Montreal has a worldwide reputation as one of North America’s only bilingual cities with two official languages, English and French. However, with a growing Chinese diaspora, the city also has abundant opportunities for learning Mandarin Chinese as a second or even third language. The diverse offerings from longstanding institutions and smaller schools, plus private tutors and local meetups can be overwhelming, so here we aim to provide you with an overview of your options to help you find something that works for your learning needs, schedule, and budget.
As you read this list, think about how you would feel in each learning environment and ask yourself a few questions:
Do I like being in a big group class where I can practice and socialize with other students, or do I feel anxious or distracted when there are so many people?This class takes place at night. Do I really have energy for studying after spending the whole day at work? Is there a weekend option instead?Online classes seem really convenient, but will I find it easier to focus when I’m face-to-face with my teacher?I really like the idea of a personal tutor, do I have enough money to pay for a lesson each week? Can I do a lesson every two weeks instead?
When there are so many different factors to keep track of, think of the things that are going to have the highest impact on your learning experience. For example, if your budget is really limited, but your schedule is more flexible, then you can focus on the options that meet those requirements.
1. The Confucius Institute in Montreal
Named after the famous ancient Chinese philosopher Confucius, this organization was set up by the Chinese government to promote the Chinese language and culture overseas. Its branches are usually connected to a university, in Montreal being Dawson College. However, because they are a part of the same organization, the curriculum and teaching style is rather uniform. Due to the rigid structure, I would recommend these classes for anyone wanting to see what it’s like learning the language or wanting to pick it up again. They also offer HSK preparation classes. The HSK exam is the official government-recognized Chinese proficiency test; it is highly recommended to take it if you want to work or study in China.
While the course descriptions and other information about the Institute is available on the Confucius Institute in Quebec website, the course schedule for each session will be posted on the continuing education section of the Dawson College website. With a price tag of $240 CAD per 30 hours of instruction each semester, these courses are quite budget friendly compared to the cost of private tutoring.
2. Local Montreal Chinese Schools
If you’re looking for a learning experience that goes beyond linguistic knowledge and helps you become more engaged with Chinese culture, look no further than Montreal’s own local Chinese schools. Here you’ll find a more immersive learning environment than anywhere else. Each school is like its own community, making it an ideal space for not only studying the language and culture but actually engaging with it as well. These schools are an excellent option for families as they have classes available for both children and adults. Thanks to the fact that these schools are non-profit, they are often more affordable than other options as well.
This non-profit school was established over 40 years ago, in 1983, with the aim of promoting overseas Chinese linguistic and cultural education. Located in Saint Laurent, it’s accessible via public transportation, but it is a far more convenient trip if you drive a car. All of their classes are held on Sundays, making them a practical option for adults with full-time work or studies as well as busy families. Classes are held for two hours each week, and you can expect to pay around $250-$300 CAD for each semester, making this one of the most cost-effective options on this list.
Their course offerings for children are very diverse, covering not only Chinese language and culture but also other school subjects including math, English, and French. One of the unique things about their Chinese classes for children is that there are classes intended for both native and non-native speakers, meaning that your child can come and learn even if they do not speak Mandarin at home already.
For adults, they offer conversational Chinese classes for both lower and upper levels. While they don’t offer the same variety of courses that they have for younger learners, the adult conversation courses are available both in the morning and afternoon, meaning that you can likely find a timeslot that works for your schedule. Plus, it can be a convenient opportunity for you to take classes at the same time as your children.
Located on the same campus as Dawson College, the JiaoHua School is another non-profit Chinese school offering a huge variety of courses for school-age children and a smaller selection of conversational classes for adults. What sets it apart from The Montreal Chinese school mentioned above is that they offer weekday evening classes and even online classes. The tuition cost can vary greatly, with adult classes starting at approximately $120 CAD and some weekday children’s programs costing around $360 CAD.
Their course offerings for children include Mandarin Chinese classes for both native and non-native speakers, other academic subjects, and fine arts. Their adult Chinese courses take place both in-person and online on Saturday mornings from 9:30am to 11:20am. Bear in mind that registration for each school year begins well in advance, with in-person and online registration for the fall semester beginning as early as April. I would also recommend this school for parents who are looking to learn alongside their children or who may be looking for extracurricular activities for their children.
While formal Chinese schools and university programs offer a more structured learning experience, sometimes they can be too rigid in terms of both schedule and curriculum. This is where going with a personalized tutor may be more your speed. While hiring a tutor will generally cost more than the previously mentioned courses, you may see that you feel more engaged and progress faster when you can focus on the content that is most relevant to you. A one-on-one or small group approach will also ensure that you receive more individualized attention and feedback, which can be crucial for helping you reach your learning targets.
With an overflowing list of positive reviews and a history of collaboration with major Montreal organizations, including Desjardins and UQÀM, Anna has earned her stellar reputation. Her qualifications cannot be overstated: she has a master’s degree in second language education and over 20 years of teaching experience. What I find truly excellent is that your lessons with her can be whatever you need them to be. Anna offers one-on-one lessons, small group sessions, and large group classes. She is also ready to adapt to whatever your learning needs and goals are, including HSK preparation, business Chinese, daily conversation, and travel. She also nails the convenience factor because she holds her lesson in-person, online, and even by telephone if need be. When it comes to pricing, there is a high variability that depends on class size, lesson length, and other factors. Anna herself will provide you with an individualized quote when you get in contact. I think it’s pretty clear that Anna offers a true one-stop-shop for Chinese lessons, where she’ll act as your personal tailor.
3. Online Chinese Tutors
When learning a global language like Chinese, sometimes you need to consider that the best teacher for you may not currently be in Montreal. If you think that might be the case for you, no worries, we’ve still got you covered. Online tutors from all around the world can offer even more flexibility in terms of schedule and price point, but you may have to put in more research to find the right person to help you reach your learning goals.
iTalki is an online foreign language tutoring platform that offers one-on-one sessions with thousands of tutors from all around the world, including over 1,300 tutors for Mandarin Chinese. The biggest selling point of this service is its level of flexibility: flexible schedule, pricing, and lesson types. As opposed to other tutoring services, you are not assigned a specific tutor. You’re in the driver’s seat and have complete control over which tutors you’d like to reach out to and try a lesson with. Many tutors on iTalki offer discounted trial lessons, which allows you to get a feel for their teaching style before committing to more classes.
One downside to having so much control is that it can take a lot of time and effort to research tutors, checking their qualifications, reviews, availability, and prices. You can search for tutors based on specific criteria, such as teaching credentials and whether or not they’re a native speaker of Chinese. Another thing that can help you select a suitable tutor is through video introductions that you can find on each tutor’s profile. It’s amazing how quickly you can tell if someone is a good match just based on the vibes from their video clip.
Touch Chinese is a completely different experience from iTalki for a few reasons. Namely, Touch Chinese is exclusively focused on providing the best quality tutoring experience specifically for Mandarin Chinese. They very carefully vet all of their teachers to ensure that they have the necessary teaching experience and provide an engaging experience for students. You can read all of their teachers’ profiles and request a specific one, or you can allow them to match you with someone who fits your schedule and learning needs. They offer free trial classes to ensure that you’re paired with the teacher who is right for you.
While initially this may seem like a very formal approach, I’ve found that Touch Chinese’s tutors are always ready to adapt to my unique learning needs. They can offer more structured classes for HSK preparation and business Chinese, or they can provide conversation practice with specific feedback. While Touch Chinese’s services may cost a little more than independent tutors on iTalki, there’s a much higher standard of quality.
BONUS: Language Meetups in Montreal for Practicing Chinese
Just one of the many great things about living in Montreal is that it’s a lively city full of activity. As a global hotspot for linguists and polyglots, there are several free meetups all over the city where you can come and sharpen your language skills.
1) Mundo Lingo Montreal
Mundo Lingo is an event held in many different cities around the world, from Nanjing and Osaka to New York and even Montreal. Essentially, it’s a free meetup held once or twice a week in a bar where people gather to practice their various languages. Typically, everyone wears flag stickers to indicate which languages they speak to facilitate finding a partner.
Mundo Lingo Montreal posts updates on their Facebook group regularly. As of 2023, the event is held every Wednesday at 7pm at Clébard in the Plateau and every Friday at 7pm at Abreuvoir in the Quartier Latin. Keep in mind that these events are 18+, and since they are held in a bar, it is generally polite to order at least one drink or food item. In my own experience, it’s a very fun and lively atmosphere that allows you to get out of your comfort zone. If you’ve been studying Chinese for a while and want to practice speaking in a low-pressure environment, Mundo Lingo could be a good match for you.
2) Community Culture Exchange
If the party atmosphere of Mundo Lingo feels like a bit too much, Community Culture Exchange might be more your speed. Held every third Wednesday of the month at 1pm, this Chinese-English/French language exchange event welcomes learners of all levels and backgrounds. In small groups, participants play games and have friendly conversation first speaking only in Chinese and then speaking in only English or French. This event is held at Chez Alexandre downtown, making it extremely accessible. You can RSVP to this event in advance on their Meetup page.
That’s a lot of information! Where do I go from here?
With so many different learning formats and options available, it can be difficult to process and figure out how to proceed. Ultimately, you are the only person who is going to know what the best choice for YOU is. When you read this list, were there any options that really piqued your interest? Did you see anything that really excited you? That’s usually the best starting point.
An easy way to begin is to pick two options that interest you the most and take the time to personally look at their websites or reach out to them for more information. You may find that one of them simply works better for your needs. If you’re having trouble deciding, you may even want to consider a hybrid approach! For example, you can supplement in-person or online Chinese courses with one-on-one tutoring to help you progress even faster.
The path to learning Chinese is a long one, so taking the time to find an approach that makes you feel engaged and happy is extremely worthwhile.
If you’re based in Montreal yourself, have you checked out any of these options before? Are there any that we missed? Leave us a comment down below, and we’d love to what you have to say!