How to Learn Chinese:

If you're new to Popup Chinese read on to learn why we are the most recommended Chinese learning program online, or create a free account and start learning Chinese yourself with for instant access to our massive archive of Chinese lessons.

Why is Learning Chinese so Difficult?

Most people who want to learn Chinese to a professional level signup for physical classes at a local school or university. These programs typically adopt Chinese textbooks like the Integrated Chinese series which break the learning process down into around sixty lessons spread over four years.

In theory, students are supposed to be fluent by the time they graduate. In practice, few master even conversational Chinese. The dropout rate in the average Chinese learning program is between 50 and 75 percent per year, with these rates only slightly disguised by enrollment peculiarities. As first year students abandon learning Chinese they get replaced by family-background students who are parachuted into higher levels.

There are a lot of reasons why traditional institutions fail to teach Chinese effectively. But what is the alternative? Based on our experiences and those of our peers in the fluent Beijing expat community, we believe it requires leaving behind slow group classes and embracing a more convenient and fun alternative that radically ramps up student exposure to real-world spoken Chinese. Students need to cover a lot more material much faster, and enjoy the process so they stick with it.

And Popup Chinese is the solution, really?

Absolutely. Instead of a series of sixty lessons designed to be studied in sequence, we have thousands of lessons you can study as quickly as your schedule allows. We keep things fun and creative so you don't get bored. And our system focuses on helping you make more efficient use of your time, recommending progressively difficult content as you grow more competent in Chinese. The result is so fun and effective that Popup Chinese has gained a reputation as the best online Chinese learning platform in existence, with unqualified recommendations from both leading Sinologists such as David Moser, as well as business and arts luminaries including Kaiser Kuo.

And unlike commercial products that promise heaven-and-earth but want your credit card number up-front, you never need to pay us to learn Chinese. While we have premium tools and materials that will help you learn Chinese faster, core to our approach is a massive archive of Chinese lessons and podcasts you can listen to for free. These feature real-world Chinese instead of artificial and pre-scripted dialogues. They are divided into four rough difficulty grades:

Absolute Beginners
  • Students with under 6 months of study
  • Very high-frequency words and vocabulary
  • Almost all banter in English
  • Students with 1/2 to 2 years of study
  • Routine vocabulary in simple sentences
  • English mixed with fairly simple Chinese
  • Students with 2+ years of study
  • Complex sentences and grammar patterns
  • English reinforces native-level Chinese
  • Students with 3+ years of study
  • Broader topics, styles and accents
  • Almost entirely native-level Chinese

Many people who start using Popup Chinese find it strange adjusting to setting their own pace, only to become hardened converts after a week or so of use. But it makes sense: instead of learning things you already know, you'll spend time exposed to new ideas and new vocabulary. And you can do it all on the go: learning Chinese while commuting, cooking or even exercising.

Practical Advice on How to Learn Chinese:

Once you've created an account, our system will add all of our Chinese lessons to your account right away. Download them to your mp3 player and listen to them at your leisure. If you want more structure, head on over to our study center and take our Popup Chinese placement test for a more structured introduction to the Chinese language. Download and listen: it is really that simple.

And finally, once you are signed up, don't forget to visit your account page to customize the way Popup Chinese works. Setting your display preference will automatically customize your mp3 files, pdf transcripts and the way site features like our flashcards and Chinese writing pad work. This is just one of many small features that just make your life easier. Once you've started using them you won't be able to go back to your previous way of studying.

A Final Word:

At Popup Chinese we are proud to be completely independent and uncensored. If you enjoy learning Chinese with us, please take a moment and help support us in our mission. This is as easy as reviewing us online, linking to us from your personal blog, or just telling your friends. And if you can't help spread word, why not support us directly by upgrading to a paid subscription? We have three paid subscription tiers, all of which cost much less than a single offline Chinese course:

If you need to get in touch? Our address is Beijing is 75 Chaoyangmen Nei Dajie, Building #8, Entry #2, Suite #301. We can also be reached via phone at (86) 84030540, or via email at

The Popup Chinese Team:

Echo Yao
Echo Yao is a native Beijinger and graduate of the Beijing Language and Culture University, where she majored in Teaching Chinese as a Foreign Language. She has been teaching mandarin offline since 2004 and online since 2006, and frequently reminds us about the time she was cheek-kissed by the President of Chile.

Brendan O'Kane
Brendan O'Kane is a writer, translator and teacher known for his work with Paper Republic. In addition to writing a popular Chinese-language column for the Macao Times, Brendan has worked as a script translator in the film industry and also teaches literary translation with IES Beijing. If you've seen Nanjing, Nanjing or Let the Bullets Fly you've read his work.

David Lancashire
David Lancashire has a graduate degree from UC Berkeley and years of experience with Chinese language teaching and learning. He heads up the technology side of things here, so if things are broken he is the one to contact:
What people are saying:
I love your site; in fact I'm addicted to it.... I started learning Mandarin with Rosetta Stone, but find Popup Chinese so much more relevant.
D. Andrew, Entrepreneur
Popup Chinese is the cat's meow....
David Moser, Academic Director CET
The lessons are consistently full of win.... Both the dialogues and the explanations are entertaining and the language in them is very useful. So basically the opposite of using the conventional textbooks that have guided my first couple of years of studying Chinese.
Mark's China Blog
I was amazed on my last trip to China, because I went to Taiyuan, where they say "pingr". I heard it first on Popup Chinese! The conversations on the site at first sounded slurred, but now I notice that that is the way people speak. I listen to my older teaching materials and they are slow and too perfect.
E.H., Engineer
Popup Chinese is seriously a godsend!
E. Shea, Student
If you want to learn Chinese online Popup Chinese is the best service I have found.
Bill Bishop, Entrepreneur
I'm really enjoying Popup Chinese... the authentic sound and pace of the dialogues - even the elementary lessons are spoken at the actual speed you'll hear people speak here, and loaded with kouyuhua.
I've lived for 30 years and Pop Up Chinese is one of the few amusements that convinces me to delay death each day.
Popup Chinese deserves its spot near the top of Chinese podcast services.... It strikes me as having a better 'attitude' to Chinese studies, and offers a bit more depth than other providers.
East Asia Student