Podcelerate your learning with Chinesepod (Part 3)!

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This is part three of a three part review on the Chinesepod language learning portal website.

Part 1 will discuss and explain what Chinesepod and Spanishpod is about and how it works. I will go over a video review of the website showing the services and features offered.

Part 2 will show via screenshots of pages in the Chinesepod website that are normally only available to premium subscription users to show what features are offered.

Part 3 will discuss my observations and suggestions as well as a review summary of the services offered.

Keep in mind that although the review is focused on Chinesepod, that Spanishpod will offer similar services and features except focused on teaching Spanish.

For those who want to skip over all the detailed material and just want a summary, you can jump to the review summary

Unlike most other reviews where my observations are usually brief, this will be an exception as there is a lot to cover with respect to Chinesepod so please excuse me for the lengthy discussion.

Here are my observations:

WOW! This is one amazing way to learn a new language! I really love their no stress, no pressure, ‘learn at your own pace’ approach. It is very refreshing to be able to find a learning environment where there’s no pressure to complete a lesson within a certain amount of time.

Chinesepod offers a brand NEW podcast each and every day! Of course, they alternate amongst the different levels so that you don’t feel pressured to learn every day, since most of us do work and don’t have time to devote to it on a daily basis. Alternatively, this still allows those who wish to learn to get his or her daily dose of the podcasts (although they are at different levels) but also allows others to have enough time to listen to the latest podcast for his or her level without feeling swamped or behind on the lessons. Again, it comes down to a smart implementation of the material for maximum effectiveness. Kudos to Chinesepod!

SpanishPod.com

The podcasts are very cleverly designed to be ‘self-contained’ and undated with the exception of topics related to special events like Easter, Christmas, etc. They can be learned in any order you wish. Actually, Chinesepod recommends you to choose the podcasts/lessons you are interested in rather than learning it chronologically from the earliest date they were created. This obviously helps you enjoy it and makes it more fun as you decide on what you want to learn.

Unlike the typical boring conversations and exercises you may find in the old school, traditional text book style way of teaching and learning, Chinesepod has made it very interesting to learn. Where else can you find a conversation about calling your landlord about a plugged toilet? Or ordering take out Chinese food? Or learn pick up lines at a bar? Try finding those topics in your Chinese language textbook! Chinesepod gets a lot of the topic ideas for the conversations from feedbacks and suggestions from its members. That’s why a lot of the interesting and current topics that you may not necessarily find elsewhere may be found here. If there is something you think you want to learn how to say in Chinese, drop them a line. Who knows? Maybe your topic may be in one of the upcoming podcasts.

The podcasts are very down to earth and personable. The hosts are presented in a very relaxed manner and often times, joke about topics related to the dialogue or other things. You almost feel like you’re sitting there with them, listening to them chat to you. The format of the podcast is quite simple, but very effective. They first play the dialogue three times to get the listener to get a feel of what was said. Then the hosts will break the dialogue down, translating each line of the conversation, with many times, coming up with a somewhat different translation. Then, they will go much more in depth about the dialogue and conversation, discussing topics, vocabulary and other related ideas relevant to the dialogue. At the end, the dialogue is again played and repeated three times, to help solidify if not aid in retention the lesson.

This is an ingenius approach to learning by playing the dialogue three times in the beginning and another three times at the end. With language and other things, the more it’s practised or repeated, the better we learn. With the repetition of the dialogue carefully separated over the course of the podcast, this will really work. You hear the actual dialogue six times and bits and pieces of it through out the podcast. But it never ‘feels’ repetitive and boring through this careful placement at the beginning and end of the podcast. As well, the podcasts are normally not very long, lasting from less than 10 minutes to slightly more. The length is just about right; long enough to discuss the material and help retain learning but not too long that it drags on. It also helps make it very easy for people on the go. They can easily listen to an entire podcast during their coffee break, or lunch. And even if they run out of time on their break, they can also start off where they’ve left off without losing much since the dialogue gets repeated at the end.

Unlike many other online language learning websites, you are not pressured to finish a lesson or podcast within a specific amount of time. Again, since many of us are busy with our lives, trying to devote time to complete lessons will make it a chore and not fun anymore. Chinesepod makes it fun to learn with no pressure at all. Learn at your own pace and in your own time. Learn what you want to learn, not being forced into learning lessons in a specific order dictated by the program. The guys at Praxis Language has got it right in making it fun. And it’s a lot of fun.

ItalianPod

The other aspect I really like is that Chinesepod’s podcasts, at least the 64kbps ones, are FREE. You don’t even have to register for an account to listen to or download the podcast and there is no obligation whatsoever. Of course, registering for an account provides you with benefits such as being able to keep a list of what you’ve learned, interact with other Chinesepod members for each lesson and in the forums. Of course, Chinesepod’s main goal is to give you enough of a taste of the service to persuade and convince you to subscribe for at least their Basic subscription and eventually to the Premium subscription and maybe even beyond.

Access to other features come with the level of the paid subscription. The pdf transcripts of the dialogue with key and supplementary vocabulary are available to Basic subscribers. Most of the rest of what you see on the Lessons page are available to Premium subscribers such as extra online exercises to test your knowledge or retention (matching, multiple choice, fill in the blanks). These are carefully set up to test various aspects of your knowledge and a lot of it focuses on your ability to read. There’s also the Expansion page which brings up more phrases and dialogue that may be somewhat related to the lesson. Obviously this is for those who are keen to learn more.

The Vocabulary Manager area is also an important part of the learning as it offers the student the ability to learn the words. Not only do you have a list of the vocabulary words to learn with its pinyin and translation, you can listen to how it’s spoken which I think is very useful. To test your comprehension, you can play games such as Flash Card, and Concentration. You can even import or export the vocabulary list so that you can take it with you anywhere.

There’s a lot that’s available to the subscriber, especially at the Premium level. But, I do find that for $240 ($20 a month), it may be a bit expensive and out of reach for many people (myself included).

Regardless, as you can probably figure out, I am very impressed with the service offered at Chinesepod as I am also a very satisfied paid Basic subscriber myself. There isn’t anything negative that I can find about the service.

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Here are a few suggestions:

Although I am very happy with the Basic subscription, I wish that I could have more features and access available to me, perhaps in a higher subscription level that is somewhat between Basic and Premium? Going from $60 a year for Basic to $240 (4 times the money) for Premium is quite a steep step up. I would be inclined to pay for something in between if it offered me a little bit more.

My suggestion would be to create a Learning subscription level (sorry, I can’t come up with a better name) that offers everything in the Basic level plus the Fix and the Dialogue mp3 files. In addition, this subscription should also include the Expansion phrases or other features to make it worth the extra money. Having only access to the Fix and Dialogue may not be enough of an enticement for me to bump up to the next subscription level so I would think adding something more may. Access to all the exercises could still remain with the Premium subscription for those that want the additional services.

Or, alternatively, Chinesepod could come up with an a la carte type of selection, allowing the members to choose which areas they wish to pay for. Or, they could even drop the price of the Premium subscription down a bit. For me, the price is definitely what’s holding me back from getting the Premium subscription. I think I would be comfortable with a subscription level price of $120 ($10 a month) and would jump at it if the Premium subscription were offered at that price. Wink. Wink. I doubt I would be the only one thinking this.

In addition to adding a new subscription level, Chinesepod can also add an additional feature that may appeal to advanced students. Aside from reading Chinese characters, they can also learn how to write the Chinese characters with emphasis on the strokes and the correct sequential procedure of its composition. By that, at least, the vocabulary words can be “shown” stroke by stroke and in the correct sequence how the word is written so that the student can learn to write the characters correctly.

Chinesepod can also add an extra feature whereby the student can record himself speaking the vocabulary words and play it back. This can be very helpful as it can allow the student to be able to distinguish the differences between what he or she said compared to what the sample was. If such a feature is available, it could be enhanced if the sound files are stored so that the student can check back his or her progress through time. So, the student can compare his progress through time. Of course, that would be dependent upon the student having access to a microphone or headset with mike installed on his computer. So, this feature or access can be something for the “a la carte” idea.

Another suggestion is to add extra exercises where the student can create or compose a sentence or a variation of the dialogue sentences using the key and supplementary vocabulary.

For example, in the battery podcast, the student can be prompted to compose a sentence that translates to:

‘Do you have AAA batteries for sale?’

which would be: cp2.png?

To make it somewhat easier, there would be a collection of words and phrases that the student can select and place in its correct order (something like dragging and dropping like as in fridge magnets except on the virtual desktop), rather than expecting them to type in the Chinese characters since most of us may not have Chinese writing software installed on our computers.

One last suggestion is since there’s a lot of different Chinese writing software available on the internet, it would be helpful if Chinesepod could help out in the selection process. For added benefit, Chinesepod could also provide a discount to its members for the purchase of the recommended software. Obviously, this would be beneficial for all parties involved: Chinesepod, the software vendor and the student.

Again, these are just my personal suggestions that I hope Chinesepod and Praxis language will consider, especially a lower priced subscription for something in between Basic and Premium. Sorry. The free self-advertising t-shirts and the discount coupons (for me at least) does not compare to having a special lower priced discount on the Premium subscription. I guess I’m very practical when it comes to these things. Money is the bottom line for me.

Review Summary

Chinesepod and Spanishpod are very effective methods of learning a new language quickly and easily. Rather than focus on the old, boring, repetitive methods of the typical textbook learning, Chinesepod and Spanishpod has come up with an entirely different approach that really works! Each daily podcast (they’re free by the way) will focus on a specific topic with a dialogue that’s played three times. The hosts will break down the dialogue to explain the terms and ideas involved and the podcast ends with dialogue played again three more times. The podcasts are short and sweet but effective enough to make it easy to learn. It’s as easy as listen and learn. Download any of the podcasts yourself and see if you can at least come away at the end without learning anything. You may find it difficult to not learn something.

Again, I want to disclose that Palm Discovery is an affiliate of Chinesepod and Spanishpod, Frenchpod, Italianpod and Englishpod and subscription purchases made with the affiliate links in this post elsewhere at Palm Discovery will help keep the site running and pay for occasional contest giveaways offered from time to time. A portion of the proceeds will be donated to Plan Canada at the end of each year. Thanks to your generosity. $20 was donated in 2006 and $85 was donated in 2007.

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