I wanted to share my review of Rocket Chinese and the results I got from a year-long experiment testing it out.
It's a very popular Mandarin Chinese course (actually 3 individual courses), but it's hard to sift through the mountain of fake reviews and nonsense to find accurate info about whether or not the program actually works.
I should say: any opinion of Rocket Chinese is going to depend on personal goals and learning style (aka subjective).
What I mean by this is that Rocket Chinese is a structured, A to Z course, leading the student from zero knowledge to advanced lessons in Level 3.
So it's designed to be a course that you follow from start to finish.
For some learners (myself included), this might feel a bit restrictive if you prefer to learn your own way.
Other people prefer guidance (which makes Rocket Chinese ideal for them).
As for the company, it's been around for ages.
Rocket Languages has been running for (I think) 15+ years out of Christchurch, New Zealand and they're a well-known (and respected for the most part) brand. Not quite to the extent that something like Pimsleur is, for example, but definitely one of the biggest online course providers for Chinese and other languages.
At the end of the day, the two questions that matter to me are:
- Does Rocket Chinese work? (i.e. does it produce results)
- If it does work, how far does it get you? (what level of Chinese fluency can you expect after it)
I'll do my best to answer these questions from my own experience.
But here's a quick table summary of my review for the impatient:
- Easily the most comprehensive Chinese course online
- High quality, natural Chinese dialogues
- Well-structured and designed
- One-time payment option
- Fully downloadable
- Mobile app included
- Uses Google voice recognition technology
- Active and helpful community
- Structured format may feel too rigid for autodidacts
- Spammy company reputation
- No video component
- Quizzes are poorly implemented
- Uninspiring interface
1. Rocket Chinese is best suited for people who like structure
Okay, so I already touched on this but let me expand briefly.
Most of the people who regularly read Yearlyglot are autodidacts - people who prefer to learn languages their own way, according to what works for them.
It's my own belief that there are some learners out there who just don't do well in a structured environment.
Some people thrive with self-guided learning.
Any honest review of Rocket Chinese should mention that it's designed for the opposite style of learner.
It's a structured, linear course that has numbered modules and lessons moving you from start to finish.
That means that a person who does better learning their own way may feel that Rocket Chinese is too rigid and linear for their tastes.
Yes, there's a but. 🙂
You aren't required to move in a linear progression with Rocket Chinese.
You do have the option of jumping ahead and doing things your own way.
So although it's technically designed as a course to be followed in one direction, you can use it differently if you prefer to.
The other point worth mentioning is that you do have the ability to only buy, for example, Level 3 (and skip lower levels) if you're already at a high level.
2. Rocket Chinese's reputation doesn't do it any justice
I've learned through numerous interactions that Rocket Chinese doesn't have the greatest reputation in the polyglot community.
Its name tends to be associated with spammy marketing.
This may have something to do with the company's early marketing days when its partners promoted Rocket heavily in what today would be regarded as unsolicited junk mail (not to mention all the fake Rocket Chinese reviews floating around).
But it's actually a great company and platform irrespective of what some early impressions were.
In recent years, the Rocket Languages name has become a favorite among some of the biggest language learning influencers online.
3. Rocket Chinese uses the best speech recognition technology in the world (but it's not their own patented technology)
One of the things that made Rosetta Stone famous back in the day was its patented speech recognition technology.
RS was way ahead of the game back then.
Other companies (e.g. Babbel) have emerged with their own similar tech.
While researching for this review, I learned that Rocket Chinese utilizes the superior speech recognition developed by Google, and made available to the world through their API.
Google has done some amazing work on speech recognition in so many different languages.
I don't think anything compares to it honestly.
So in Rocket Chinese, when you record your voice to check your pronunciation, the Rocket Chinese server basically sends the voice sample to Google which then computes whether or not it's accurate.
It returns a positive or negative response.
It's a brilliant implementation of a freely available technology that really works accurately to check your Chinese pronunciation for mistakes.
4. You can download Rocket Chinese and use it offline
As it stands, when you become a member of Rocket Chinese, you're given the option in every lesson to download the material to your computer.
Although you have permanent access to their mobile app and online course platform, you're also freely allowed to download and store all the material locally as MP3 and PDF files.
I can't emphasize how great this is.
In a world where everything is becoming dependent on online subscriptions that heavily restrict your access to stuff you've paid for, Rocket Chinese still lets you download and own their course.
Imagine owning what you paid for! 🙂
So basically, you can pay once, download the whole course, then never go back to the site if you wish (though you'd miss out on the voice recognition and community aspects).
If you're in a language class, you can use the downloaded Rocket Chinese material in your lessons.
5. Lessons are delivered as short podcasts (but just use the dialogues)
Rocket Chinese podcast lessons are introduced and hosted by Alex (an English speaker) and Maria (an Chinese).
This "banter" style has become quite popular in recent years (see ChineseClass101 also).
I recommend just sticking to the dialogues, however.
Thankfully, Rocket Chinese gives you the option to just listen directly to the native Mandarin dialogue and skip the podcasts (I've mentioned the value of this in past reviews). It may be helpful to some people, but I'm not a fan of listening to podcasts.
With the dialogue audio, you can do what you want and learn your own way.
Use them for repetitive listening practice.
6. A review of Rocket Chinese pricing (and their extended refund policy)
Most online language course subscriptions have a 30 day refund policy.
Rocket Chinese actually has a 60 day policy.
It's quite long when you think about it but it's great to know for basically two whole months, you can ascertain whether or not Rocket Chinese is a good fit.
This is generous, especially considering the courses are on the higher end of the pricing scale.
Here's the Rocket Chinese pricing:
Level 1: $149.95
Level 1 and 2: $299.90
Level 1,2 and 3: $449.85
But there's an auto-applied discount code that brings this down usually.
Even better: sometimes they run 60% off discounts at special times during the year. If you can get in on one of these deals, you can get the entire package (3 levels) at almost the same price as the single level at the regular price.
Keep your eyes out for those price drops when they happen.
7. There's a free iOS and Android app that is definitely worth installing
It's probably one of the simplest apps I've seen for a course this big.
No bells and whistles - just a clean interface with menus that take you straight to the content.
No ads or annoying distractions.
I highly recommend installing the Rocket Languages app and using in place of the website. It's also super handy to carry around and learn while you're waiting on a train or doctor's office, or whatever.
The best part is that the app is 100% free to use.
8. Don't cheap out on the travelogue - it's worth it
There's an additional "add-on" to Rocket Chinese called the "travelogue".
Take my advice: get it.
A lot of people who sign up for Rocket Chinese ignore it but it has almost 3000 additional Chinese phrases that are absolutely invaluable.
If you end up getting the full Rocket Chinese course or even just level 3 after reading this review, add the travelogue onto it for full value.
It's quite cheap compared to the rest of the course too.
9. The leaderboard and forum exist for a reason - use them
It's common nowadays in most language courses and online subscriptions to see some kind of community aspect built in.
In Rocket Chinese's case, there's a learner forum and a leaderboard.
The forum is for discussion, asking for help (from teachers and fellow learners), and also helping others (you may have the answers other people need).
As for the leaderboard, it's a way for you to "compete" with other learners.
Every time you complete lessons and modules, you earn points which move you up the ladder. In order to stay at the top, you need to keep coming back and learning more.
This is a great motivator and something you should really take advantage of.
Forums are also a great way to engage with others and seek help when you need it (or offer it).
10. All 3 levels of Rocket Chinese (+ Travelogue) offer the most comprehensive Mandarin Chinese course online
There just isn't any other Chinese course online of comparable depth and substance.
With all 3 levels and the travelogue, you have a quality Chinese resource that will last you many months or even years into your Chinese learning.
Regardless of your starting level.
I often say that you can achieve full fluency in Mandarin Chinese in just one year, and Rocket Chinese is more than sufficient as your primary course material.
There's a free trial anyway with a generous refund policy, so no risk to test it out.
For an alternative perspective or more info, see this review of Rocket Chinese.