In the world of online Chinese language learning, podcasts are pretty underrated.
A lot of language learners these days desire accessibility and ease, with quick daily exercises and elements that are way cooler than a boring old textbook.
Some even prefer learning Mandarin through games.
But one of the easiest ways to grasp grammar concepts and new vocabulary is just by listening, even if you’re not totally paying attention, to an audio lesson.
What Is ChinesePod?
In case you haven’t heard of this website, ChinesePod is one of the most popular online platforms out there for Mandarin language podcasts and has been for more than a decade.
It was the first of its kind back in 2005, and unlike a traditional course where every lesson must be followed in chronological order, ChinesePod lessons are actually independent of one other.
This means you can pick the topics that you want to learn and not feel compelled to study subject matter that isn’t relevant to you.
Before we get into the ChinesePod review, let’s go over all the features and functions of the website.
What Are the Features?
In general, ChinesePod’s main features include:
- Audio lessons that you can have playing in the background or listen to on the way to work
- Video lessons for more engaging, interactive content
- Study resources that supplement the audio/video lesson for better learning retention
As for the lessons themselves, most of them are formatted as follows:
- An introductory text
- A dialogue/video that includes audio and text
- An explanation of the dialogue
- Audio and text vocab review
- Additional information for vocab expansion
- Explanation of grammar points
- Vocab and grammar exercises
What Are the Levels?
You’re probably familiar with the level of Chinese you’re at. However, for some people, it might not be as clear cut. ChinesePod offers six different learning levels to make it easy for users to easily distinguish where their skill level is at.
If you have zero knowledge of Chinese or know very few basic words or phrases, this is naturally the place to start. Here is where you’ll focus on simple, everyday vocabulary, as well as proper pronunciation. The lessons in this section are mostly in English, and it’s recommended that you get through at least 50 lessons before progressing to the next level.
With all this new vocabulary in your arsenal, it’s time to formulate sentences. The elementary lessons cover basic grammar and sentence structures, introducing more dialogue but still administering the majority of instruction in English. About 80 lessons is enough to get you talking in basic Chinese and move on.
Here is where you build on your conversational Chinese. At this level, you’ll learn common expressions to communicate in relevant everyday topics, such as family, shopping and employment. You’ll learn how to speak in simple terms about subjects you come across in daily conversations.
At this stage, you should already be confident in your basic conversational skills and ready to learn more complicated grammatical and sentence structures. And, if you’re still struggling with tones, there are lessons here to ensure you get enough practice so that you can go beyond basic interactions and transactions. After 120 lessons, you should be able to do things like book flights or have slightly more fluid conversations with native speakers.
Here’s where you go beyond talking about pop culture and start learning about more serious topics that have complicated vocabulary and sentence structures, as well as cultural implications. The lessons are mostly in Mandarin, with some English to explain the grammar and cultural nuances. It’s best that you study at least 160 lessons before tackling the Advanced stage.
With the exception of some cultural nuances, if you’ve reached this level, that means your intonation is perfect and you sound like a native speaker. These lessons discuss complex subjects that fluent speakers would discuss, with instructors speaking only in formal Chinese. They say completing 120 lessons takes you to complete fluency, but at this stage you might as well go through everything to really test your skills in Mandarin.
The Lowdown on Monthly Subscription Plans
And now, for the question that everyone probably has about ChinesePod—how much does it cost to subscribe to this online learning platform?
Below are all of the plans.
If you’re on a budget or simply not ready to pay for the extra features, you have access to the Free Lesson Library. This plan allows you to see the format of some lessons from each level.
Price: $14/month, $39/3 months, $124/year
The Basic Plan gives you access to the full library. Moreover, users have access to HD video lessons and printable lesson notes.
Price: $29/month, $79/3 months, $249/year
With the Premium Plan, you have the ability to download lessons from the library. Added onto the printable lesson notes and access to HD video lessons are additional features, such as Grammar and Expansion Sentence Breakdown, Vocab Manager (for custom vocab lists, flashcards and writing practice tools) and use of the Android and iOS apps.
Users can also check out the exclusive “Say It Right” video course.
Classroom Plan – Light
Private Lessons: four 20-minute lessons
If you’re not good with self-study, ChinesePod also offers Classroom Plans that come with one-on-one tutoring sessions. With this plan, you get four tutoring lessons at around $25 each, full access to the library, lesson review activities and personal vocabulary lists. Additionally, you also have access to all of the apps.
Classroom Plan – Regular
Private Lessons: eight 20-minute lessons
The main difference between the Light and Regular plans is that you get eight private sessions, costing around $20 per session.
Classroom Plan – Intensive
Private Lessons: 20 20-minute lessons
With this plan, you get 20 lessons costing about $15 per session, plus all the other features.
ChinesePod Supplementary Resources
On top of the website content, ChinesePod also has a few other great (and free!) resources that you can check out.
ChinesePod on YouTube
Main ChinesePod Channel
If you’re a visual learner and want to check out free mini video lessons, ChinesePod has a vast collection of YouTube videos you can enjoy. Videos are divided according to levels, but the channel also has non-traditional content, such as news and current affairs, as well as fun series like “Shanghai Street Style” and the “Singapore Series,” among others.
Mandarin MadeEZ by ChinesePod
Previously featured on FluentU as one of the best Mandarin YouTube channels for beginners and intermediates, Mandarin MadeEZ is a sub-channel of ChinesePod with videos that make the language really approachable for newbies. From the “How to Say” series to the “Survival Travel Chinese” collection, the scope of videos in this channel is quite impressive.
If you’d like to listen to some of their podcasts for free, you might be interested in their older but still relevant “Dear Amber” series. You can listen to the classics on TuneIn or download them through Apple Podcasts if you have an iPhone or iPad.
As previously mentioned, Premium subscribers also get access to the exclusive app. It’s a handy tool that basically has all the features that the website offers. It also has other perks, like an in-app dictionary structured very similarly to FluentU’s, where users can automatically look up the vocab that appears in the lessons.
In fact, FluentU is a great alternative to the ChinesePod app. FluentU takes real-world videos—like movie trailers, music videos, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into language learning opportunities.
Each video is accompanied by interactive subtitles that you can click on for more information, like definitions, example sentences, words used in other videos and more.
Easily add vocabulary to customized lists or flashcard sets, and then test your knowledge with fun quizzes.
If you’re looking to learn Chinese with entertaining content that teaches the language in authentic contexts, then FluentU might be the perfect choice for you.
ChinesePod Review: An Honest Look at the Chinese Learning Podcast
ChinesePod Review: The Hits
1. The 2-Week Free Trial
Extensive online learning platforms tend to come at a cost, and the risk with paying for a membership or subscription upfront is that you won’t know if it’s worth the investment until after you make the charge on your credit card. Surprisingly, there are only a small number of language learning companies that offer an all-access trial like FluentU, where you get to experience premium membership at absolutely no cost.
Luckily, ChinesePod has a two-week free trial to give you a glimpse of the Premium Plan features, and from there you can decide whether the subscription is worth paying for.
2. Convenient Listening Companion
A lot of us have really short attention spans, and when lessons edge towards the half-hour mark, many tend to stop listening. Luckily, the ChinesePod lessons all average around 15 minutes, which is just enough time to hold the user’s attention. The short podcasts also ensure that you’re not overloaded with too much information to retain in just one lesson.
3. Variety of Lessons for All Levels
When I say the lesson library is huge, I mean it’s massive. Every level covers intriguing topics presented by various hosts, which gives you the option of learning with specific instructors if you’re more receptive to certain kinds of delivery or find some hosts to be rather dull.
Not every lesson will be as riveting as the next. Some topics are just downright boring no matter how you spin them, though ChinesePod does an amazing job of adding entertainment value through cultural explanations, personality and humor to otherwise monotonous subject matter.
4. Appropriate English vs. Chinese Ratio
Although new users may be shocked with the amount of English spoken in the lower level lessons, it’s actually ideal that beginners and intermediate learners receive that much English instruction in order to fully understand the language. At first glance, Mandarin seems drastically different from English, and contextual information must be delivered in English for learners to grasp such foreign concepts.
Also, the amount of English used in the lessons decreases as you graduate to the harder levels, with Upper Intermediate content containing English only when a cultural nuance needs explanation. For the Advanced lessons, instruction is in formal Chinese.
ChinesePod Review: The Misses
1. Focused Mostly on Listening and Vocabulary
As a platform that rose to fame for their podcasts, it shouldn’t be surprising to anyone that ChinesePod mostly targets your listening skills, yet people still expect the features to advance their reading, writing and speaking skills as well. While the content is informative and extremely helpful, it does fall short in terms of being an all-encompassing online Mandarin learning resource.
2. Limited Accessibility to Online Tutors
For those who need a tutor to keep them accountable for their learning goals, ChinesePod is probably not the way to go. For starters, the Classroom plans are quite pricey for the number and length of lessons they offer. Plus, you have to pay a fixed rate per month, even if you don’t use all your lesson credits. There are tons of other resources out there that offer free language exchanges, as well as pay-as-you-go private lessons for a fraction of ChinesePod’s prices.
3. Limited Accessibility to ChinesePod App
The fact that the ChinesePod apps are paid aren’t the problem; it’s that they are exclusive to Premium members, which is unfortunate for those who are on the Basic Plan. Ideally, those subscribing to the Basic Plan should be able to access the same features as they would on the website. But, I guess all those limitations for the Free and Basic users are a little too complicated to include in the app design.
If you’re looking for an app that caters to all levels, including beginners, then check out FluentU’s program, which offers content for all learners. Plus, you can easily sort videos by language level, subject or content type to find exactly what you’re looking for.
4. Technical Errors on the App
ChinesePod has a ton of audio and video lessons on the app, but having all that content is a pain to go through when there’s no way to filter the lessons. Plus, the latest iOS update seems to be incompatible with certain devices, posing an additional obstacle for your digital learning experience.
Should You Sign Up with ChinesePod?
Sign Up for the Content
While it may not be ideal as a primary resource for learning Mandarin, ChinesePod is still an awesome tool to have at your disposal. The audio and video lessons are fun and entertaining and, quite frankly, a breath of fresh air compared to traditional textbooks and rigid classroom courses. It’s still worth signing up for, but you need to reevaluate whether it’s absolutely necessary to subscribe to all the extra features as well.
At the end of the day, it’s all about content. Like ChinesePod, FluentU provides immersive and interactive lessons by sharing enjoyable clips of Chinese used in real life mainly related to pop culture, like movie trailers, music videos and commercials. It’s the quality of the lessons themselves that reel in new and continuing users.
Use ChinesePod as a Supplement to Other Learning Resources
When other apps and websites may fall short, ChinesePod could fill the gap. Because ChinesePod is useful in developing your receptive learning skills, it’s extremely beneficial for developing your Mandarin listening, both actively and passively. It’s perfect as a supplement (not a standalone course) to your existing study program, whether you’re studying through textbooks or a course that emphasizes speaking and writing skills.
Whether you choose to invest in this program or not is up to you, but why not give the free trial a chance and see where it takes you on your Mandarin journey?
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn Chinese with real-world videos.