Yes, it’s possible to get free Chinese lessons. There are a lot of good resources, in fact, some terrific resources, for learning Chinese where you don’t have to pay a cent. I’ll recommend here what, in my opinion, are the best free Mandarin lessons out there.
Also this list is aimed at the beginning Chinese learner, though some of the resources also have upper level options.
The first thing to mention when it comes to free Chinese lessons are podcasts. Podcasts are great for learning any language and many of the Mandarin podcasts are free.
Are you new to podcasts? Podcasts are audio programs (though could be video as well) that are published regularly to the web. You can simply download them from the podcaster’s website or automatically get these things delivered to your electronic door by subscribing to feeds using iTunes or something similar.
There are quite a few free Chinese lessons in the form of podcasts to choose from, but let’s save some time and just give you the best.
I use these myself, by the way.
This is the Daddy of them all. Much to say about ChinesePod, but I’ll limit myself by saying these podcasts are entertaining, very professional, and there are more of these than you could ever need.
The catch here is that only their ‘newbie’ level shows are available free to download. But actually there's some flexibility here...
You can take advantage of their free one week trial. During that time you can feast on any and all the podcasts you’d like. I don’t think they mind you doing this so much, because many folks are probably like me – they do just that, download a bunch of free stuff during the trial, but eventually later become paying customers.
During the trial you can also grab the pdf files that have the key text and vocab with pinyin and English translation. There are other features worth checking out there, too. (I’m a fan of their ‘audio review’ feature.)
I like this one quite a bit, and unlike Chinesepod, all of the audio podcasts on CSLpod are available for free. Also unlike Chinesepod, the program is done all in Chinese, which you may feel is either a plus or a minus. They keep it easy to understand according to the level you’re at, so I consider it a plus.
There are paid subscription options, too, if you want the pdf lesson guide. Subscriptions to CSLPod are $10 per month, which is cheaper than Chinese Pod ($29 per month). But of course, if you’re comparing it to Chinesepod, you do miss cool extras like the audio review.
(Note: at CSLpod’s beginning level, it may be rough going without the pdf which supplies the translation.)
But hold on just a minute. How did I get to talking about prices in an article about free Chinese lessons? Ok, then, let’s get to some stuff that is truly 100% free.
But how could that be? Who can afford to be so generous?
The government of China has been very encouraging of us all learning Chinese, and has been putting up plenty of funds to support it, too.
China's generosity in sharing their language comes to us in many forms, such as scholarships for foreigners to study Chinese in Chinese Universities, trained Chinese teachers sent to other countries to teach Mandarin, and other small treats such as (and now I’m getting to the point)...
free Mandarin lessons from CCTV’s (China’s Central Television’s) website!
There are a few options here for the beginning learner on this site. I feel confident I can recommend to beginning Chinese learners this tv show, Growing Up With Chinese, which is a series of free Chinese lessons that also can be watched on-line. There are study guides to download along with each show.
Each show is 15 minutes, and I think the format is overall, quite good.
If you find that program too language intensive (nothing wrong with that), you can take it easy with Easy Chinese with Aurora Carlson, from CCTV. This show takes the language in smaller bite-size chunks, one Chinese phrase at a time.
But definitely try the Growing Up With Chinese show before that one, because if you do like the Growing Up show, you will make better progress with it in the long term than you would with the simpler one.
Also, on the CCTV website you’ll see a program called “Survival Chinese” which actually links to a podcast, iMandarinPod. But I don’t think this program is as good as either of the two podcasts I first mentioned, though it may be worth a try.
Remember that learning Chinese with podcasts has the great advantage that you can learn on the go.
One more series of free Chinese lessons that can be found on the CCTV site is CRI Chinese Studio . This is a collection of 5 minute audio lessons for the beginner. They have an English speaking guy on the show, but beware: the foreigner speaking Chinese (unlike Chinesepod's crew) bungles his tones now and then, and the Chinese person’s English you may find less than pleasant.
On the good side, the language they cover is right on the mark as far as usefulness. And the sound quality is good. (And did I mention it’s free?)
Also, the transcript of each lesson can be viewed on the website as you listen. Every single word of the dialogue is written out, including the English that is spoken, as opposed to just the key dialogue or vocabulary. That's another point that could be a plus or minus for you, depending on your own preference.
Also, you may find our Chinese learning software, Mandarin Player, to be useful for learning common phrases and dialogs. The app lets you study and interact with dialogs that, according to my own ten years of experience living in China, I find are often repeated in daily life.
Mandarin Player is totally free and has over 60 dialogs and growing.
Here's a screenshot showing one of the beginner dialogs...
And that about rounds out my list of free Mandarin lessons.
It’s probably clear to you that I didn’t take the approach here of listing all the free Chinese lessons that I know of. I think it’s much more helpful for you that I select the ones that I think are really high in value, so that you are saved the time of sifting through a longer list.
And less wasted time means more time to study Mandarin Chinese and more time to be …happy everyday! 天天快乐！