ChinesePod is one of the resources most often recommended to Mandarin learners for good reason. Improving your listening skills may be the most important skill to becoming fluent in Chinese. After all, being able to speak isn’t particularly helpful if you have no idea what the conversation is about.
This review will look at both the Basic and Premium plans. The Basic Plan is more fitting for people who just want to listen to audio podcasts and be able to check the lesson notes. The Premium Plan is better suited for people looking to study each lesson very in-depth. This is for people looking for a resource that can cover other areas besides just listening.
ChinesePod been around longer than a decade and the lesson library has become massive. It’s not a perfect all-encompassing resource but it’s probably as close you can get.
Huge Lesson Library for All Levels
ChinesePod isn’t a Chinese course. The lessons are all stand alone. However, I actually like this. It means that you can pick up any lesson on any topic that you’re interested in or you need to learn. If you need to go to the barber and want to be prepared for the questions you’ll be asked, you can find several lessons on haircuts. With ChinesePod, you’re able to choose the conversation topics that appeal to you.
The lesson library is huge. I doubt any resource can match the number of lessons and hours of material as ChinesePod. You should jump around. They’ve been around for a long time so they’ve had a few different hosts. You’ll probably find that you prefer lessons from certain hosts. The lessons are mostly pretty interesting. Some topics will always be boring and there’s nothing you can do about that. However, they provide a ton of cultural information, humor, and personality into the podcasts and they’re actually fun to listen to.
Although lessons don’t directly build on each other, the content gets more difficult as you move up. There are six levels – Newbie, Elementary, Intermediate, Upper Intermediate, Advanced, and Media. There’s a recommended number of lessons to study in each level before moving up to the next one. It’s always a bit difficult to make the jump to the next level but it’s very rewarding. Try to push yourself to move up even when it’s uncomfortable.
Lessons are generally from 10-20 minutes with most being near 15 minutes long. For me, this is an ideal length because it’s not so long that it feels demotivating and also not so short that you need to constantly be switching lessons.
The lessons start with a brief introduction and then a dialog spoken in Chinese. Sometimes the acting is excessive but it’s not a big problem. Afterward, the hosts will discuss the dialog before playing it once more at the end of the lesson. For lower levels, this includes a lot of English to make sure you understand. As you move up levels, the amount of English decreases to none. At the intermediate level, there is some English but they explain the lesson dialog mostly in Chinese in a simple to understand way. They find a very appropriate balance of Chinese and English according to the level of the lesson.
There are some lessons with a bit different style as well – primarily the Qing Wen videos. These are great because they cover topics based on questions they get. Usually, they focus on grammar, sentence structure or ways to use certain words. For example, there are videos on the different ways to say ‘probably’ and the differences between 能(neng2) 会(hui4) and 可以(ke3 yi3). They’ve also compiled videos into playlists to make courses. There are 57 lessons in the intermediate grammar series.
Basic vs Premium Subscription
The Basic Plan costs $14/month or $124/year. The Premium Plan costs $29/month or $249/year. There’s also a Premium+ Plan that includes some tutoring. It’s really overpriced though. You can find cheap tutors on italki for a fraction of the cost. Read my review of italki.
All of the lessons are included in the Basic Plan. You can also use get printable PDF lesson notes. These are really useful as you can read the dialog and key vocabulary. The Basic Plan is more than enough for a lot of users – especially those that are just looking for somewhere to get listening practice.
The Premium Plan includes quite a few extra features. Let’s take a look at them one-by-one.
Access to the “Say It Right” video course. I went through this entire course when I started learning Chinese and found it to be incredibly helpful. The videos explain Chinese pronunciation very clearly. Even if you’ve already learned some pronunciation elsewhere, you’ll likely pick up something new from this. If you’re interested in more resources focused on pronunciation, check out this article I wrote about different places to learn pronunciation online.
Dialog – Here you can play the audio, download and read each individual line of the dialog. It makes it much easier to listen line-by-line. Playing and mimicking the dialog one line at a time is a good way to improve your speaking skills as well.
Vocabulary – You can see and hear the audio of individual words. You can save them to review later or export to Pleco. On the desktop version, there’s even an integration with Skritter which allows you to use your mouse to practice writing the characters.
Expansion – This section will expand upon key words and phrases from the lesson. You’ll be shown other example sentences along with audio. It’s a helpful way to deepen your understanding.
Grammar – Here you’re given a couple key grammar points from the lesson with a clear explanation. You’re then given more example sentences along with the accompanying audio.
Exercises – Finally, we have the exercises. These include matching words to their definitions, taking jumbled lines from the dialog and putting them in the correct order, dictation and multiple choice. This is fantastic. I particularly like the dictation exercise because it tests both your listening skills and your ability to type in Chinese characters.
App – You’re able to get access to all of the materials from the iOS and Android app.
What I dislike about ChinesePod
One thing that really annoys me is that access to the app isn’t included in the Basic Plan. It’s 2017 and everyone has an app. I think the reasoning is that the app includes some of the premium features and it would be difficult to exclude Basic users from that. Still, it’s annoying but not a big deal. It’s not that much of an inconvenience to use a mobile browser to play or download lessons.
The app doesn’t include the exercises for Premium subscriptions.
ChinesePod is a fantastic product. It’s one of the most recommending resources for learning Chinese and for good reason. The Basic Plan is great for people just looking for some listening practice to supplement other materials. The Premium Plan is a more complete product though still not quite sufficient to be the only resource you use. At the minimum, a good textbook to make sure you don’t develop gaps in your studying. There are lots of good resources that you could consider using in addition to ChinesePod. Each person will be a bit different depending on their level and what they’re trying to improve. Take a look at some other reviews I’ve written.
ChinesePod is the one product I always recommend. It’s my favorite.