, iPad) for a set amount of time, the child should be able to sit still for that period.
Generally, toddlers will be too young for online instruction.
However, online language tutoring may be a better fit for older children (5 years and up) and adolescents, depending on their attention span.
3+ Chinese and Korean Online Tutoring Programs for Children and Adults
Since I’m thinking about having my daughter work with a tutor who speaks Chinese, Korean, and English, I narrowed my search to 3 companies that have trilingual teachers. Ideally, I’d like the tutor to use Chinese, instead of English to teach my daughter Korean. This way, both minority languages are reinforced simultaneously, but English can serve as a backup if absolutely necessary.
In addition to these 3 companies, I share my past experience with TutorMing and why I don’t recommend the program for children.
In the future, I’ll update this post when we have more personal experience to share.
Countless friends have raved to me about their experience with iTalki in various languages, including Chinese and Korean!
This video gives an overview about the iTalki online language program.
Benefits of iTalki
iTalki is at the top of my to-try list for these reasons:
- Wide variety of languages: iTalki has 10,000+ teachers and 100+ languages, including Mandarin Chinese, Cantonese, and Korean
- Trilingual teachers: iTalki has a functional filter that lets you choose a language teacher who also speaks other languages. I was able to find several teachers who speak both Chinese and Korean!
- Human interaction: Video conversations with your teacher
- Control over teacher choice: You can preview the teacher’s introductory video and read reviews from other students
- Price: Many highly-rated professional Mandarin Chinese teachers have rates as low as $10/hour.
- Flexible schedule: Choose any date or time to book a one-on-one lesson
- Pay per lesson: You don’t have to commit to a long program, which I regret doing with another program. With iTalki, you can pay as you learn.
- Public notebook: Practice typing in Chinese, Korean, or another target language which will be reviewed and corrected by native speakers
- Community: Search for and connect with native Chinese or Korean speakers in the iTalki network
Downsides of iTalki
The only downside is that iTalki does not offer a free trial. However, I don’t think this matters when you’re only paying per lesson.
DuoLingo is a popular language learning website and platform that is entirely free!
This video gives an overview of DuoLingo.
Benefits of DuoLingo
- Free! The best part of this language learning program is that the website and app are completely free.
- Common languages offered: Currently, 24 languages are offered, including Mandarin Chinese and Korean.
- Character review: Game-style program provides repeat exposure to common Chinese characters
Downsides of DuoLingo
- Only simplified Chinese is offered, no traditional Chinese option currently.
- All lessons must be completed before reaching a checkpoint in order for more learning opportunities to be unlocked. This is cumbersome for me as I don’t need to spend 10 minutes reviewing basic Chinese characters that I learned from leveled readers.
- You will need other sources for person-to-person speaking practice in order to improve conversational fluency.
My sister is currently learning Chinese, and DuoLingo is one of her favorite resources. For reference, she is at the very beginner stages of her Chinese learning journey and is studying rather casually.
On the other hand, I have been learning with my children for the past 3-4 years and used several Chinese reading curriculums. Out of curiosity, I took their placement quiz. Despite being only conversationally proficient, I was surprised that I got a nearly perfect score!
After the placement test, I tried a couple of lessons, and they were too easy. I had already learned all of the characters in the beginner levels, but you have to complete each set of lessons before higher lessons can be “unlocked.” I’m not sure if there is a way around this, and I have not contacted customer support. While I admire the fact that they make language learning accessible for all people, I wish the lessons were appropriate for the new user. I think I would have loved this years ago when were first started to learn Chinese, but it’s not really what I need right now, which is more opportunities to practice real conversation.
If children are using this program, they should be able to read English, as some of the games involve Chinese to English translation. Therefore, DuoLingo is probably best suited for students in elementary, middle, and high school, as well as adults.
3. Online Chinese and Korean tutoring program: Verbling
A few friends have recommended Verbling for Chinese learning, though I have not heard of any word-of-mouth views for Korean. Since it appears to be a reputable company, I briefly considered this option.
Here is a video overview of Verbling:
Benefits of Verbling
- Free trial lesson: You can compare the platform to others before committing
- Teachers from around the world: You can choose teachers from various regions. For example, if you’re learning Traditional Chinese, you can choose an online Chinese tutor from Taiwan.
- Human interaction: Video conversations with your teacher
- Online workspace: Both teachers and students can share and edit materials, such as flashcards, right in the platform
Downsides of Verbling
- Language variety unclear: While company’s website claims “any language” on the homepage, there are little to no teachers available for the lesson common languages. Both Mandarin and Korean are included, but there few Cantonese teachers. Unless you personally count the number of available teachers, there’s no computer count of the number of available teachers. In contrast, with iTalki, you know how many teachers are available for any given language.
- Difficult to find trilingual teachers: In contrast to iTalki, it was difficult to filter for teachers who speak more than 1 target language.
- Price: At first glance, it seems like most teachers have a rate around the Verbling average. Current average price for a Mandarin tutor is $20/hour; the average Korean tutor is $22/hour.
Other online Chinese and Korean tutoring programs
Here are a few more online tutoring programs that I considered for my daughter and myself.
1. Tutor Ming
TutorMing is an online tutoring program focused only on Mandarin Chinese learning.
Two years ago, I bought a “1 Year Chinese Fluency Package” which includes 150 sessions, priced at $1800 at the time. I actually have not completed the program due to lack of consistent time. Thankfully, Tutor Ming’s subscription does not expire, and I plan to finish the lessons later this year.
TutorMing Chinese Tutoring Schedule
TutorMing offers 45minute private tutor session with a Native Mandarin Chinese speaker at any time of the day on your desktop, laptop, or mobile device. The 24/7 availability is amazing as I am taking the classes at the end of the day when I am off work and my kids are asleep.
Online Chinese Teachers
The teachers are from mainland China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and even the United States! This allows for the choice to take lessons at any time of the day.
You may have a different teacher each class so you can practice speaking with different people, but you can request your favorites.
How a online Chinese lesson works
During the first session, a teacher assesses your proficiency by speaking with you and providing some material to read. This first session also shows how the class works.
On the screen, your teacher is on video beside a powerpoint lecture. If you are not sure how to pronounce a word, the teacher types out the pinyin and English definition as needed.
S/he also give examples of different ways you can describe a situation and are very receptive to answering yours questions about the words or topic.
If you need to prepare for a business presentation, a special class can be arranged to help with your performance.
Language for reading
You can choose simplified or traditional Chinese characters. Pinyin is accompanied with new words, and the teacher can add more Pinyin notes if needed.
Online Lesson Content
My first class was on airport travel and my second class was on doing housework. Therefore, the first lesson was a little over my head since I haven’t flown since having kids! However, the housework class was all too relevant haha.
I did feel that much of the prepared content was too business-focused, so I gave them frequent feedback that I needed more day-to-day parenting vocabulary.
When my daughter was 4, she tried one lesson that was geared for children, but there was a few second delay that was frustrating for my daughter. Also, my daughter speaks softly, so it was hard for the teacher to hear her through the computer microphone.
I don’t have any experience with LingoBus. I just wanted to mention that I have seen it recommended intermittently by other bilingual parents.
LingoBus offers online tutoring in Chinese but not Korean.
A mom in my bilingual Korean/English Facebook group found a great, inexpensive Korean tutor on Wyzant. The website appears to be a large forum for a wide variety of subjects, not just languages.
Like Wyzant, Preply offers Chinese and Korean tutors. In addition, you can look for online tutors that teach other subjects.
Summary: Our top considerations for Chinese and Korean tutoring
iTalki versus Verbling
Given all of the various options, iTalki is at the top of my list for Mandarin Chinese and Korean online language tutoring for my 5-year-old daughter. After I complete my TutorMing subscription, I would like to try iTalki for myself for Mandarin Chinese.
For my Cantonese-speaking friends with children age 5 years and up, this seems like the most accessible option.
For beginners, I would recommend exploring DuoLingo simply because it’s free. However, intermediate to advanced learners may find the required completion of beginner lessons to be tedious and inefficient.
Since we need most help with speaking and I want to use our screen-time judiciously, I don’t plan on having my daughter use this app.
For adults learning Chinese, I think TutorMing is a decent program, provided that you can truly commit to the long time course. However, I do not recommend TutorMing for children due to the time lag. The preset program content also makes content flexibility more unlikely, which can be challenging for unmotivated children.
Have you tried online tutoring for your family’s minority language?
Since there aren’t many internet reviews about online tutoring for children, I’d love to hear which programs you found most helpful and any tips you’d like to share!
If you haven’t tried online tutoring yet, consider your family’s language learning goals, schedule, energy, and funds to see if would boost the minority languages in your family!
How to create a thriving bilingual home learning environment
- Teach Your Child a Second Language at Home with 5 Key Steps
- Raising Multilingual Children as a Non-Fluent Parent: 7 Lessons Learned
- How To Get Your Child To Speak the Minority Language
- How to Find a Foreign Language Teacher for Your Child