ChinesePod is a web-based, Mandarin Chinese language learning platform, and they deliver their content through audio and video lessons.
They also offer students private virtual classroom sessions with native Mandarin Chinese teachers.
However, their collection of 4000 plus audio and video lessons are adequate to deliver Mandarin learning in a fun and engaging manner.
Interestingly, Mandarin is one of the hardest languages to learn. That doesn’t stop it from being the world’s most widely spoken language (An estimated number of 1.1 billion speakers.)
ChinesePod keeps away boredom by ensuring lessons are interactive and motivates you enough to attend classes and take their academic level tests.
Their short and self-contained lessons focus on teaching spoken Chinese based on daily conversations and real-life situations, as opposed to sticking to the boring edification from textbooks.
They believe that the ability to listen and learn represents one of the fastest ways to acquire any new language.
- Their library hosts more than 4000 lessons. They have a wide variety of topics for their classes, which are relatable as they are based on daily life situations.
- The subscribers of ChinesePod’s premium plan also get a choice to download their app, which is available on Android and iOS. It is, thus convenient for smartphone and tablet users to access this platform.
- They have 6 academic levels, which make it suitable for every caliber of student. They also recommend the number of lessons to be taken at each level.
- Their classes are highly interactive, and they provide options to download their full lessons, dialogues, and vocabulary review of the session.
- They provide 100 free lessons to those who subscribe to their free trial. It is sufficient for a student to review and decide on whether to continue with the program or not.
- The academic levels don't host a progressive course; there is no fixed curriculum to follow. A student may fail to attend enough lessons in a particular level, hence unable to excel in the higher levels.
- The student selects his/her level, but the dashboard will still host videos from all levels. It can lead to an overwhelming experience for a student, and the confusion may de-motivate the student.
ChinesePod started in June 2004 in Shanghai, but it was until October 2005 that they began to release their original content.
In January 2012, BigFoot Ventures acquired ChinesePod. Its headquarter is in New York and an office in Hong Kong.
Previously, they only created podcasts (audio), but in recent time, they introduced videos along with the audio lessons.
Mandarin/Standard Chinese is the sole official language of China, a national language of Taiwan and one of the 4 official languages of Singapore. Mandarin is also among the 6 official languages of the United Nations.
It provides sufficient reasons to indulge in learning Mandarin, as it is a core linguistic used worldwide.
Northern and Southern China speak Mandarin, and it has simplified Chinese and traditional Chinese characters (Hanzi). A student can choose either of the 2 characterizations of Mandarin.
ChinesePod has 6 academic lesson levels: Newbie, Elementary, pre-Intermediate, intermediate, upper-Intermediate, and advanced (Regular and Media).
The different levels are similar to the standards of CEFR and HSK. They also offer a placement test to determine your ChinesePod level.
One can upgrade their academic level, but ChinesePod recommends a certain number of lessons before jumping to another level.
A student can also take the level test they provide to gauge the student’s knowledge of a particular academic level.
The use of English language reduces as one upgrades in his/her level. The advanced level includes only Mandarin, while the Newbie has a lot of explaining done in English.
Their audio and video content is engaging and contains significant features that provide students ease of learning.
Our busy schedule limits our exposure to learning new things. We combat this by generally utilizing all the spare time we get; while walking, eating, traveling, or working out.
As such, we require content that is easily accessible, short, downloadable, and educative.
A student can access ChinesePod’s lessons via smartphone apps (Premium only), from their website, YouTube, or through RSS feeds.
ChinesePod conducts its lessons depending on either the academic levels or the playlist.
The ChinesePod’s dashboard holds the lessons, categorized as either the latest or recommended lessons.
The dashboard has interactive navigation, and they have an impressive UI.
The student can choose to view bookmarked, studied, non-studied, video lesson, or free lessons. There is also an option to sort the content either by selecting the newest first or the oldest first.
The dashboard holds a search bar too, where keywords or lesson title enables looking up for a lesson.
It also displays the latest forum topics, Qing Wen of the week, Progress, Latest YouTube videos, and blog articles, lastly random lesson.
The side panel hosts navigation tabs; levels, playlists, say it right, dictionary, forum and more.
The academic levels are named and represented via the number of stars. Newbie is 1 star while the advanced level is 6 stars.
Though there is no structure that one must follow, it is advisable that the student start from ground zero and then work upwards.
Some lessons are in the form of series; they have part 1, 2, and so on. If so, follow the chronological order to avoid gaps in your study.
Lessons from the academic level
ChinesePod was brought into existence to create a podcast for the students interested in improving their Mandarin.
The student, however, is solely responsible for organizing his/her approach to language learning.
The video lessons are a recent development, and they usually host 2 speakers, who get in a discussion along with explaining the content in English and Chinese.
The audio format of the lesson has the same content as of video. ChinesePod offers options to download full lessons, dialogues only or vocabulary review only.
A typical lesson of ChinesePod includes an introduction, a dialogue (audio and text), dialogue explanation, vocabulary review (audio and writing), vocabulary expansion, grammar explanation, and exercises.
Most lessons begin with a repetition of Chinese dialogues at least 3 times; to ensure the student captures what the teacher says.
The lessons are short, with an average run time of 10 to 15 minutes, ideal to refrain students from getting exhausted and bored.
The page with the video lesson displays the video, with control buttons such as play and pause on the video screen. Others include a sound button, settings for speed and quality, download option (video only), and a fullscreen button.
No buttons visible for forwarding or rewinding, however, one can click across the timeline and access required content.
The audio lesson comes in conjunction with the video content. It contains features such as loop, play/pause, buttons to rewind or forward by 5 seconds, and a button to increase/decrease the speed of the speech.
Having control over the audio/video is vital, as it empowers the students by allowing them to proceed at their own pace.
Students can bookmark that lesson or mark it as studied. Helpful features such as comments, dialogue, vocabulary, expansion, and exercises enhance the ChinesePod’d classes.
The comment section holds interactive communication by the users and the teachers. Students can resolve any queries they have, ask for further guidance, or appreciate the lesson.
The dialogue is an effective way to install the lesson’s teachings. It consists of the transcript of the lecture, and one can save unknown words by clicking on them.
These words get added to the deck that can be reviewed in the flashcards.
The dialogues appear in 3 forms; the Hanzi (Chinese characters), Pinyin, and English. The Mandarin conversations of the teachers in the video/audio lesson are explained here word by word.
It increases student’s vocabulary and understanding of the complete phrase. One can either play the dialogue or download it for future reference.
If a student is not an avid listener, then the dialogue section can complement the audio lesson. Moreover, by reading and downloading the dialogues, a student can expand in his/her understanding of the language.
The vocabulary tab hosts many useful learning tools. Firstly, it outlines all the central and supplementary vocabulary of the lesson.
Secondly, a play button is provided to hear the word, and thirdly one can add any word to the deck (flashcard) by clicking on the check-box beside the words.
A student can also see all the lessons that contain that particular word. These features accelerate the rate of achieving language competency.
The expansion section addresses the taught vocabulary/phrases, and it’s application to other situations. This is to increase the student’s knowledge base.
Again, such phrases and word can be added to the deck or even downloaded.
ChinesePod offers many options to students to fully understand a word, its meaning, and its use in a specific context.
The exercise part of the lesson tests the student by providing different types of questions; multiple-choice, matching, sentence reordering, or dictation.
Dictation strengthens the listening power as one has to listen to the audio and type out what one hears.
ChinesePod offers comprehensive classes on various categories and real-life situations.
Many download options are available, be it in MP4, MP3, PDF or even in text. It enables students to access their bookmarked classes anywhere, and at any time. They can also revise their attended classes by re-visiting them.
The perk of download applies to people who use their smartphones to access their classes.
If a student completes the recommended number of classes under a level, he/she can give a test and proceed accordingly.
The only problem one can encounter with the lessons is boredom. Some topics or teachers may seem inappropriate for a student, who will eventually skip that class.
The other visible issue can be the fact that ChinesePod does not upload its new lessons frequently as compared to its competitors. There are limited latest lessons, more so, for the newbies.
The exercise section, which provides tests is not available in all the lessons. The grammar and the expansion section may also be missing too.
Lessons from the playlist
The playlist is a vast collection of interactive and situational lessons, Pinyin program, alongside with the various HSK levels vocabulary and much more.
A student can create a playlist which can be as per his/her caliber. The playlist classes are meant to supplement the academic level lessons.
The HSK is a Chinese proficiency test. It is an international standardized exam, and it assesses the non-native Chinese speakers' ability in using the Chinese language.
It consists of 6 levels, and ChinesePod’s playlist hosts vocabulary for each of these levels.
Thus, any student preparing to enroll in the HSK exams can undoubtedly utilize this feature of ChinesePod.
The dialogue and expansion section of the lessons use Pinyin to explain vocabulary/phrases.
Pinyin is a Romanization system that allows you to express the sounds of Chinese characters using letters.
The meaning of Pin Yin is to “spell sound,” so it spells out Chinese phrases using English alphabetic letters.
One can quickly lookup in a dictionary the Chinese characters of a word/phrase by typing in pinyin.
More in-depth lessons on Pinyin is available under the pronunciation section of ChinesePod. Pinyin apps are also available for both iOS and Android.
Qing Wen show is also a highlight in the playlist. The community members of ChinesePod ask questions, which are then turned into audio or video lessons and fall under this playlist.
The playlist also showcases real-life situational lessons such as Daily life, Chinese weddings, Dating, Emergency situations, Gym and working out, Investment and Finance, Jokes, Politics, and the list continues.
This section hosts many shows such as KTV time, Dear Amber, Movie Madness, Poems with Pete and others.
Most of the lessons contain the basic features of comment, dialogue, vocabulary, and exercises. The playlist offer lessons which are fun-filled and unique in context.
Say it right series
A well-known fact is that Mandarin is a challenging language to crack. It is a tonal language; it has 4 primary tones and a neutral tone.
A word can change its meaning depending on the tone used to stress on a particular syllable. As such, to avoid miscommunication, it becomes necessary to learn how to pronounce a word correctly.
Say it right series was a relatively new self-study course consisting of 22 lessons. It targets area such as Mandarin Chinese tones, Pinyin, tongue change rules, and tone combination.
The lesson is made up of the main lecture, a video drill, and PDF practice notes.
As students progress in this series, they earn achievement badges. It is an ideal way to attract students participation.
The student follows the series but at his/her pace. It is an excellent resource that can be studied along with a teacher too.
This series consists of only 22 lessons to date. There are no updates or an introduction of an alternative sequence. However, the series can immensely improve the speaking abilities of the students.
There are many in-built tools which provide students with assistance to learn Mandarin, with minimal hindrance and maximum efficiency.
ChinesePod hosts a powerful dictionary feature, the student can type the word, and it shows the word’s meaning and its uses.
It allows the English-Chinese search, whereby a student may type in English and get the results.
The search results are displayed in 3 languages, Pinyin, English, and using Hanzi (Chinese characters.)
After providing the meaning, sample sentences are given, again in the same 3 linguistics.
They indicate the academic level under which the word/phrase fall, an option to listen to the audio is available, and the student can download it too.
Another feature attached to this is “Go to lesson,” which further explains the word via a lesson that contains the searched word. It is a great feature which can provide advanced knowledge to a student.
This tool exposes the student to Pinyin, which is a system for writing standard Mandarin Chinese using the Roman alphabet.
The letters used in Pinyin may be of English; however, the sound it represents is that of Mandarin Chinese. Thus, one cannot read it as with tones of the English language.
It has a total of 18 written lessons, with a provision of charts and audios. The pronunciation section extensively discusses the tones and tone rules attached to Pinyin.
Many novice students use Pinyin in writing; however, it is not an officially acceptable standard. Students who wish to excel in Manadarin has to familiarize themselves with the Hanzi characters.
All the unknown words that one had clicked and saved while going through lessons appear in this segment.
Option to add any word as well as to create/edit deck is also provided. A deck is a collection of the unknown words under flashcards.
Flashcards are used to improve the students' memory by providing them with an opportunity to identify the meaning of unknown words. Their ability or inability to recognize the words becomes the base of gauging their know-how.
The repeated use of flashcards engraves the word and its meaning on the students' mind. It’s a way to learn new words and remember them for a long time.
ChinesePod offers various settings for flashcards, and the student can select either Pinyin, Hanzi (Chinese characters), or audio to identify the word.
Flashcard allocates scores according to the performance of the student.
The option to export vocabulary is a useful feature of ChinesePod. Vocabulary can be exported to Pleco (XML), Anki(.txt) or to CSV.
Anki is an open-source flashcard program that utilizes spaced repetition. Pleco is an application that provides English and Chinese dictionary.
These integrations multiple the learning experience of students and provide them with more vocabulary base.
Additional flashcard integration with Pleco strengthens ChinesePods competitive edge. However, the in-built flashcard can be made more appealing by adjusting its design and also by providing timely reminders for reviews.
The dictionary uses all the 3 languages, Hanzi, Pinyin and English, making it more approachable to the beginner level students. They provide links to lessons which contain the unknown words, further educating the student.
Learning Mandarin can be daunting; however, ChinesePod can ease it for you and keep you motivated to achieve your goal to master it.
ChinesePod has made reasonable attempts to ease the learning process of this challenging language.
Its ability to switch between simplified characters and traditional characters (Hanzi ) offers flexibility, which allows a student to explore and learn more.
Their content is rich with lessons on a wide variety of topics from everyday life situations to grammar. Their playlist with shows, HSK level vocabulary or the exclusive “Say it right” series increases their meritoriousness.
The downloadable version of all their full lessons(audio or video), vocabulary review, and dialogues offer students access while being offline (PDF, text, MP3 or MP4).
Flashcards and exporting of the vocabulary to platforms such as Pleco and Anki expands students understanding of challenging and new words.
However, on the downside, the initial academic levels of ChinesePod use way too much English in their lessons. The use of English halts when one reaches the upper intermediate level.
Thus, less exposure to the Chinese language at beginner levels may pose a challenge to students understanding in later levels.
The lack of a rigid curriculum for its lessons, in terms of chronology of topics, may leave gaps in knowledge.
It means this platform may prove to be ineffective for student’s who randomly jump from one lesson to another, without consideration of one’s academic level.
So the question remains, is ChinesePod the perfect solution to learning Mandarin?
Well, we can’t label it as a complete Mandarin learning program. Moreover, we doubt if anyone can master this spectacular language only by attending some video/audio lessons.
Multiple skills will be required to conquer the task of being pro at Mandarin.
The most acceptable use of ChinesePod is that as the best listening resource available in the market.
Their ability to expose the students to an extensive range of vocabulary is also very unique and impressive.
We can recommend ChinesePod to students who are looking for additional ways to grasp Mandarin. The ones who are relatively acquainted with Mandarin and want to study the advanced levels and not the basics.
However, ChinesePod can not replace the traditional Mandarin classes/schools for beginners, who require additional skills than that of listening only.