I guess it’s time to write what I think of Chinese Pod. Unless JT really ramps up the volume of his podcasting and gets friends to help out, Chinese Pod is the only game in town. There really isn’t any other large collection of podcasts for Chinese learners out there… yet. There’s a pretty fearsome argument about Chinese pod going on over at Sinosplice, and I want to toss in my $0.02. One commenter, named Roy, said:

I have downloaded an intermediate lesson. First thing you are greeted in ENGLISH. The Chinese person also presents themselves in ENGLISH. “I am Jenny”. Are those at an intermediate level not expected to understand “I Am” in Mandarin?

The tones used by the Chinese person are very unimpressive to say the least. I would not hire her as a private tutor. It’s like she was thinking about ENGLISH while she was speaking Mandarin or something like that. Anyhow, the above commenter already stated this. I would not listen to their casts if only for this reason — her bad “tones” and pronunciation. I am very disappointed by this.

Not only this, but it followed by the English speaker in ENGLISH. Why is it necessary for the student to her this repetition from a native English speaker (I hope) in an unaccurate Mandarin? What does this achieve exactly??

Bottom line: get a grip, focus on Mandarin and dump the English wherever you can. And decent Mandarin as much as possible.

I agree with much of what he said. I tried out Chinese pod recently, listened to a few podcasts and didn’t like them too much. I didn’t mind Jenny’s “southern” accent that much; since I live in Taiwan, it sounded “northern” to me! But, the absolute deal breaker is all the English.

First, I tried pod#37, an intermediate lesson. As soon as I started the pod, I was greeted by a loud gong and an anouncer saying, “great resources on the web, blah blah blah learn Mandarin with Chinese pod!” in English. After that, it was “Hello, welcome back to Chinese pod, ah… coming to you from Shanghai China, my name’s Ken Carol (sp?).” in English. Then, “I’m Jenny” in English. Jenny tosses one Chinese word, 加薪, into an English sentence really slowly, Ken makes a half hearted stab at duplicating it, and then it’s back to chatting about the word in English. By the time the dialogue starts, 12% of the pod is over. Between all of the random bantering in English, the damn classical Chinese stringed instrument that won’t stop, and all of the branding related stuff, I felt like even if the pod were at the right difficulty for me, less than half of the time spent listening to it would have been productive.

They did say pod#37 was a “low intermediate” pod, though. So, I gave pod#33 a try. The same gong and intro routine took about half a minute, but at least Jenny introduced her self in Chinese, sort of. I guess she doesn’t like using her real name as much as an English one. Considering that foreigners didn’t have the luxury of learning Chinese names in elementary school, that many Chinese people prefer to use English names with us, and that we have a hard time learning new Chinese names, this sucks. Still, they got into the dialogue a lot faster on this pod. The guy’s pronunciation was appalling, though. It seemed like he just freely swapped “jue”, “zhui”, and “zui” sounds for each other whenever the heck he felt like it. He reminded me of a coworker I had at an HFRB, known for barking out a constant stream of mispronounced commands to his poor students in a language nobody could quite consider “Chinese”. I couldn’t take it. I quit the pod halfway through.

Next, I tried an advanced one- Murder over a Steamed Bun. After the gong and stuff, I was greeted by “Hello, I’m Jenny and today with me is Liv (another English name). And whenever Liv is here, it’s a good lead that it’s going to be an advanced show…” all in English. She goes into a little speech about how there are lots of levels at Chinese pod, if this is too hard, pick a different one, blah, blah, blah. I understand that they’re throwing that stuff in because they’re afraid of scaring beginners away. Personally, I think the risk of some beginner getting on their site, going to the advanced section, downloading an advanced pod and then getting scared away is much less likely than the risk of pissing off potential subscribers who don’t want to hear that junk in every pod they download. Once they got started on the actual dialogue, though, it was pretty good. I noticed Jenny pronouncing “eng” as “en”, but as somebody living in Taiwan, I’m used to that.

In summary, I’ll say this: I’m willing to spend $300USD/month on Chinese self-study related expenses. However, the way the podcasts are now, I don’t even listen to them for free. For a Chinese student in the west who can’t get to a China town and doesn’t have any way of getting a conversation partner, though, Chinese Pod is the best resource there is for listening material. It could also be greatly improved pretty easily. If the English were trimmed out of the intermediate and advanced pods and replaced by written vocabulary lists and explanations, it would be a service worth paying for. I’m not sure if $30USD is reasonable to expect college students to pay, but at least the service would be a good use of their time. Here are what I see as Chinese Pod’s strengths and weaknesses:

Pros:

  • Downloading podcasts is free.
  • The selection of podcasts is growing.
  • Some of the dialogues are interesting.
  • There are no real alternatives.
  • They hired John, and he’s going to fix everything! 😛

Cons:

  • Too much time is wasted with branding, sound effects, etc…
  • The constant classical Chinese music in the background is damned annoying.
  • Way too much English is used in the intermediate and advanced lessons.
  • They all use English names, despite the fact that they’re teaching Chinese lessons.
  • The foreign host doesn’t speak Chinese very well.
  • None of the hosts speak “standard” Mandarin; they’re all southerners.

Rating: 2/5
Level: Beginner to Intermediate

Update: Chinese Pod has changed quite a bit since I wrote this review. Make sure to check out my more recent review.