Oct 2

Over the past few weeks I have been really getting into Popup Chinese, a really cool site with tons of great content for learning chinese. Popup Chinese produces chinese learning podcasts for learners of all levels which anyone can subscribe to for free. In addition, an upgraded Popup Chinese account will give you access to a ton of extra content like transcripts, characters sheets, additional exercises and a lot more. If you are serious about improving your chinese skills, read the rest of this Popup Chinese Review to see why you should be learning chinese from this site.

I had been a longtime Chinesepod fan and I loved being able to subscribe to their chinese lessons on iTunes and listen to them on my iPhone in my free time. Unfortunately, Chinesepod changed their policies awhile back, and now you can only access their newbie level lessons without paying. Luckily for us, Popup Chinese fills the gap, and all their daily chinese lesson podcasts are available for free. They have Absolute Beginners, Elementary, Intermediate and Advanced chinese lessons as well as podcasts dedicated to writing and speaking. In addition, there are sets of lessons designed specifically for people studying for the HSK test.

Popup Chinese Host Echo Yao

I’ve mainly been listening to the Elementary level lessons and I’ve been really enjoying them. The lessons are are usually about 7-8 minutes in length. Like Chinesepod, they start out in the beginning with a really short dialog acted out by native chinese speakers. For rest of the lesson, the hosts Brandon and Echo go over the dialog and introduce grammar points and cultural usage tips. The Popup Chinese lessons are definitely a step up in difficulty from the comparable Chinesepod lesson. Translations are only gone over once, instead of multiple times and it can be a definite challenge to keep up with the pace. I don’t mind this actually, because I think it’ss forcing my listening comprehension to improve that much faster. Once you’re done with the day’s lesson, you’ll want to visit the Popup Chinese site itself and check out the comments for the lesson. I am quite impressed with how active the Popup Chinese community is, and there is always lots of discussion on each lesson. It’s also nice that the staff, like Echo and others are always there to answer any questions and provide further insights into the dialogs.

Everything on the Popup Chinese site itself is very well designed and there are a lot of innovative features not found anywhere else. The dictionary, chinese annotation tool, and writing pad are a few of the tools that are freely accessable on the site. If you are trying to learn how to write chinese, I was really impressed by how well the Writing Pad works to help teach you to write chinese characters using the proper stroke order. I only wish you could select a set of characters to practice with, which would really make it a killer app for learning how to write chinese. The only other quibble with the site was that there doesn’t seem to be a way to search for a specific lesson. However, this looks like it will be fixed shortly.

Popup Chinese Writing Pad Popup Chinese Annotations

The free content of Popup Chinese is great for the casual chinese learner, but serious learners may want to look into the paid content to really solidify the what they have learned. Popup Chinese offers a few different subscription plans. A basic plus subscription is only $49.99 a year which gives you access to all the downloadable content including the podcasts, transcripts, character sheets, and hsk. The premium subscription gives you access to everything on the site. This includes on-site annotated transcripts with audio playback. All the vocabulary of the lesson is annotated as well, and you can add the words you want to practice more with into the Flashcards application. You also have the ability to export your vocab into PlecoDict and Wenlin if you are using these programs. All this is backed by a 30 day refund policy so you can always get your money back if you are not happy with the results.

I really haven’t explored all that Popup Chinese has had to offer yet, but I am really enjoying what I have seen so far. The daily chinese lessons are a fun way to learn chinese, and it’s super convenient to be able to listen whenever I want. The community seems great, and I really like where the site is headed. The recently announced interactive Learn Chinese Video Lessons look to be an awesome new addition to the site. I really encourage everyone to check the site out, and then come back and tell me what you think.

Visit the Popup Chinese Site

Mar 10

ChinesePod is probably the most well known podcast for learning chinese online. The ChinesePod folks are based in Shanghai and their podcasts have always been well done and professionally put together. ChinesePod features five different levels of podcasts, Newbie, Elementary, Intermediate, Upper Intermediate and Advanced. Personally, the Elementary level fits me quite nicely. Each lesson ranges from about 10-18 minutes long. Although I had never been a paying member, I have been a subscriber to their free podcasts via iTunes for a long time. Unfortunately, I just noticed recently though that their iTunes feed is no longer including any of the upper level podcasts, only their newbie ones. It’s kind of a shame, but I guess they have to pay the bills.

With that being said, Chinesepod does over a free 7-day trial of their services, so I decided to sign up to see what else they have to offer.

Chinesepod Site

When you first login to your Chinesepod account, you will first enter the ‘Me’ section which shows you a list of all the lessons you’ve bookmarked. Chinesepod has more than 1000 lessons available (and growing daily) so this provides you with a way of organizing the current lessons you’re working on. The site will also keep track of the vocabulary that you are interested in reviewing and you can easily add words to your lists from other sections of the site. With your vocabulary lists you can use them with the built-in Flashcards or the Concentration game. I found the Flashcards to be a little on the simplistic side and sort of clunky. Concentration is sort of fun, but I’m not sure how useful it is for me.

Chinesepod Lessons

ChinesePod host Jenny ZhuThe lessons are where you will probably spend most of your time. The main hosts are Jenny Zhu, Ken Carroll and John Padsen. I think most will agree that Jenny Zhu is the face of Chinesepod and she is the co-host for all the different levels. Ken hosts with Jenny on the lower level lessons and John hosts with her on the advanced ones. Like I’ve mentioned above, I’ve only been doing the Elementary level, but the lessons I’ve listened to usually consist of a short dialog, a dialog review, and then a more in depth explanation. Lesson are quite practical and vary from topics like “Hold the Elevator” to “Bad Cell Reception”. Besides the different lesson levels I was familiar with, Chinesepod also offers other “channels” including video lessons like ‘Vocab Tour’ and ‘What’s The Story’ to ‘Qing Wen’ which is an audio lesson based on ChinesePod member questions. One thing I really like about Chinesepod is the active community. Chinesepod members are able add their comments to each lesson, and the discussions are all quite interesting. You’ll even see Jenny and the other hosts participating in the discussions.

Included with the lessons is a lot of other supplementary material. In the dialog section, you will see a transcript of the dialog for the lesson. Chinese characters and their english translation are shown, and if you place you mouse over each of the characters, you can see the pinyin as well. You can also play back the audio of each line in the dialog.

The Vocabulary section contains the important chinese characters from the lesson. Also included are supplementary words that are related to the lesson, but were not included in the dialog. You also get the ability to hear the audio of each word.

The Expansion section includes some extra dialogs for you to practice with and once you have finished with them, you can go on to the exercises where you can practice what you have learned. There are three types of exercises, matching, multiple choice, and listen & type. My only quibble with the multiple choice exercise is that the font is a little hard to read on my computer and there doesn’t seem to be a way to adjust it since it is Flash based.

ChinesePod Lessons ChinesePod Lesson Dialog

ChinesePod Resources

There’s a lot of useful chinese learning study aids in the resources section. John Pasden has written up a grammar guide and while I have not had a chance to read through it all, it looks pretty good. I really like the Chinesepod glossary. It allows you to search by english or chinese characters and gives you some sample sentences for each word. Audio is provided and what I like the most is that it links you to the ChinesePod lesson that the sentence was used in. Very neat! The pronunciation guide also looks quite comprehensive and seems like it would be very useful to beginners.

ChinesePod Pricing

Chinesepod offers several different subscription plans. If you are at the beginning level of your chinese learning, you can get access to the Newbie level lessons only for free. The basic plan starts at $5 a month and gives you access to all the audio and video lessons plus access to the PDF lesson transcripts. A premium subscription is $17 a month and basically gives access to all the Chinesepod content except for some personalized coaching. There are some higher tiered subscriptions as well if you are really serious with your learning.

Is It Worth it?

Although I was quite familiar with the lessons as a long time ChinesePod listener, I am quite impressed with the added extras and I think they will enhance my learning of the material quite a bit. There’s really a ton of chinese content on the site and it will take you thousands of hours just to go through the old stuff. That’s not even taking into account the new lessons and content that come out on a daily basis. Although ChinesePod will probably not be your one-stop shop for all your chinese studies, I think it can be a great supplement to it. I suggest you check out their 7 day free trial of their services to see if it will work for you. You don’t have to enter a credit card or anything so it really is risk free to try. Give ChinesePod a shot, and see if you like it.

Learn Chinese With Chinesepod

Mar 9

I know, because I’ve tried before. My name is Chris and I’m a Chinese-American who didn’t really get interested in learning Chinese until I graduated from college. I took some classes at a local community college for a year and I learned quite a bit. I also developed this piece of software called ZDT to help me with my studies. The program has a small following and I worked on it for a few of years. However, when I moved out on my own, it was no longer convenient for me to take classes anymore, so I had to start learning Chinese on my own. As you may have figured out, learning another language by yourself requires quite a bit of discipline, which I didn’t have at the time. So over the last couple of years, life started to intervene, and I slowly stopped studying my Mandarin.

Fast forward to the present day. I’m not quite sure why I want to start up learning again. I think I felt bad because I have been very slow to respond to requests by people emailing me about ZDT related things. I didn’t really have a desire to add new features or fix bugs in ZDT while I wasn’t using the program myself.

So I’ve decided to start up this blog to help people learn Mandarin. I know there are a ton of great new online chinese learning resources out there now that should make learning chinese a lot easier. There’s also a lot of not so good resources as well, so I would like to start trying all these things out and sharing my experiences with them. By doing so, I hope to get myself motivated again to start studying again. Once I do that, I’ll probably start working on finishing the next version of ZDT. My goal is to become fluent in Mandarin in one years time. I hope I can help you guys on the way as well.