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So, due to recent current Corona Virus events we (LTL Mandarin School) suddenly found ourselves in a situation where we have to teach all our Mandarin classes online. We have been teaching online classes for years, but usually to students who studied with us previously in China and then wanted to continue studying with their teacher afterwards online or preparation courses before someone would come to China.

Now we suddenly are organizing online classes a stand alone course for people whom we might never meet as they are not coming to study with us in person at any of our schools.

This is quite a new situation for us and as a strong believer into language immersion I have always been a bit sceptical of how to study online classes which I believe can be very effective, but after class the student most likely still finds himself in a completely non-Chinese language environment which makes real progress quite difficult.

However, supposedly this is the future and during the last month we have been pushed into if we wanted to or not, so here we go and I want to make sure we deliver the best quality possible. I attended an online teaching course this week which was interesting but not specifically focused on Mandarin.

I would be very interested in feedback from students who studied Mandarin online with a real life teacher (not an app) regarding your experiences, suggestions and advice, both for students and teachers.


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52 minutes ago, zhouhaochen said:

However, supposedly this is the future and during the last month we have been pushed into if we wanted to or not, so here we go and I want to make sure we deliver the best quality possible.


This might be an opportunity to make big advances in online language teaching, to take it to the next level. Your school could be a trailblazer in developing innovative materials and methods. Might wind up benefiting the entire language teaching industry and benefiting students who want or need to study long distance. 

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@abcdefg thanks and that would be fantastic and I agree good things can come out of bad situations. We certainly suddenly have the opportunity to teach a lot of online classes and get experience very fast which we otherwise would not have had. We ask for feedback from all students and teachers, but I would be very interested in what people on Chinese Forums think about online learning. We do not want to develop an app or some website that teachers you Mandarin, but actually do real teaching with a real life professional Chinese language teacher, just delivered via the internet instead of face to face.

I myself never studied online, so I have no experiences there unfortunately. All feedback is most welcome.

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I have an online teacher. I cant see any difference between studying face to face or online. I have in the past studied in person. Whatever benefit there is of face to seems greatly outweighed by tge convenience of online. The only problem ive encountered online is occasional bad connection, but its not been a big issue. 

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Being outside the firewall, my connection using Skype is pretty bad. I like to record the lessons over Skype and review. I can't record audio conversation on wechat.


I haven't had formal lessons like following a text book in ages. I just talked with community tutors on italki, gave them back the sentences I couldn't understand and then they would write it out for me. Haven't booked an Italki lesson for a long time now.


I have thought about taking formal lessons again but give specific instructions to the tutor. What I would like to try is to have a lesson, then in the next lesson, review some of the vocabulary or sentences from the previous sessions. Aural recall is a very weak area of mine. I don't know why previous formal tutors haven't done this. They just seemed to go on at a million miles an hour to the next topic. 


I suspect that when we interact, my Chinese face and expression makes them assume I have some ultra good 听力 and it's just speaking that I lack. Also, when I repeat things after them, I can get the rhythm pretty quickly which makes them think "oh yeah, he's nailed that". Remembering is a different skill though and I only have a small vocabulary range.


Alternativeky, their mode of teaching is to throw as much as possible at the student and see if any sticks. Even in 'free conversation', they don't use the vocabulary or sentence structures in the lesson so that doesn't really work either. Unfortunately, my Mandarin isn't good enough to get them to understand what I want.


Face to face tuition is really expensive in Hong Kong. I would rather pay for tough one to one personal trainer or sports session to get a good workout , endorphin surge and sense of satisfaction. Mandarin doesn't seem to give the same endorphin surge for some reason.☹️. Plus the outside environment doesn't help.

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I think that what would help continue the whole "immersion feeling" would be some good extracurricular activities - so level appropriate TV programs, movies, books, and even games and more.


If you were to give recommendations and point people in the right direction it would very helpful because as a learner its quite daunting to find this sort of thing.


To better mimic the staying with a family perhaps some unstructured interactions online with chinese speakers talking about the same sort of things that you would have to if you were sharing someone's home, ie how does the washing machine work and all the associated things that come with such a simple question such not washing certain items in it and the temperature of the water ( yes I remember that little video:)), so lots of roll play.


I am sure you will put together a well thought out program to teach, entertain and enrich students. 


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I wonder why anyone would pay for an online language school if there are so many independent university qualified teachers out there? Surely, the lessons at a language school must cost 50-100% more just to cover the costs for administration, website, etc.

Having said that, I totally see the value of a language school for live learning in a physical classroom.


@zhouhaochen: Out of curiosity, how do you prevent your teachers to go freelance online with your (former) students?

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I have a Skype tutor. She's a recent college grad from Taiwan. We work through a textbook, we debate each other, sometimes we just chat. She gives me written homework that she corrects. It's a good relationship, and helpful. I do a lot outside of her tutoring, too, but having her as a weekly or twice-weekly check-in really helps keep me focused on Chinese. It's much cheaper than an in-person tutor as well (about $20 US per hour). The experience is good and I recommend everyone learning outside the classroom and outside China or Taiwan to try it. I suppose you could get this experience for free or barter it against English practice with someone on hellotalk but I've tried that and those arrangements never seem to work out in the long term when you're not paying someone for their time. 

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2 hours ago, Jan Finster said:

I wonder why anyone would pay for an online language school

I don't think its a long term plan, just a way for the school to fulfill its teaching responsibilities, while the coronavirus causes chaos worldwide.

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10 hours ago, Flickserve said:

Alternatively, their mode of teaching is to throw as much as possible at the student and see if any sticks.


I've had that experience too. So hard to get a teacher to slow down and repeat a lot. Spend part of the hour repeating yesterday's stuff. Spend part of the hour repeating the difficult points of last week's stuff. This has been true even in face to face lessons. A good teacher can identify the things I have trouble with and then hammer away at them again and again until they finally enter my thick skull. 


At one school,  I even once overheard teachers sort of bragging among themselves about what fast progress their students were making. It seemed like it was informally a point of pride to be able to say "My student is already on Book 2 after only six weeks." 

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20 hours ago, zhouhaochen said:

I would be very interested in feedback from students who studied Mandarin online with a real life teacher (not an app) regarding your experiences, suggestions and advice, both for students and teachers.


I've been learning online with the same Chinese teacher 1:1 for the last 3 years and I love it. We've switched between Zoom and Skype a few times, currently using the latter but not by choice — Zoom went off-air in the mainland for a month or so in late 2019 and when they came back the enhanced verification process wouldn't work on my teacher's phone.  Given the choice I'd use Zoom, as it gives a better connection and has more useful features.


Previously I also studied Hindi on Skype for 2 years. I've also done a lot of videoconferencing for work in the last 6 years, and have been teaching English on Skype for the last couple of months.


Warning: Random brain-dump ahead.


I currently schedule and pay for Chinese lessons through italki. The main benefits for me are (especially compared to evening group classes, which I've used for other languages):

  • Ability to schedule and reschedule at fairly short notice to work around other commitments.
  • Zero travelling time to/from the lesson. No excuses like being too tired after work, or it's raining and the traffic is bad.
  • Comfortable learning environment if at home (coffee, sometimes beer!)
  • Very easy to share electronic resources back and forth, like homework and handouts. Even videos.

I wouldn't really want to be in an online group class. The more students there are, the more likely there are to be technical issues, or problems with turn-taking (raise your virtual hand etc), at least until everyone gets to grips with how online classes work. 


I've never studied in an online group class, but I did run a lot of group meetings using Zoom when I worked in Australia, and we were forever having to remind people to mute their microphones when not speaking so we couldn't hear their coffee cups, fingers drumming on the table, coughing etc.  If somebody has a tech issue it often interrupts everything, and the more users there are, the more likely it is. 


Essential requirements would be: 

  • Wear a headset with headphones and microphone (mobile headsets usually work great), to improve audio quality and reduce pickup of background noise. Using a laptop's built-in microphone will pick up annoying typing noise and any vibration from the desktop (a buzzing, vibrating phone is a very loud classic).  
  • Take care to set up good lighting (especially for the teacher) so the face is visible. Avoid bright light behind your head — "halo effect" or being silhouetted.
  • Get away from noise like air conditioning, avoid open windows and open-plan offices (the nemesis of videoconferencing!), or if at home find a quiet room and make sure others know not to disturb you.  
  • Ideally find somewhere without a "busy" visual background, both in terms of things happening/moving and imagery/textures. 
  • If you have to use a phone or a tablet rather than a laptop, at least put it in a tripod or a holder. Shaky video is distracting and doesn't compress well

Useful things I've learned both taking and teaching online lessons or running meetings:

  • Be on time and start by saying hello on text chat to make sure the other person is ready and able to take the call. Sometimes there's a technical issue ("hang on, I need to reboot my laptop") or something has cropped up ("I'll be with you in 2 minutes") and it's good to be flexible and prepared for that.
  • Always test your tech set-up beforehand if you're trying something new or ambitious (this should go without saying). 
  • There's some great software out there that can give you advanced features for free, like picture-in-picture, using a tablet or phone as an external camera (e.g. document cam or whiteboard cam), even using effects to switch between sources.  Keywords: EpocCam, Camtwist, OBS, Loopback, Audio Hijack.
  • If for some reason you have a location with multiple people in the same room, you'll need a good external omnidirectional microphone with everyone sitting pretty close to it, or you won't be able to hear some people. 
  • Always have a fall-back option in case of software problems. For example at the moment I usually learn (and teach) on Skype, but we have WeChat there as a back-up. You can't do screen-sharing with it, but at least it's a reliable option for chatting and video-calling, possibly until the issue is resolved... possibly until the end of the class.

Things that still annoy me but I've not searched for/found a good solution yet:

  • Chat features in software like Zoom and Skype are really lacking in features like: adjust font size (I'm sick of peering at tiny Hanzi in Skype), and saving/exporting the contents of a chat without filling it full of crap.  (Outside of the Great Firewall, making shared notes in Google docs works nicely... is there a mainland-friendly equivalent?)
  • Are there any decent online whiteboards?  I think Zoom lets you use an iPad or phone as a whiteboard inside a meeting but I've not tried it yet.


OK, enough. Hope some of that helps!





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4 hours ago, abcdefg said:

and then hammer away at them again and again until they finally enter my thick skull. 


This applies to classroom teaching as well. 


@zhouhaochen how good are your teachers at recognising this issue, taking note of previous lesson difficulties, reviewing and reinforcing?


Obviously it's a lot to fit into one hour. For example 10 to 15 minutes reviewing previous lesson like an SRS style. 30mins of new material, then 10mins free talk giving the student to have had a chance to use the material. Teachers don't get their bragging rights on how fast their students progress and have to change their sense of achievement to the outcome of how well the student is able to use what is taught.


Oh there is another thing, I cant understand why the formal teachers would always try to get me to free talk at the beginning of the class when I am at my worst (a beginner or advanced beginner or even low intermediate). Wouldn't it be better at the end of the class for wrapping up when my brain is in Chinese mode? Just for comparison to my one to one sports sessions working on skills, most of my one to one sessions would have the free play at the end of the lesson and a little routine warm up at the beginning.

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online is only really good if you have some competence in the language and can hold a conversation


it's not so great for entry level learners who may need to learn from your body language or if their listening is so good


this has been my experience

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On 2/21/2020 at 5:38 PM, Flickserve said:

I like to record the lessons over Skype and review.

I have always thought that this is a very good option that online classes give you and you just cant get with face to face, however not many students seem to use it unfortunately.

For the other issues you described, those sound very much about teaching quality so there wouldnt be much difference between online or face to face I assume? One reason I suspect why online classes might not be so good is because the terms offered to teachers or schools tend to be very poor, with very low prices, options to cancel all the time, in frequent and only very short lessons etc. As a result good teachers wont teach online (most of ours wouldnt even consider it if it wasnt for the current situation) as for the teacher this is not a good way to earn a living.


On 2/21/2020 at 6:01 PM, Shelley said:

so level appropriate TV programs, movies, books, and even games and more

I really like that idea. At the end of a class give a list of movies or TV shows to watch makes a lot of sense. There is a lot of information out there of course but to offer it according to a students level makes life a lot easier for them. Of course for lower levels they will all be too demanding really, because movies are made for native speakers, but that is the case with real immersion too - shop owners and taxi drivers in China will speak too fast for learners too, but to slowly overcome this is what makes immersion successful.


On 2/21/2020 at 8:09 PM, Jan Finster said:

Out of curiosity, how do you prevent your teachers to go freelance online with your (former) students?

This has never been much of a problem. I think once a teacher ten years ago offered that to a student in Beijing, but thats the only case I am aware of. Keep in mind that administration, website etc. need to be done by someone - if not by a school then the teacher needs to do it themselves or some website will do it and then control the teacher. Someone needs to discuss terms with students, help the student find the teacher and chase the student down to actually pay for their course if they dont and most importantly guarantee a constant income by always having students (even through Christmas, holidays or Corona viruses) - all of which are things that teachers dont like doing. Good teachers want to teach and usually not much else. Plus having a real job, with maternity leave, sick days, holidays etc. is worth a lot. Free lance online teachers apply for jobs with us all the time, but so far I have never seen one of our teachers quit to teach online or free lance. While exceptions I am sure exist, being a free lance teacher finding your own students or working through a website offering no guaranteed hours or protection from endless cancelations is a situation only teachers who dont have much of a choice put up with usually.


On 2/21/2020 at 8:45 PM, PerpetualChange said:

I've tried that and those arrangements never seem to work out in the long term when you're not paying someone for their time

Yes, I have seen that too. You are right also that it is possible to can get better quality classes at a lower price point when you go online then would be offered in most western countries. The issue for us as a school is that online classes tend to end up as a race to the bottom, so trying to compete by offering even cheaper classes with even more cancellations, which is a game that we cannot win because good and experienced teachers simply wont accept those terms. I still think it can work as you can get a very experienced high quality teacher from China for a similar price as a university student part time teacher in Europe or the US, so you get a lot more teaching quality for the same price - though it is online, so there might be something lost there.


On 2/22/2020 at 4:12 AM, abcdefg said:

"My student is already on Book 2 after only six weeks." 

Yes, that is a risk both online and offline - though thats pretty basic teaching skill and hopefully any teacher would learn pretty fast. Measuring your professional performance by how many chapters you went through in what time and not what a student actually remembers is going to lead to horrible outcomes. For me thats an argument for high end language schools - being willing to pay a bit more to make sure that you dont get a teacher like this (or more likely a teacher is coached and taught to correct that approach).


On 2/22/2020 at 6:31 AM, mungouk said:

OK, enough. Hope some of that helps!

Those are some great real studying experiences and thoughts, thanks!


On 2/22/2020 at 8:47 AM, Flickserve said:

how good are your teachers at recognising this issue,

Hopefully very good - as any good teacher should be. Personally I find one hour too short for an effective class so my advice would be to extend this. Also speak to your teacher about your preferences, especially if you already have a pretty good idea what you want (based one experience I assume). Talking freely at the beginning can make a lot of sense for many students as it gives a bit more of a relaxed feeling to start the class and also gives a student the option to ask questions they might have (for example some vocab they didnt understand when talking to the homestay, needing to learn sentence structures for buying tickets for a trip on the weekend etc.) so structuring it that way is not an indication of poor lesson planning, just different personal preferences. I am sure your teacher will be able to adjust their lesson plan to how you prefer it. Dont be shy to talk to them, teachers are usually very open for positive suggestions - we spend a lot of time trying to figure out how our students want their classes and when someone actually knows and tells you, it makes our lives much easier.


1 hour ago, TheWind said:

t's not so great for entry level learners who may need to learn from your body language or if their listening is so good

thats very interesting. Why did you find that? With a good microphone and well working camera the student should be able to hear sound and watch body language through an online class too?



Finally: thanks for all the replies! I really didnt expect that much feedback. As you can imagine we are currently going through a very rough time. Differently to many other companies who have no more customers in China at the moment, we will not cut any salaries, keep running and working through this, but we lost 90% of our students have very few bookings for the future and loads of cancellations. It is a very difficult situation we (and everyone else) is in. Plus the quarantine and restrictions on going out are starting to take a strong emotional toll on our team members too. I am not a religious person, but I am literally praying this will be over very soon. 武汉加油。

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On 2/23/2020 at 9:05 PM, TheWind said:

a lot of the times the connection isn't so good, especially here in China.  Often times you have to turn of the video and are forced to rely on their listening skills

We find usually zoom works quite well for students who are outside of China, while WeChat can be a good option when both student and teacher are in China.

Of course some kind of stable connection is needed, usually that works well though.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Cambridge International have just shared a pretty comprehensive list of different categories of online tools for teaching and learning that might be useful:




@zhouhaochen — how are you guys getting on?

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The online classes are going well, but it is only a small number of students studying unfortunately. We have dozens of Chinese teachers sitting around with nothing to do which is really not a great situation. We are in the process of creating a new website for online classes., should hopefully be finished next week.

Our Shanghai school opened again and we had our first (very small) student event with a screening of 妖猫传 at the school yesterday. Beijing is still under lock down and people are not allowed to enter most buildings still. Chengde and Beihai are running normally and we just started construction on our new Beihai school this Monday, which is a nice thing to do as it is building something new instead of the constant walk towards doom that everything else feels like.

This situation is a bit shitty for everyone, but I am telling you you particularly do not want to be running an immersion Chinese language school at this point in time.


LTL Shanghai movie screening.png

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5 hours ago, mungouk said:

starting to get a lot better in China


Yes absolutely they are. Life is turning back to normal slowly (not there yet, but moving that way) and new cases seem to be under control, even in Wuhan by now. Having even a little tiny student activity in Shanghai this week was a very happy moment for me.


However, as an immersion Chinese language school what we do is to help people to experience Chinese and live immersed in that cultural environment. And international travel is an integral part of this. So the current outbreaks in Europe and the US are hitting us (and I am sure not just us, but all Chinese language schools) even worse than the one in China did.

Plus, the way it is looking this is going to be an ongoing thing, potentially for quite a long time with international travel restrictions. The news coming out from the German, UK etc. governments currently sound more like most people will get infected and this will take a year or two maybe to finish.

We are very lucky that we have been around for a long time and are very stable as a company so we will get through this, even if it takes a year or two. I know just five years ago we might not have. A lot of other companies in China that will not. It is really not very happy to see.


But then I have no idea what the future there will bring. Who knows, it might just all be much better. I certainly hope so.


For the moment we are working full speed on our online classes - our teachers need the work even more than we as a school do and we will try everything possible to achieve that.


Ok, enough moaning....things change, sometimes I feel quite optimistic, sometimes not at all. Today is more of the second type, but then that might already be very different tomorrow.


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