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 in 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 in-depth; it’s 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 as you can get.
Huge Lesson Library for All Levels
ChinesePod doesn’t function as one coherent Chinese course. The lessons are all standalone, and it’s something I like about it. It means that you can pick up any lesson on any topic that you’re interested in or need to learn.
For example, 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 available with ChinesePod.
Navigating this many lessons can be confusing, but you should jump around. They’ve been around for a long time so they’ve had a few different hosts, and you’ll probably find that you prefer lessons from certain hosts. Fortunately, most of the older lessons are just as relevant as the new ones, so they’re worth exploring.
The lessons are mostly pretty interesting, and many of the newer lessons also have video. Of course, some topics will always be boring and there’s not a lot you can do about that. That said, the podcasts are full of cultural information, humor, and personality and they’re actually fun to listen to.
Although lessons don’t build directly on one another, the content gets more difficult as you move up levels.
There are seven levels: Newbie, Elementary, Pre Intermediate, 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 10-20 minutes long with most hovering around the 15-minute mark. For me, this is an ideal length because it’s not so long that it feels demotivating and not so short that you’re constantly switching lessons.
The lessons start with a brief introduction and then a dialogue spoken in Chinese. Sometimes the acting is excessive but it’s not a big problem. Afterward, the hosts will discuss the dialogue before playing it once more at the end of the lesson.
For lower levels, the discussion 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 dialogue mostly in Chinese in a simple way that’s easy to understand. They find a very appropriate balance of Chinese and English according to the level of the lesson.
There are some lessons of different styles 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.
Other examples include 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.
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 dialogue 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.
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.
Dialogue – Here you can play the audio as well as download and read each individual line of the dialogue. Listening line-by-line like this is much easier, and playing and mimicking the dialogue one line at a time is a good way to improve your speaking skills.
Vocabulary – Here 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 expands 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.
Exercises – Finally, we have the exercises. These include matching words to their definitions, putting dialogue into the correct order, dictation exercises and multiple choice.
These exercises are fantastic. I particularly like the dictation exercise because it tests both your listening skills and your ability to type using 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. Nowadays, every company has an app and it’s annoying to not have it included while paying $14 per month for the Basic plan.
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. It’s annoying, but also 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 recommended 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 it’s still not quite sufficient to be the only resource you use. At the minimum, you’ll also need 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. Of course, the needs of each person will be a bit different depending on their level and what they’re trying to improve.
I’m Nick Dahlhoff, the creator of All Language Resources. I’m not a super polyglot who speaks 20 languages. I’m not here to teach you how to learn a language – countless people are more qualified to do that than me. But, I have tried out an insane number of language learning resources. This site aims to be the most comprehensive and least biased place to figure out which language learning resources are worth using. To learn more about myself, the site, or our reviewing process, check out our about page.