This article is a review of ChineseClass101.com, an online resource for learning Chinese through audio podcasts.
In this review, I'll take you inside the premium members area and show you the main features of the website then give you my honest assessment of the quality of the product, so you can decide whether it's right for you.
ChineseClass101 Review: Summary
- Very substantial – tonnes of lessons for all levels
- Easy to use lesson format – audio lessons and handy mobile app
- Dialogues are too short
- Too much “lesson” content, not enough Chinese!
- Lots of advertising, up-selling, and cross-promoting related products when you sign up
A premium ChineseClass101 subscription costs $180 USD per year.
ChineseClass101 is a good, engaging resource – especially for beginners and lower levels.
Their bite-sized approach to study materials makes this a great choice for busy people and those who struggle with motivation. It’s by no means a shortcut, though, and you’ll still need self-discipline to get through it.
(My top recommendation for Chinese learners is Chinese Uncovered, which teaches you through StoryLearning®. Click here to find out about Chinese Uncovered as soon as it's released!)
What Is ChineseClass101?
ChineseClass101 is an online subscription programme that teaches Mandarin Chinese to learners of all levels.
Subscribers get access to an extensive library of Chinese audio and video lessons, as well as a number of other learning tools – such as flashcards, Chinese alphabet printables and an English-Chinese dictionary.
All of the content that’s included in the premium subscription can be accessed on the desktop website, as well as on a mobile app. You can also sync lessons between the two.
A Look Inside ChineseClass101
Lessons in ChineseClass101 come in five levels: from Absolute Beginner to Advanced. Each level has a range of different ‘seasons’, with roughly 25 lessons per season. There are also many other newer sets of lessons, all grouped by theme, and containing anything from 1 to 100+ lessons.
This adds up to well over a thousand Chinese podcast lessons, which means that ChineseClass101 is a very substantial resource.
Of course, this means there is so much content to choose from, that it’s mystifying to know where to start! Unlike more linear courses, in ChineseClass101 you’re free to select your lessons.
One feature that helps is called Learning Paths. These are collections of lessons based around common goals. You can pick your own ‘pathways’ according to your level and what you most want to learn.
For example, beginners can choose from learning paths like ‘Talking With Your Chinese Partner', ‘Can Talk About the Weather’ or ‘Chinese Grammar Made Easy'.
I like this idea, because it makes it easier for you to choose your best starting point. It also gives you a clear picture of what you'll have learnt once you complete the learning path.
What's Included In Each Lesson?
Each lesson usually contains 3 audio tracks:
- Full Lesson Audio
- Review Track
- Dialogue Only Track
Each lesson normally follows the same format:
- Dialogue in Chinese
- Repetition of the dialogue with a translation
- Discussion of the story and cultural insight
- Explanation of new vocabulary
- Explanation of new grammar
Once you've completed the main lesson, you can practice in two ways:
- Use the review track. This lets you practice pronunciation of new vocabulary you've learned.
- Use the dialogue-only track. This lets you repeat the dialogue without listening to all of the explanations. This is the track I recommend you work with the most.
Lastly, each lesson ends with ‘Lesson Notes’. Here, you’ll find grammar and language tips, and sometimes culture tips. You can also read the lesson transcript here.
Now let’s take a look at some of the more advanced features of ChineseClass101 that you'll get with premium subscriptions…
The really valuable part of ChineseClass101 is the powerful extra features accompanying each lesson.
The dialogue is in an interactive format: each line is clickable, so you can click and hear the audio at your own pace, line-by-line, and you can switch the text between Chinese and English. The Chinese part can also be switched between Simplified and Traditional Chinese, English and Pinyin (romanization of modern Chinese).
This works really well and is ideal for breaking down the dialogues into smaller parts, and listening and reading at the same time. It also helps build your vocabulary and listening comprehension.
It’s interesting to be able to see the traditional Chinese script, although you’ll most likely be following the modern, Simplified Chinese version.
There's also a list of vocabulary from the dialogue. Again, you can click on these words to hear the audio (at natural speed and slowed down) and see them in writing. There’s a record button, if you want to hear yourself saying the words.
Another cool feature you might like is the personalised flashcard system.
During your lessons, you can choose vocabulary you want to learn and export it to the website's built-in flashcard system.
These flashcard decks are fully customisable and use a spaced-repetition system to help you learn new words. They’re really easy to set up, so you can get going from lesson one.
There’s a big downside, though: the flashcards only show you words in isolation. It's much more effective to learn words in context. Since that’s not an option, ChinesePod101 really loses the chance to provide an effective learning tool.
All of the lesson material is also available for download. These PDF printables are identical to the online lessons – you’re not getting anything new. I don’t really find this useful, but some people like having physical copies to read through. The one advantage of PDFs is being able do the lessons device-free, but without the audios, I don’t see the point.
If you download the MP3 audio files, this is a handier option, as you can listen to them while you’re on-the-go.
Bonus PDFs For Beginners
In addition to the lessons, there are some great extra resources for beginners, which add value for people tackling Chinese for the first time.
When you're just starting out, Chinese can seem very intimidating. It's a tricky stage, and you’ll need a lot of reliable information: the basics of grammar, phonology, the Chinese writing system, and so on. The last thing you want to do is waste time and stifle your progress by trying to piece it all together with Google. Here, it's all in one place:
- Overviews of the Language
- A Guide to Chinese Pronunciation
- Introduction to Chinese Grammar
- Pinyin Chart with audios
- Hanzi basics & stroke orders chart
- Learn Chinese Characters (practice PDFs)
Other Notable Features
Some other features you might enjoy include a quiz function, which gives you vocabulary and writing tests based on language from the lessons, and an online Chinese-English / English-Chinese dictionary.
This dictionary has a search bar – a convenient tool that allows you to add words to your personal word bank. It contains all of the language from the lessons, and has an audio button with each word.
ChineseClass101 Review: What I Like
There are quite a few things I like about ChineseClass101…
- It's a very substantial resource. There are lots of lessons for all levels and the library is updated regularly with new material. There’s also a large amount of supportive material, which is great.
- The course is well-designed. It's not easy to select and produce graded material for an entire language course – especially one with such a complex writing system. But the content is impressive. Grammar points and language vocabulary get repeated over the course of each level, which helps reinforce what you've learnt.
- The podcast lessons are short and entertaining – perfect for those who want an easy, motivating introduction to Chinese. The video hosts usually do a good job of keeping your attention (especially Yuting).
- The difficulty levels are just right. Once you figure out your current level and get going, you'll find that the progression from level to level is quite logical.
- Vocabulary is well-selected and many of the dialogues are based on real life situations. This means you’ll get exposure to useful language – the kind of Mandarin that Chinese people actually speak.
- The grammar sections are very good. These come at the end of the lessons, in the Lesson Notes. They go quite in-depth and explain tricky concepts well.
- The line-by-line clickable dialogues with audio, transcription and translation (with both Chinese alphabets and Pinyin) are AWESOME. For me, this is the number one benefit of the product.
- The mobile app is really useful, as it allows you to listen to episodes easily on the go. It’s compatible with any iOS or Android device, and you can sync your lessons. You can even use the line-by-line audio feature on your phone.
ChineseClass101 Review: What I Don't Like
In spite of the positives, there are also quite a few significant downsides to ChineseClass101:
- The podcasts use too much English and not enough Chinese. This is good for absolute beginners, but advanced learners won’t benefit from it. As your level improves, you'll probably start to feel that there's too much English in each episode compared to the amount of Chinese you're hearing. I certainly experience this as I reach advanced levels – a need for more substantial, higher level texts that I can sink my teeth into. But even at the higher levels, the dialogues are very short. It’s partly understandable, seeing as it's a short podcast, but some learners may find it frustrating. The banter between presenters also gets a bit much, as it rarely adds any value.
- The site can seem rather haphazard and difficult to navigate. Part of the problem is the on-site advertising and up-selling, which doesn’t go away once you’ve paid. It’s distracting to have sales banners and ‘news’ shouting at you in the very area you’ve come to learn in! Combined with all the lesson possibilities, it’s a very busy space and makes for a less-than-awesome user experience.
- The resources are, at times, quite neglected, which is disappointing in a course you pay good money for. The podcast editing is sometimes poor, as are the transcripts. At times the information across different study tools is inconsistent: there are words in the database missing audio recordings, and there are entire pathways in the wrong levels (upper intermediate is a mess). This isn’t necessarily a deal-breaker, but it does leave you feeling rather undervalued!
- The vocabulary lists and flashcards work with single words out of context, which is a big missed opportunity. It's much more effective to learn words in context. If you're a regular reader you'll know that I go on about this quite a lot! Of course, you can see the words in context within the dialogues, and there are often sample sentences in the flashcard programme. But I'm a big believer in keeping words in full sentences at all times – even more so when revising.
- Inconsistent quality between pathways. There’s a bunch of dialogues that actually need re-writing, and it’s usually in specific pathways. While there are lots of good lessons with realistic language – such as the advanced audio blogs – many others are extremely poor and not at all natural (or don’t even have a good flow of language.)
- Lots of teaching, not much immersion. One issue I have with the lessons is that there’s just way too much ‘explaining’ in English. I wish they trusted the learner’s perception more. I mean, even in the longer lessons, you get maybe 15 to 30 seconds of sustained listening to Chinese (the dialogue). The rest is teaching explanations of vocabulary and grammar. Don’t get me wrong – the teaching is good quality. It's just that you need to spend more time immersed in Mandarin if you actually want to learn it! I would like there to be less ‘explaining’ and more extensive listening, so you can just listen and enjoy without always having to learn something new.
- Vocabulary lists from the lessons don't always contain all the useful words from the dialogues. It’s often the case in the lessons that you want to know what a word means, but it's not in the vocab list. You can look it up in the dictionary that comes with the website (and from there you can export those words to flashcard decks), but it's unnecessary and interrupts the user experience.
- No real attention to the writing system. Chinese has thousands of characters, and so there’s no doubt the writing is very difficult to teach. But you expect to find a strong writing component in a language course that goes all the way to an advanced proficiency level.
How Much Does ChineseClass101 Cost & Is It Worth It?
ChineseClass101 works on a freemium model. This means that it's free to create an account and use some of the early lessons. But you'll still need to pay for most of the best content, as the best features are only available to paid subscribers.
There are various subscriber options available and as you might as expect, the longer you subscribe for, the cheaper the deal. The prices are quite reasonable, in my opinion.
Take a one-year premium subscription as our baseline: this costs $180. That's a lot more than the cost of a Chinese language learning book, but substantially less than some other commercial products like Rosetta Stone ($399) or Pimsleur ($345 for 30 lessons), for example.
Overall, I think ChineseClass101.com is a substantial and well-made resource for learning Chinese that's easy to consume. And, despite my issues with the teaching format, I think you'll find it useful if you decide to sign up.
However, if you're looking for a comprehensive beginner programme that will take you all the way to the intermediate level in Mandarin Chinese and that uses a much more fun, engaging and effective method, then I've got something that might suit you better…
Chinese Uncovered: A Better Alternative To ChineseClass101
While ChineseClass101 is reasonably well-structured and has lots of lesson content, it's not the most fun Chinese programme.
That's where Chinese Uncovered is different.
Chinese Uncovered is a comprehensive online beginner course, that takes you from a complete beginner in Chinese up to an intermediate level. And it's fuelled by a fun and unique method called StoryLearning®.
StoryLearning is a process that was invented to teach you languages naturally. It’s so natural, in fact, that it’s based on how human beings learn their native language.
In the course, you'll learn through an exciting original story in Chinese, written especially for beginner learners.
Even though you learn through story, you have a teacher and experienced language learner by your side all the way through the course giving explanations in English and tips to learn the material fast.
Uncovered teaches all of the key aspects of the language – reading, listening, vocabulary, grammar, pronunciation and speaking. So by the time you've finished, you'll be a confident intermediate level Chinese speaker, ready to go out and actually use your Chinese in the real world!
What You Get With Uncovered
- Complete 20-module course to learn to speak Chinese with confidence through StoryLearning™. This is a method that relies on your brain's natural way of learning.
- 60+ video lessons with your experienced Chinese teacher. You'll learn with the same method that's attracted worldwide attention, from the BBC, Independent, Open University, European Commission, El País, and more!
- Learn the secrets I used to learn 8 languages and how to use them yourself to learn to speak with confidence & take part fully in conversations with native speakers.
- Fully downloadable programme so you can learn faster – anywhere, any time, and on any device… even without an internet connection!
- Complete learning material, including audiobook, translations, printable worksheets… everything you need to get started and find success with your language learning!
- Expert pronunciation training videos, so you can perfect your pronunciation and speak like a native from the start.
- Money-back guarantee, so you can buy without risk today, and get a full refund if you don't love it.
If you're determined to learn Chinese and looking for the most fun and effective Chinese course around, I'm confident you'll love Uncovered!
Ready to start? Click here to find out more about Chinese Uncovered and start your language learning journey.