Best Chinese New Year Podcast for Learning Chinese

19 Feb 2007

I may “hate” Chinese New Year, but it’s inescapable. We also do coverage of it at ChinesePod, of course. This year we did an Elementary lesson on Chinese New Year Firecrackers, but the one I especially liked was at the Advanced level, called 春节采访 (“Chinese New Year Interview”).

I’ve talked about the Advanced lessons on ChinesePod before, and one of the criticisms I got was that the dialogues (which are scripted) seem too fake. I think that’s a valid criticism, and I totally agree with it. The 春节采访 podcast was partly an experiment to see what we could do when we went “totally natural.” Here’s how we did it:

1. The academic team brainstormed questions about the topic (in this case, Chinese New Year), then chose the six most interesting ones
2. We made a list of all the Chinese employees in the office and where they’re from so that we could have a variety of accents in the podcast, then chose 6-8 to interview (being sure to include both male and female)
3. After Xiao Xia interviewed everyone, we narrowed the results down to (1) the most interesting interviewees, and then (2) the most interesting answers, making sure that we kept a balance in both accents and genders
4. The audio production team cut out everything we didn’t need/want
5. The academic team transcribed the final interview audio
6. Jenny and Xiao Xia listened to the audio and used the transcript to go over the interview material for the full podcast

I think the result was a very interesting Chinese New Year podcast. Most of the language wasn’t difficult at all, but there are a few challenging parts that go into lesser known local customs. The “dialogue” part of the podcast was a lot longer than usual, but I’m sure this won’t bother the listeners. As a result of that, though, the transcript was significantly longer than usual.

I think this dialogue was definitely a step in the right direction for a better advanced podcast. The problem is that it takes much longer to create natural content like this; it would be impossible to do it for every podcast. You have to expect to get boring and/or unusable content, so you have to record a lot more and cut out what you don’t want. So that’s a lot of extra time editing, and then transcribing as well. Still, I think there are elements of this process that we can keep using going forward to produce more engaging content.

If any learners have any thoughts on this, I’d be happy to hear them. You probably want to listen to the podcast first (remember that it’s all in Chinese). If you haven’t listened to ChinesePod’s Advanced content lately, you definitely need to check it out.


John Pasden

John is a Shanghai-based linguist and entrepreneur, founder of AllSet Learning.


  1. I think this was the best Chinesepod podcast I’ve ever heard!
    I agree that the dialogues are a little too fake. I have always thought that they were not neccesary.
    I listened to this podcast twice more after first listening to it. It was really enjoyable.
    My only suggestion would be to include 朱老师 and 超级老外 in the interviews.

  2. DO MORE – A few times a while back I had posted and asked Jenny to cover CNY in more detail. She said they’d do it. So I was happy to see the topic and started listening. All of a sudden I realized it was some sort of panel interview and it wasn’t just a couple people reading a script. I instantly perked up.

    It was really engaging for me to listen to, and really the actual vocab they use isn’t that high, or at least it was familiar enough to me to understand most of. I wonder if others more advanced than I would complain it wasn’t hard enough?

    As I was listening I also realized they were probably going to have to transcribe the dialogue, that’s a lot of work, maybe more time consuming than writing out a dialogue. So I wasn’t surprised to see the what, 20 page pdf. Definitely not a format for a typical print-bound lesson. I’ll admit though, it’s the first advanced podcast that made me want to pull out that pdf and actually read thru on a second listen.

    I’m not sure how to work-thru the additional development time challenge, this format doesn’t need to exist for every advanced podcast. In fact IMO that they really could be shortened considerably. How big IS your base of advanced learners, are lots of them actually requesting longer scripts? Or is this just a pre-conceived notion from within Cpod. Why haven’t shorter ones been made? It can’t be harder to make shorter, is it?

    I think the staff might pick up some learnings, did they notice differences in vocab from the transcribing versus tabla-rasa script they develop. Can they implant more of that vocab in other lessons?

    Is a series possible? This would help with creating some content that is ‘narrow comprehrehensible input’ that we learners can self-select.
    For example it would be interesting to hear some followup stories from various staff. If we could pick up one staff member, say with a stronger northern accent, and do some interviewing of her/him, this would help again with the narrow content theory.

    Also the repeated, but yet different and still interesting, aspect of having several people comment on one topic was very engaging for me. By the second person I was keyed into the topic and ready to hear more. Unlike some of the other advanced podcasts which in essence move thru a topic from one sentence to another without giving a person (who is at a slightly too low for that level) a chance to catch up.

    IMO also that the one big advanced podcast a week is not the best schedule. How about shorter, more frequent advanced podcasts? For example if you split up that CNY podcast into three shows. It would be like those crazy dramas that play daily on tv, a cliff-hanger like ending that makes them worse than heroin.

    Or how about some upper-intermediate/advanced ‘lite’ shows 3 days out of the week and one biggie on Thursdays? Couldn’t you tape a more extended interview with one of the staff (again to create a narrower band of vocab and to tune into her accent and word/phrase choices) and then mix it up to do several podcasts over a period of say two-three weeks? This probably would take a bit more organizing to have multiple types of shows in production at once. But at least it frees up the recording studio by doing that part in one shot.

    You could also pair-up partners to be responsible for various short-series who then take the production thru from end to end. This would I think be fun for them and also increase the skill-base of your staff. It also gives various pairing opportunities, ie. a more experienced staff member with a new person, or an opportunity for a pair to try out some radical idea they have, or a academic-staff person with a non-academic staff person to further help cross-pollinate job roles and teamwork. Make sure that there is a key quality-control person to do some final checks though as the projects come in. More efficiences could emerge. It also allows job growth.

    About more content. Is there really a STRONG reason not to publish the edited out interviewees? Okay maybe a few people said the same things, or talked too slow with too many ah, uhs, etc? But isn’t that still engaging content for many of us learners? You don’t need to polish them up for me anyway, just put out the mp3 as supplemental listening for after I listen to the main podcast. In fact I think that edited out content would probably be pretty darn helpful to me.

    Look at outsourcing the transcription. From producing some transcripts myself I know that it can take a Chinese person a long time to catch every twisty conversation word and ah-huh in natural speech. There also is special equipment with things like a pause/play foot pedal.

    Somewhere some people seem to transcribe every single word on Chinese tv, so there are some people with SKILLS to pay those bills. Maybe they are cheaper and faster and frees up your academic staff to do more value-added stuff like respond to our comments, expansion exercises, cross-linking vocab, phrases, etc.

    Anyway, I enjoyed that podcast tremendously and it’ll get a re-listen today, and I’m sure for many more days.

  3. I think that was one of the best lessons I’ve come across on Cpod. Since the dialogue is not artificial, it’s much easier to pick up, and with natural dialogue, the characters are simple and common. I admit, they speak a bit fast for me, but with assistance from the script while listening, it’s great!

    I occaisionally watch Taiwanese variety shows on ETTV and their language is simple, utilizing very basic characters and patterns… problem is that I can’t listen fast enough… same thing.

    this is great as I can back up, whereas I cant rewind the TV set.

  4. 海宁 / Henning Says: February 19, 2007 at 5:01 pm

    Hi John,
    I also enjoyed that podcast very much. It somehow gave me the feeling of listening to material with ethnographic/historical value, something that might be dug out 50 years from today again by some excieted scientists…

    It was also very different language-wise. I would love to see some more of those in the future. Personal stories and anecdotes deeply embedded in contemporary China, presented in easy conversional Mandarin with some local touches.

    On the other hand I would neither expect nor even want this type to become the standard format for ZH. I find the more condense dialogues important for language learning and climbing towards “real” media, esp. written stuff.

    By the way: I got the impression that you have put more effort in the ZH-lessons recently. ZH has always been interesting (content and learning wise), but for a long time felt a bit like the neglected stepchild of Chinesepod – isolated on its own site, without the same amount of ressources spent on the lesson production. That changed. Thank you!

    Although not being advanced to your definition yet (still require some effort to work prepare a lesson, no fullblown real-time capabilities) I consider the ZH lessons to be a pivotal part of the Chinesepod service – completing the whole ladder towards fluent understanding. Even Intermediates like me with modest Mandarin skills only can take a lot out of an average ZH lesson. In fact I take the most language per week from ZH now. Besides ZH is a valuable progress indicator.

    I therefore again plead for a stronger integration into the main site. E.g: Why did Eileen not even count in those lessons when announcing the 500th lesson? Wasn’t it in fact the 578th?

    If you look at who writes the comments on the ZH-site you see who will bring the sparkle of life to ZH in the future: listeners who came up from lower levels (who are in many cases not even aware of the existence of the site). Maybe even some former Newbies. Imagine: Pure-blood Chinesepod learners, fluent. Hope for everyone still in the dark + high octane market fuel.

  5. I totally agree with all of the above. It was a really good lesson. I usually have a very hard time with the advanced lessons, but this one seemed more accessible.

    I think one of the reasons for this is that there was repetition, which gave it a clear structure. Each person was asked the same questions, so it was easier to figure out what was going on. Nice to hear different voices too. I really felt like those people were speaking honestly, and I wanted to know more about them.

    And, yes, you managed to avoid the typical boring CNY stuff. Next CNY you might talk about what kinds of things go wrong at CNY and the kinds of things people might find stressful (just a suggestion). Anyways, thanks for the work you put into it — please pass that along to the others on the team.

  6. 这个“春节采访”课的确是中文博客的最好的成就。。。听起来非常自然,非常地道。我也同意不要每一节课象这个一摸一样,可是你肯定能把在这节课中采取的措施调到日常的课。



  7. Enjoyed the podcast, thanks.

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