Chinese Uncovered: Can You Learn Mandarin Chinese with This StoryLearning Course?
What is Chinese Uncovered?
Chinese Uncovered is an online StoryLearning course from polyglot Olly Richards that promises to transform you from a complete beginner to an intermediate Chinese speaker.
- what it’s for:
- Approaching the language, basic vocabulary, basic grammar and conjugation, pronunciation, culture knowledge, basic hanzi and pinyin
- Beginner - Intermediate
- One of the best tools we’ve found for learning Chinese
- Learning through story helps things stick in your mind
- The course is ideal for beginners
- Clear & concise video lessons with the teacher, Maggie
- Chinese culture tips & insights
- Good if you like learning by reading and listening
- Not for intermediate and advanced Chinese speakers
- Quizlet feature didn’t really help
- You’ll need other resources too to help you learn Chinese
- The story is dry compared to other Uncovered courses
So you saw Shang Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings and now you want to learn Chinese. And you’re thinking of using Chinese Uncovered to make it happen?
…Or is that too oddly specific and just me?
Well, don’t worry. I’ve got a review of Olly Richard’s StoryLearning course, Chinese Uncovered, with all the details to help you make an informed decision.
I LOVED his Japanese Uncovered course, the Japanese version of this one (read my full Star Wars-laden review here). And I had recently tried and reviewed Rocket Chinese from Rocket Languages, which was a dud for me.
I didn’t learn much from that course, and could hardly remember it by the time I started Chinese Uncovered. So I went into this as a total beginner.
And as I said, I was highly motivated to learn Chinese thanks to Marvel’s Shang Chi and how flipping cool Simu Liu and Meng’er Zhang are in it.
I’ve always had a great experience with Olly, his content, and courses so I went into this with high expectations. So how did it fare?
Let’s dive in.
Table of contents
- What Are Chinese Uncovered and StoryLearning?
- How Chinese Uncovered Works
- My Experience with Chinese Uncovered
- Chinese Uncovered Pros and Cons
- Chinese Uncovered Review: 4 Stars, A Good Course to Supplement Learning
StoryLearning is Olly Richard’s method of learning languages through story so the language becomes unforgettable. Chinese Uncovered uses that method to help you learn Chinese to build a rock-solid foundation in the language.
Chinese Uncovered is led by Maggie Wong, the course tutor, who is a professional Chinese teacher. While Ollie does some of the video introductions and check-ins, most of your time is spent with Maggie as she guides you through the language.
There are currently two levels of Chinese Uncovered: Level 1 (HSK – 1) and Level 2 (HSK – 2, only available to students who completed Level 1).
There’s also a “Skills Training” course called “Conversations” in Levels 1 and 2 to help improve Chinese listening skills.
Since I am starting out as a beginner, I studied only Level 1 of Chinese Uncovered for the purposes of this review.
Chinese Uncovered has you dig into the language right away from the first lesson.
The course is designed through 20 modules, and each module is a chapter of the story. The modules have about 8 lessons, each focused on learning a different part of the language.
The modules go like this:
- Story Chapter: This is where you listen to the audio reading, then read the text in Chinese and English.
- Vocabulary: A video lesson breaking down the new words in the chapter.
- Grammar: Video lesson breaking down the focus grammatical points of the chapter.
- Writing and Reading: This is where you learn the pinyin (English transliteration) and hanzi (Chinese characters).
- Pronunciation: This lesson helps you master Chinese tones and pronunciation.
- Culture lesson: An insight from the chapter or other notes about Chinese culture to help you have a deeper understanding of the language.
- Speaking activities: A guide of speaking exercises to practice with on your own or with a tutor.
There are also practice exercises through Quizlet where you can match, use flashcards, spell, and do multiple-choice learning.
You won’t understand much when you first start, but that’s by design. You jump into the language, listen, and then dive into learning.
Lastly, there is a group aspect and live coaching to aid your learning.
Let’s look at each component.
First, you’ll listen to the audio recording reading the first chapter of the story. Don’t worry, these are fairly short – only about 45 seconds to a minute long.
You’re encouraged to listen to the audio a few times, then read the transcript in Chinese. The transcript includes pinyin and hanzi so you’re introduced to both right away.
Then you’ll look through the English translations, and start working through the lessons explaining the material.
The “chapter” is only about 1 page of dialogue between two or more characters in the story. For Chinese Uncovered, you’re introduced to David (or Dà wèi in Chinese). He’s a UK university student studying abroad in China.
The story is never particularly exciting, and sometimes a bit strange. The first chapter is just David getting a glass of water and discovering it’s warm. (A common thing in China, you soon learn in the culture lesson.)
The point of the short dialogue is to keep reading encouraging and simple so you can learn. So while it’s not a riveting read, it does complete that task.
Next, we move on to the vocabulary video lesson. Maggie goes over the dialogue in the story and teaches you what the words mean.
You won’t always learn every word there is, but instead, focus on the most important ones to understand the bulk of the story.
Maggie’s explanations are thorough and well done, and she’s very pleasant to learn from.
After the video, you have the option to use the Quizlet feature to practice what you learned.
Then you learn the main grammar points for the chapter. There are usually several Maggie will focus on, and then you’re encouraged to go back and read the story again.
The goal here is now that you’ve learned the grammar and vocab, you should be able to go back, listen, and understand more.
This is where you learn how to read and write hanzi characters. Each lesson introduces new hanzi from the story but also radicals, which are the building blocks of more complex characters.
Maggie does an excellent job of making one of the harder aspects of Chinese seem easier to learn.
The pronunciation practice starts out as video lessons on pinyin: finales, initials, and tones. After chapter one, there is a section on these three videos to review.
But after that, the pronunciation practice becomes shadowing exercises. You’re encouraged to replay the audio and repeat what you hear in short chunks.
The text in these lessons says “later in the course, each chapter will include a special pronunciation and listening lesson.” But from chapter 4 – 20, there are only shadowing exercises.
I’m not sure if there’s more in level 2 or if this is a mistake, but there are only true pronunciation lessons once (which are repeated for review 3 times).
Language and culture go hand-.in-hand so it’s great to see culture lessons included here. Each chapter features a lesson on Chinese culture related to the chapter.
The speaking activities are a short PDF guide that asks you to practice a language point learned. It includes a student part and teacher part so you can practice what you learned with a tutor. There’s also sample dialogue.
These activities only contain one or two points to practice and are pretty short. They can be completed on your own, too.
At the end of each chapter, there’s a review lesson. You listen to the audio again and take a short (5-question) comprehension quiz.
Periodically through the course, there’s a short check-in video with Olly.
Circle is the group chat feature that is linked inside the course. You click the dialogue bubbles on the bottom right corner and Circle opens up.
Within Circle, there’s the StoryLearning HQ and you can ask questions about the course material or chat with others. This is also where you find the live coaching info.
I have some thoughts on this, but more on that in a moment.
I found Chinese Uncovered to be an enjoyable introduction to Chinese. From the first lesson, I felt excited about speaking. I remember coming home from the coffee shop where I’d studied and told my husband all the new things I learned from just day 1.
He was surprised and impressed at how much I learned and recalled from only about an hour of study.
The lessons are a great length for me. As a busy mom, I don’t often get to sit and study for longer than 20-30 minutes at a time on a good day. Each lesson is about 10-25 minutes long.
An entire module takes about an hour to complete, not including review.
I’m quite happy with my progress and what I’ve remembered so far, although I did find the story itself less engaging. For a program designed around the story itself, I found it more boring than Japanese Uncovered or Spanish Uncovered.
The dialogue at times felt more stiff and unnatural than a normal story would, or even how a learner would want to speak.
But the video lessons were great and I enjoyed learning with Maggie. She made it very easy to learn and remember, and her lessons were very clear.
On occasion, the video wasn’t edited where it should’ve been and you’d see a mistake by Maggie and her start over. It was clear it was meant to be cut out, but wasn’t. But that wasn’t a big deal at all, just a minor note.
I didn’t enjoy using Quizlet as much as the previous practice materials Ollie had in his courses. In the past, there were PDF worksheets for practice with questions.
Quizlet is a nice idea, but I didn’t feel like it helped me learn or remember. Compared to 90 Day Korean’s similar interactive quiz features, Quizlet wasn’t as effective.
That said, I found Chinese Uncovered to be a pleasant course to learn Chinese with and that the material was well thought out and structured.
Let’s get into the nitty-gritty now: the pros and cons.
Can you really learn Chinese from reading, when it’s a completely different writing system??
Ollie has managed to achieve this feat with Chinese Uncovered. The course has a well-thought-out structure and the learning lessons are enjoyable.
I enjoy his method of learning new words and grammar through story, because it helps it stick better in your mind. I could recall more Chinese this way than I could before. This is the strongest feature of the course.
Maggie does a great job of explaining tones and pronunciation, and her videos are clear, concise, and pleasant. She gives off a good vibe, and I loved learning with her.
I like the slow-and-steady approach to reading, it helps reduce overwhelm – especially with a language as complex as Chinese. There’s already so much to understand, and the reading always seems approachable here.
The lessons are a great length for beginners, too. They’re short and to the point.
That said, I do believe this would have to be one resource in your toolkit to learn Chinese. Nothing wrong with that – but add additional resources to supplement some of the gaps. Such as a Chinese tutor on Preply, or a flashcard app that’s more effective, like Anki.
I can’t speak to the live coaching or community support for Chinese because I wasn’t able to attend/join, but I do have thoughts on Circle as a whole below.
There were three main cons for me.
The first is that the story itself wasn’t very entertaining. Compared to Japanese Uncovered especially, the story was quite dry. Japanese Uncovered was written more like an actual book, and the dialogue was more natural and engaging.
And by chapter 20, Japanese Uncovered’s audio was about 3 minutes long and 3 pages in reading. In Chinese Uncovered, the audio is still only 1 minute and 1 page long. So it felt like it went into more of an intermediate level in Japanese than Chinese.
(Plus, Japanese Uncovered had more bonus videos and cute manga drawings for each chapter.)
Second, I wasn’t a fan of the Quizlet practice feature. I didn’t find it helpful in remembering what I learned, especially because it was 100% in hanzi and I was still learning to remember and read them.
Besides removing much of the writing practice by switching to Quizlet, I felt the types of practice weren’t quite as effective. I preferred the old worksheets that they had before.
Third, I didn’t find Circle to be well explained/laid out. When I joined Circle, I could only see the StoryLearning HQ and the last post was 4 months prior. I was confused and didn’t post because it seemed like something that wasn’t being used anymore.
I checked Circle again only a week before finishing this review, and an admin had recently posted. I found out from comments that there are language-specific circles you have to be added to, and that’s how you find the live coaching calls, etc.
But this wasn’t clearly explained at all, and I was never added so I wasn’t able to see this feature.
When I did ask a question about where to find the live coaching calls, a fellow learner replied and answered. I never received a reply from an admin, and I didn’t see anyone else get a reply either. (Although it could’ve been resolved in DMs, to be fair. But I didn’t receive one.)
I also never would have found where the live coaching calls were if not for the other learner’s reply.
So I wasn’t impressed with this function or how it was laid out. It also seemed to promise things that weren’t there/maintained, and I wasn’t the only one who thought so as others were confused, too.
The only other two minor cons I have are the pronunciation and speaking activities.
The pronunciation videos are great! But after chapter 2, they become nothing but shadowing exercises. Chinese is quite difficult with tones, so I feel like more could’ve been offered here.
The speaking activities were fine, but I found them to be pretty short and simple. They were often quick answer questions to practice on your own or with a tutor, but I felt they could’ve pushed you a little more or included more detail.
But both of these last two things didn’t impact my enjoyment or score, so they’re pretty small details.
I enjoyed Chinese Uncovered! As direct as I was about the cons, I found it to be a great option for learning Chinese. (Definitely one of the best I’ve found out there!)
If you love reading and you learn best by reading/hearing (like I do!), I think this is a fantastic option for you. But don’t jump in expecting a novel-worthy story – use this as a jumping-off point to more enticing Chinese stories.
I think Chinese Uncovered does a great job of easing you into a notoriously difficult language for English learners. It’s a well-rounded and well-structured course.
I give it 4 out of 5 stars and definitely recommend it!