ChinesePod Review: Great for Conversation Topics, but Lacks Structure

Like many Chinese learners, I’m extremely busy. And to be honest, Chinese has taken a backseat over the last two years. So I was curious to see whether a podcast-style course like ChinesePod that I can use anywhere would help me revitalize my language skills.

After completing a few lessons, I can say the variety of topics is perfect for anyone wanting to increase their conversational fluency to have more meaningful discussions, but it feels a little incomplete.


What Is ChinesePod?

ChinesePod is a popular Mandarin Chinese course that is formatted like a podcast.

There are six courses on the website: Newbie, Elementary, Pre-Intermediate, Intermediate, Upper-Intermediate and Advanced.

Each level has a guided curriculum—a series of podcast episodes you watch in order—and other complementary series. For example, the Newbie through Upper-Intermediate courses have a series based on HSK levels (Levels 1-5) in addition to the curriculum.

Each lesson is a podcast episode. There’s a dialogue that’s repeated three times in the beginning and at the end. In the middle, the native speaker and the non-native speaker host break it down line-by-line, translating and explaining the meanings and contexts. Most lessons are between 10-20 minutes.

After listening to the lesson, you can review with learning tools like vocabulary lists, dialogue transcripts, grammar notes and more.

Features of ChinesePod

Extensive courses for all levels of Chinese.

The first thing I noticed is how many lessons each Chinese course has. There are over 4,000 lessons on ChinesePod total, but each curriculum course covers various meaningful topics and it’s obvious they’ve been thoughtfully put together. I often find that some Chinese courses “rush” through a level, but ChinesePod ensures you understand a handful of different topics before moving you on to the next.

chinesepod levels and courses overview

Audio lessons you can listen to anytime, anywhere.

Since the audio lessons are completely podcast-style, you can play them in the car, while doing chores, while walking, etc. from the ChinesePod app.

Video lessons for visual learners.

Some courses are video lessons instead of audio lessons, such as the Newbie “All the Way to Intermediate” course.

Study resources that supplement the lessons.

Scrolling down each lesson page will bring you to various supplemental study tools.

Every lesson has five tabs:

  • Dialogue – where you review each sentence of the dialogue
  • Vocabulary – where you can find flashcards of words introduced (which you can add to your decks)
  • Grammar – where can see explanations of grammar points used
  • Expansion – where you can see example sentences of featured vocabulary
  • Comments – where you can read and write comments on the lesson

chinesepod lesson study resource section

Audio and dialogue reviews after each lesson.

There are three parts to each lesson:

The first part is the Audio Lesson. The second part is Dialogue, where you review just the dialogue.

The third part is Review, which is an audio recording of a non-native speaker stating the English word, immediately followed by the native speaker saying the Chinese word. The audio reviews are shorter than the lessons, averaging around five minutes.

“Say It Right” series.

“Say It Right” is a course for mastering Chinese tones and pronunciation. It also covers pinyin, tone changes and tone combinations.

Each lesson follows a specific format. First, you listen to the main lecture and then complete a video drill. You can then download the accompanying PDF notes to continue practicing.

Personalized vocabulary list.

As you go through the ChinesePod lessons, you can save new vocabulary to your personalized list by clicking the + sign under the lesson’s “Vocabulary” tab.

When you visit the Vocabulary page on the left sidebar, you can find all of your saved words and a graph summary of your retention of each word and which ones you need to review.

Something I really like about this feature is that you can also import your own Chinese words by clicking “Import.” This lets you upload a file (like a PDF). The page tells you how to format the words you want their dictionary to translate. After importing, your new words will be turned into flashcards.

You can create multiple decks and each vocabulary card comes with audio, pinyin and a translation.

chinesepod vocabulary list feature

Flashcard review feature.

ChinesePod’s flashcards are unique because they’re audio-based. So instead of reading the front of the flashcard, you listen to the word in Chinese (without seeing any text) and then flip it over to see if you can recall the meaning correctly.

Once you flip the card over, then you can see the Chinese character.

ChinesePod also asks you to rank each flashcard as “Forgot,” “Hard” or “Easy” so its algorithm can determine when to show you the word again. The flashcards are based on spaced repetition, so your reviews are set to optimally timed intervals determined by the system.


ChinesePod has a built-in dictionary that lets you look up any word you want. You can make searches in English to find the Chinese word, or vice versa.

Each dictionary entry shows the Chinese character, pinyin, all the word’s possible meanings, audio pronunciation, stroke order and sample sentences. And of course, you can save any word you look up to your Vocabulary collection and flashcard decks.

chinesepod dictionary feature

“Media” lessons for advanced learners.

“Media lessons” are native-level podcast episodes meant for advanced learners who can immerse themselves in unfiltered Chinese videos that aren’t necessarily meant for learners.

Absolutely everything is in Chinese—the video descriptions, the content, the dialogues, you name it.

It’s important to note, these lessons are still produced by ChinesePod. So the audio is clear, even though the native speakers talk at their natural pace.

What Are the Levels?


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 moving 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.


These lessons cover complex subjects that fluent speakers would discuss, with instructors speaking only in 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.

How Much Does ChinesePod Cost?

ChinesePod offers a free plan, but you have limited access to the lessons and resources. For example, you can only see the first few vocabulary words, grammar explanations, etc. under the lessons. Plus, not all lessons are available for free learners.

There are two main options for upgrading to full access: the Basic Learner plan and the Premium Learner plan.

The basic plan costs $14/month and includes full access to the lessons but not the resources (you can download the PDF notes, though). The premium plan is $29/month and includes everything in the basic plan plus all of the study tools and review features.

There’s also an option for companies and teachers, but you’ll need to request a demo to get a quote.

Other Free Resources Created by ChinesePod

On top of the website content, ChinesePod also has a few other great (and free!) resources that you can check out.

  • The ChinesePod YouTube 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.

  • Traditional Chinese. ChinesePod as you know it, but in traditional characters instead of simplified. The lessons are very similar, with something for each level and covering interesting topics. They have several “Learn Mandarin from Movies” videos, along with many of the same playlists as the original YouTube channel (like “Shanghai Street Style”).

The Pros of ChinesePod

There’s a 2-week free trial

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.

Concise lessons that average 15 minutes

When lessons edge towards the half-hour mark, many of us tend to stop listening. Luckily, ChinesePod lessons average around 15 minutes, making them easy to pack into a busy schedule (or if you’re just tired).

The short podcasts also ensure that you’re not overloaded with too much information to retain in just one lesson.

Lessons in all levels span a wide variety of meaningful topics

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.

Appropriate English-to-Chinese ratio in the audio

At first glance, Mandarin seems drastically different from English, and contextual information must be delivered in English for learners to grasp such foreign concepts.

But 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 completely in Chinese.

The Cons of ChinesePod

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. While the content is informative and extremely helpful, it does fall short in terms of being an all-encompassing online Mandarin learning resource.

The ChinesePod app is only for Premium members.

The ChinesePod app is exclusive to Premium members, which is unfortunate for those 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.

Technical errors on the app.

The latest iOS update seems incompatible with certain devices. And I had a ton of issues logging into my account on the app just a minute ago.

ChinesePod Alternatives

Yoyo Chinese Yoyo Chinese Logo

Yoyo Chinese is an online video-based course designed to teach you conversational Chinese in as little as six months.

They have a pre-designed six-course structured curriculum that guides you from the basics of tones and pronunciation to upper intermediate conversation.

I’ve personally completed the entire beginner and intermediate course a few years ago, and they had a huge impact on improving my Chinese.

The courses contain six levels, each of which are composed of around 10 units. The units are then broken down into 2-5 video lessons. Like ChinesePod, the lessons contain an audio review, dialogue breakdown and flashcards. But the Yoyo Chinese lessons also come with a quiz at the end and downloadable PDF notes.

Yoyo Chinese might be better for you if you want a more structured, traditional online course and prefer videos to audio-only lessons. I’ve also found that the lessons go a little more in-depth and are a bit more fast-paced.


FluentU teaches you Chinese with an immersion-based method. There are tons of videos on the platform assorted by level (Beginner, Intermediate or Advanced).

The videos are pulled from authentic sources like YouTube, so you’re exposed to native content from the beginning. Each video comes with dual-language subtitles, which let you click on words you don’t know.

You can add these words to customized flashcard decks, which are also built on a spaced repetition system like ChinesePod’s flashcards.

FluentU also has personalized quizzes, vocabulary lists, line-by-line dialogue breakdowns and a dictionary. Except FluentU’s dictionary not only gives the meaning and context of the word, but also a curated list of videos where it’s used in context.

You might opt for FluentU over ChinesePod if you want similar learning tools but prefer authentic, native content instead of lessons designed specifically for learners.

ChineseClass101 chineseclass101 logo

ChineseClass101 has thousands of video and audio lessons with multiple series, which they call “pathways.”

There are five levels to choose from: Absolute Beginner, Beginner, Intermediate, Upper Intermediate and Advanced. Each level has pathways for all the language skills—conversation, reading and writing, vocabulary, grammar and culture.

The pathways you enroll in are saved to your dashboard for easy access. The study tools are similar to the previous resources—you get spaced repetition flashcards, vocabulary lists, grammar explanations, PDF downloads, dialogue breakdowns and a lesson transcript (with a subscription).

I’ve also used ChineseClass101 before, and I’d say it’s more for you if you like to multitask or work on several courses at a time. There’s no set structure, so you just choose which pathways you find most useful and work through its lessons until you complete it.

Final Thoughts: Should You Use ChinesePod to Learn Chinese?

ChinesePod is an excellent supplemental resource. I found the lessons entertaining and useful, but the limited access to free and basic subscribers (plus issues with the mobile app) and lack of structure left me feeling a little scatterbrained sometimes.

I recommend pairing it with a more structured online course or textbook, like Yoyo Chinese. But all you really need is the free or basic plan if you’re not using it as a primary resource.

The lessons are entertaining, you get high-quality listening practice and the topics are vast—so why not give the free version a try?

And One More Thing...

If you want to continue learning Chinese with interactive and authentic Chinese content, then you'll love FluentU.

FluentU naturally eases you into learning Chinese language. Native Chinese content comes within reach, and you'll learn Chinese as it's spoken in real life.

FluentU has a wide range of contemporary videos—like dramas, TV shows, commercials and music videos.

FluentU brings these native Chinese videos within reach via interactive captions. You can tap on any word to instantly look it up. All words have carefully written definitions and examples that will help you understand how a word is used. Tap to add words you'd like to review to a vocab list.

FluentU's Learn Mode turns every video into a language learning lesson. You can always swipe left or right to see more examples for the word you're learning.

The best part is that FluentU always keeps track of your vocabulary. It customizes quizzes to focus on areas that need attention and reminds you when it’s time to review what you’ve learned. You have a 100% personalized experience.

Start using the FluentU website on your computer or tablet or, better yet, download the FluentU app from the iTunes or Google Play store. Click here to take advantage of our current sale! (Expires at the end of this month.)

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