An Insider’s Look at ChinesePod


I’ve been working at ChinesePod since April, 2006. I’m Jenny’s co-host in all the Intermediate and Upper Intermediate podcasts, as well as the more recent Newbie and Elementary podcasts (many with Dilu). I am also responsible for the difficulty level system used on the site, as well as most of the topics or angles we choose to create lessons.

What I’d like to share here is a collection of my thoughts about the product which may be useful to learners of Mandarin Chinese.

Where do I start?

One of the problems new users have with ChinesePod is that there are so many lessons that they can’t figure out where to begin. Many go into the Newbie archive and go all the way back to the first lesson, then proceed forward. This is not recommended. With the exception of the Intro series (1-6) and a few other short series, the vast majority of ChinesePod lessons are not intended to be consumed sequentially. This has some serious consequences (massive benefits, in fact), but the one that is most relevant to you as a new user is this: you shouldn’t consume the ChinesePod podcast archive sequentially.

OK, so now we’re back to the original question. I actually have several answers.

Pinyin Is Your Friend

If you’re not strong in pinyin, you need to be. You need to know pinyin backwards and forwards to get good at Chinese. I designed ChinesePod’s Pinyin Chart, as well as the 13-part Pinyin Program series. Here are links to those episodes, in order:

  1. Introduction to Pinyin
  2. Sections 1-2
  3. Sections 3-4
  4. Section 4: R
  5. Sections 5-6
  6. Sections 7-8
  7. Section 9
  8. Section 10
  9. Sections 11-12
  10. Sections 13-14
  11. Section 15
  12. Section 16
  13. The Final R Sound

Tones Are Important

Mastering tones is a long-term project, but you should be paying close attention to them from the start. ChinesePod has a 5-part series with a podcast devoted to each tone, providing some tips and examples of each tone which newbies may find especially helpful. Find them here:

  1. Newbie – The First Tone
  2. Newbie – The Second Tone
  3. Newbie – The Third Tone
  4. Newbie – The Fourth Tone
  5. Newbie – The Neutral Tone

Other Lessons

After you sign up, you should see the 6 Intro lessons on your Home page. Those are definitely good to study right away and get under your belt. But then what? From my position “in the trenches,” I’d say the ten Newbie lessons you need the most right in the beginning are the following ones:

  1. Where’s the bathroom?: The ultimate in practicality.
  2. What is this called?: Supplement your vocabulary in the wild. If you don’t ask, no one’s going to tell you what it’s called. So just ask!
  3. How do you say…?: Many Chinese people are not fluent in English, but they know individual words. Be sure to ask them how to say those words in Chinese.
  4. Please speak slowly: A classic request for any language learner: SLOOOWWW DOOOWWWN.
  5. Please Speak Chinese: You may have to fight for your right to speak Chinese in China. (Yes, really.) This dialogue prepares you with what to say.
  6. Really Good Food: You’re going to have to talk about food in China quite a bit, so get used to flattering your hosts!
  7. I love China!: OK, so maybe it’s not entirely true, but flattery will get you everywhere.
  8. Too expensive!: This is Chinese Shopping 101. Since all the vendors carry calculators for haggling purposes, this is literally all the Chinese you need to get those deals.
  9. Do you have a girlfriend?: If you’re a young person going to China for adventure, and maybe a little English-teaching, you will be asked this. Many, many times. And probably even if you’re not young. Be prepared for it. (Note that this lesson also introduces a very simple flirting technique!)
  10. Asking for a Phone Number: This one perhaps follows the flirting. Regardless, you’re going to need to get people’s phone numbers, and you’re going to need them to repeat those digits.

Now hold on a second. If you think the list above must be studied from #1 to #10, then you haven’t been paying attention. The 10 lessons above can be studied in any sequence. It makes no difference. (Although the order above is designed to help minimize the possibility of you peeing your pants in China.)

Once you’re through with those lessons, start browsing the archive. Study whatever catches your interest. This is not a textbook, so forget the sequence.

This section will be periodically updated. See also John’s blog entries relating to ChinesePod.