Chinese Pod has changed quite a bit in the last two and a half months. Some new features have been added, there are many new podcasts, the quality of the podcasts has improved, and there have been several minor but important changes in the lessons since the last time I wrote about them.

Since my initial review of Chinese Pod, I’ve received more email related to that one review than any other article I’ve written. Several Chinese students appreciated my perspective, and expressed similar feelings I had about Chinese Pod. On the other hand, I also received more angry emails regarding the review than I had ever previously seen in my life. After suffering insults about my site, insults about myself, insults about my family, and even one email that included vague threats against me, it became very clear to me that there are some CPod fanatics out there.

That’s not why I’m re-reviewing the service, though. I’m re-reviewing it because it has improved dramatically in the last two months. When I first took a close look at Chinese Pod, there were quite a few things that frustrated me. Though the service was unquestionably the best of its kind, it still didn’t offer very much value to me. Now, some of the things I didn’t like at that time have been changed, and none of the things I did like are missing. First, I’ll review the newest podcast from each category, and then I’ll talk about general improvements I’ve seen in the lessons. All the podcasts are free for anyone to listen to or download.

Newbie Pod #95 – Finding A Seat

Much as its name suggests, Finding a Seat teaches new students how to ask if a seat is free and how to ask if they may sit there. At the very beginning of the podcast, Ken and Jenny explain that it’s a beginner’s level lesson and that there are also more advanced lessons, etc… However, they only spent a minute on it. They bantered back and forth a bit about how the material taught in the lesson was important, and when it could be used- a good idea for a beginners lesson, in my opinion. The dialoge was very short. Here it is, in its entirety:

這裡有人坐嗎?
Is anybody sitting here?

沒有.
No.

我可以坐嗎?
Is it ok if I sit here?

當然可以.
Of course it is.

They went over the dialogue a few times, with Jenny reading the Chinese, and Ken translating into English. After that, they broke it down into each individual word and explained the literal meaning of each. Truth be told, it was a little boring to me to listen to such a short dialogue being taught for 10 minutes. So, I ran it by a friend who’s barely studied any Chinese before. He loved it, and thought it was interesting. One other thing I noticed, is that Ken’s Chinese sounds much better. There wasn’t anything about it that detracted from the lesson? Did he have a run-in with the tone police?

Elementary Pod #38 – He’s boring

This podcast was similar to Finding A Seat in terms of the amount of English support used, but the dialogue was quite a bit more substantial. In the dialogue, Jenny explains to a friend how she doesn’t want to have dinner at her neighbor’s place because he’s boring and because his wife’s a bad cook! It’s definitely a more interesting topic than finding a seat, if you ask me! They went over the vocabulary several times and explained some basic grammar. It was well presented, and pretty useful stuff.

Intermediate Pod #48 – Girly Talk

The best introduction for this podcast is the one on Chinese Pod: “Combine Alicia Silverstone with Wang Faye and you will start to understand the basis of today’s show.” The difference between this lesson and the intermediate lesson I reviewed last time was nothing less than jaw-dropping. They cut past the English intros and marketing related stuff and switched into Chinese in ten seconds. From there out, it was interesting, easy to understand, and educational. I learned a couple of phrases from it, I got more practice hearing Chinese at the right level for my needs, and it was fun! As an intermediate student myself, this is exactly the kind of listening practice I needed. I highly recommend this pod. Oh, yeah. John’s Chinese is really good. Readers of my blog probably all knew that already, but it still had to be said.

Upper-Intermediate Pod #4 – Bargaining

Ahh… bargaining. If there’s one part of the “China experience” I feel like I’ve missed out by living in Taiwan, it’s the bargaining. I can only imagine all the interesting things that foreigners living on the mainland experience in the course of buying their daily necessities, but this podcast gives me some sort of idea. I also found this pod interesting and educational. Jenny and John explained quite a few vocab items, such as 殺價 (”kill” the price), 吹牛, 一分錢一分貨 (you get what you pay for), as well as others.

Advanced Pod #20 – Studying Abroad

Jenny and Aggie discuss what it’s like for Chinese students who study abroad. Since it’s a topic that I’ve heard discussed so many times, I don’t have a lot to say about it. As I’d hoped it would be, the lesson was completely in Chinese. I could follow it, and I suppose it was good listening practice. I have to admit I feel a little disappointed that it wasn’t any harder, though. To be honest, it seems like it wasn’t really noticeably harder than the Bargaining lesson was. It’s fine for me now, but I’m worried that after my Chinese improves a bit more, there won’t be much for me to listen to. Who knows, though. Maybe I’ll be able to understand normal TV shows by the time that happens.

Some general thoughts about Chinese Pod

The more I think about it, the more I think Chinese Pod’s biggest strong point is simply that they can and often do make changes based upon suggestions users make. Textbook publishers rarely make any changes based on feedback from students who have used it. Usually, feedback is taken indirectly from instructors, and it takes years to incorporate suggestions into the next edition of a book. A podcaster, on the other hand, is making new material continuously, and can make changes to it at any time. For all I know, some of the improvements I see have been made in response to my previous review, or in response to feedback from other people with similar Chinese learning goals.

That said, I still wouldn’t recommend that any of my friends stop attending Chinese classes and abandon them in favor of listening to podcasts. Podcasts are useful, and convenient, but nothing replaces having a teacher who can tell you what you need to work on. I have met people who have studied at ICLP, and gone from having minimal Chinese skills to speaking better than I do and being able to read newspapers pretty well within a single year. The material on CPod isn’t enough to do that… yet. Still, I can’t help but recommend it. The free version has become a great supplementary source for listening materials and it’s only getting better. The paid version is even better, but that will have to wait for another review.

Improvements over the last couple of months:

  • The selection of podcasts is growing quickly.
  • The hosts’ Chinese sounds much better.
  • The new lessons are really interesting.
  • There’s a lot of English support at the low levels, but the lessons are almost completely in Chinese at the higher levels.
  • Now there’s grammar instruction for those who want it.
  • There are a lot of new features.

Things that could still improve:

  • The classical Chinese music is still there all the time (though it does seem less obtrusive).
  • Nobody uses Chinese names in the lessons- learning Chinese names is difficult for foreigners who study Chinese but it’s still an important part of learning the language.
  • It would still be nice to see more variety in the hosts. There aren’t any male Chinese hosts, and everyone on the show has a southern accent.

Rating: 4/5

Notes: I know Chinese Pod is usually written as one word with Java-style inner caps, i.e., ChinesePod. The title bar of their main page splits it into two words, though, and as I prefer to avoid using inner caps, I do the same.