To follow along with me here are the resources I recommend and for general practice and reference:
[Update December 30, 2015] Whole courses:
If you’re just starting out there are some good websites with complete courses:
and others you can probably find on the internet…
[Update December 30, 2015] Conversation Practice
Seriously you need to do this, it helps so much and let’s you keep track of you progress.
HelloTalk: It’s a pretty awesome app to make language exchange friends with all kinds of cool little things like saving words, translation, voice messages, correction, dictionary… What are you waiting for? Download it.
Mixxer: sweet site to find language exchange buddies. Different levels and all kinds of interesting people 🙂 All you need is Skype and you’re good to go (though those time differences can be a little pesky). Also, I’ve learned about 10 Chengyus like that and I haven’t forgotten them. Screw traditional learning.
Wordoor: This site is kind of like Mixxer in that you can find conversation buddies, but it also has options for classes.
MIT OpenCourse Ware has Chinese I-IV: Chinese I: For complete beginners. Chinese II: About the level I’m doing.
[Update December 30, 2015] Readers & Books
Langread: I just started using this and it’s great because I read a lot of news in French. It’s an extension for Chrome and other browsers and it has flashcards and vocabulary and whatnot, but I use it as a reader because you just push the button on the page you’re on and then it can translate words or phrases, great for intermediate learners.
I use this once in a while and I don’t use it anymore, but it’s fine for being able to read those pages you’ve always wanted to, but couldn’t, as well as keeping track of new vocabulary and so on, they have an iOS app yay!
Duokan: It’s like iBooks, but in Chinese and prettier.
[Update April 25, 2014] Writing
lang-8: What are you waiting for? Get over to that site introduce yourself and get used to writing something every week seriously this site is fantastic.
[Update September 11, 2014] PLECO: It is awesome, I use it during my conversation practice since you can use it offline. If you have some kind of mobile gadget get this, seriously it’s good. I basically just use this and only use the other two when I can’t figure things out from this one.
[Update December 30, 2015]
nciku : My favorite. They have stroke order and handwriting look-up (I remember using that a lot for characters I had never seen). You can make vocab lists, they have pronunciations, examples in sentences, basically everything (应有尽有). They also have a mobile app for a couple of bucks if you want to have a dictionary on your iPhone or iPad or Android. It’s no longer online.
MDBG: Before I stumbled on nciku, this was my favorite. I still use it for translation, since it gives the word for word translation.
If you’re thinking of buying an actual dictionary you also need to learn how to use it.
Chinese Pod: It’s more than a podcast, that is, if you can afford it. I do recommend it if you have the money, there are exercises and worksheets, you can import your vocabulary to Skritter. They also have a “task” section for each podcast where you can post up some of your spoken Chinese answering related questions. There are always great discussions and there are different people who speak on the podcast so you can get used to different people’s accent.
Popup Chinese: Another podcast that you can try. Podcasts are free, it’s about the same price as ChinesePod. It’s super cool. I would totally get the yearly subscription because I like northern accents.
Lingomi: (For audio practice) I haven’t looked into this site, but it has a free trial.
[Update September 11, 2014] Skritter: Best out there. Get yourself a 1 year subscription, really it’s worth it, comes out to 8 bucks a month.
Mandarin Poster: I think the site is well designed and that’s what sold me. You can also get radical sheets and if you’re feeling motivated and have some 35 bucks you can get their mandarin and radicals poster (I did because I found it a better investment than only one month of Chinese Pod).
Hanzi Girds: Great also for generating character practice, but you have to pay to get the diagonal guides, another reason why I am making my own material which you can get for free.
[Update September 11, 2014] Videos
Coursera: Check out their courses in Chinese, they always have subtitles, so while it’s native level stuff you can plow through it.
Shiny Chinese: It’s probably better than Coursera because it has other levels and the videos are not that long.
These are just the basic resources and tools, there’s a lot more out there . There are also less informal, but free tools:
Youtube: I bet there’s a lot on there, but I use it to listen to Chinese music. It’s a somewhat good way to practice since all chinese music videos have the Chinese subtitles. I will be doing some of these from time to time.
Movies: Maybe a bit more advanced, but a good way to practice or maybe just listen to it.
Series: Not for everyone, but if you’re into that also a good way to practice since most have Chinese subtitles as well as english ones. I’ve found it’s a good way to learn colloquial expressions to impress your Chinese friends, thought most are from Taiwan.
[Update September 11, 2014] Books: Probably a bit more advanced, but there are a bunch of books online for free. I might do some poems, but right now I’m currently reading 中国古代文化史 （上）
(or trying to anyways) 神雕侠侣 (The return of the condor heroes) a famous martial arts novel by 金庸 (Louis Cha) a Wuxia writer, which was then later made into a tv series in the 90s. [Update April 25, 2014] Seriously, don’t read above your level unless you want to be reading like 1 page a week. I switched to mangas and right now I’m reading Conan (traditional version, too to practice) from the app MangaRock which is pretty awesome, it really is the best manga reader out there.
Friends: If you have any Chinese friends they are a good way to practice, but if not try just browsing the web or busuu.