Chinesepod vs Popup Chinese

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Chinesepod vs Popup Chinese

Postby tango42 » 12 Dec 2011, 22:25

Now that these have both been out awhile and updated, has anyone used both of these recently that can give a comparison?
“Though we travel the world over to find the beautiful, we must carry it with us or we find it not.”
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Re: Chinesepod vs Popup Chinese

Postby JimmyTheSaint » 22 Jan 2012, 00:07

In the past six months, I’ve studied, not skimmed, every single one of Chinese Pod’s lessons, from Newbie through Intermediate, and every single one of Popup Chinese’s Intermediate lessons. I’ve been through Chinese Pod’s 352 Intermediate lessons once, plus about another 600 sequential and random listenings. My estimate is quite accurate due to the way I maintain my playlists on my various devices. Coming to Popup Chinese later, I’ve just completed studying their 111 Intermediate lessons in order. I glanced at the structure of their Absolute Beginners and Elementary. I get the impression they’re quite similar to Chinese Pod’s, but not being at that level anymore, I don’t feel like actually examining them. As for each company’s Advanced, I’ve spot-checked them, and they’re too difficult for me. If you’re able to handle their advanced, then you’re able to listen to enough radio and TV talk shows to obviate the need for these companies’ services. I’m not going to address the entertainment factor here, or reading and writing skills. My review concerns how well these companies can help intermediate speakers of everyday Chinese attain advanced functionality in a real world Chinese-speaking environment.

Given their trajectories, the two companies’ products will eventually have virtually identical utility in terms of their pedagogical techniques’ effectiveness. But the quick evaluation accords the advantage to Chinese Pod, which proffers significantly more material. Intermediates can consume such lessons much faster than producers can make them. So a larger store matters, at least until Popup Chinese has built up a hundred or so more so that lessons can be usefully revisited. Along with some learning, I primarily use these lessons to produce an environment of comprehensible linguistic demand that keeps me prepared to spontaneously call up what I’ve already acquired in a natural delay-free way out in the real world. Unless I’m getting regular and frequent reenforcement, I get rusty—tongue-tied—in ways that won’t do in real life, and radio’s and TV’s difficulty still can’t reenforce my listening and speaking abilities. The pattern Chinese Pod settled into after its first thirty or so lessons works well: a fifteen-minute lesson that starts with a one-minute dialog, thirteen minutes of discussion, the dialog repeated, and a closing. The discussion is 50/50 between the native Chinese speaker speaking Chinese and the native English speaker speaking English. The seamless exchange about the dialog just heard is mostly comprehensible, especially because having just hearing the dialog aligns your expectations with the discussion. The input is highly comprehensible in the speakers’ natural exchange, and the Chinese speaker is good at seamlessly injecting an English word when necessary to maintain the rhythm of the discussion without dropping into English.

Popup Chinese at first provided a much less rich Chinese linguistic environment. The ten-minute lessons (33% shorter than Chinese Pod) up to July 9, 2010 consist of the one-minute dialog, an eight-minute discussion in English, then the dialog repeated. The native English speakers overbear the Chinese speaker, who is frequently reduced to saying “mmm hmm,” and even drops into English for long stretches. As with Chinese Pod, the dialogs comprehensibility is low, and Popup Chinese’s low-intermediate approach to intermediate material quite fails to provide an intermediate Chinese linguistic environment. Starting with the lesson of July 9, 2010 and continuing to the present for the most part without exception, you get the dialog, followed by a nearly 50/50 discussion, then the dialog again to round out the ten minutes. The discussion, however, is mostly taken up by a line by line translation of the dialog: the line of dialog is replayed, then the Chinese host repeats it more slowly and distinctly, then the English speaker translates it. That leaves about half of the total discussion time for a real 50/50 discussion between the hosts, leaving the meat of these lessons—the discussion—more spare than Chinese Pod’s. On some occasions, the English speaker still takes up the lion’s share of the speaking time. It would be a big mistake for either of these companies to believe that, in terms of fostering language acquisition, their lessons’ value resides in their dialogs rather than their discussions. But Popup Chinese manifests that mistake much more than Chinese Pod.

Both companies’ collections of MP3’s consist of standalone lessons rather than series, and thus they don’t assist in acquiring vocabulary. Despite many useful new words, there’s no systematic reenforcement in subsequent lessons. This avoidable design error provides an accumulating list of isolated items that you can then study and try to learn via flashcards rather than the frequent restaging that could have made acquisition possible. Once these companies stabilized their approach and could see that they’d be producing tens and even hundreds of lessons, they could easily have systematized an method to acquire vocabulary via a repetition scheme. Both companies can still start doing this, and thus set themselves apart from every other producer of language materials I’ve ever seen in any language. As it stands, however, I frequently encounter new stuff at both Chinese Pod and Popup Chinese that I excitedly see would be very useful in extending my capacity for expressive nuance, even as I know full well it won’t be available to me when the appropriate situation of linguistic demand arises in my real life due to lack of exercise. If either of these companies came up with a target vocabulary of five hundred or a thousand words beyond what intermediate speakers have already acquired, and then promise a systematic approach to acquiring that list over the next one or two or three hundred lessons, I’d give them the advantage on that count alone.

Perhaps Popup Chinese is more promising in terms of adapting its pedagogy toward acquisition over learning with the aim of leading intermediate speakers into the circle of the advanced. Chinese Pod has already erred with its Upper Intermediate series. Those two hundred-fifty lessons again lack a systematic approach to acquiring vocabulary. The discussions would be wonderful: the native English speaker, whose Mandarin is excellent I’ve been told by a local teacher, now speaks Chinese with the native Chinese speaker, and so that would double the amount of comprehensible input per lesson. The problem, however, is not that the dialogs are longer, but they are filled with so many new vocabulary items that must be learned and can’t be acquired that it renders the discussion non-comprehensible. For the time being, I can use the Upper Intermediate series for studying. But for everyday comprehensible stimulation, I’m stuck with using my intermediate Chinese Pod MP3’s as a long, randomized playlist that simulates a kind of comprehensible Chinese radio, but that’s still about 50% English. I really wish I had a comparable resource that was 100% Chinese. Popup Chinese currently has no level between their Intermediate and Advanced. Since they take a low-intermediate approach to their intermediate dialogs, the real promise here—unless Chinese Pod changes their established course—would be for Popup Chinese to begin an Upper Intermediate series. Preferably they’d try to pioneer a systematic approach to acquiring, not simply studying, vocabulary. They would still produce a valuable product, however, if they merely reused their existing Intermediate dialogs in a 100% Chinese discussion between two Chinese speakers that took a more advanced approach to that same dialog. Upper Intermediate users, having already gone through their Intermediate series, would find the reused Intermediate dialogs readily comprehensible, freeing up the Popup Chinese’s speakers for a wider ranging discussion. I heartily request Popup Chinese start producing such an Upper Intermediate series.
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Re: Chinesepod vs Popup Chinese

Postby bob » 22 Jan 2012, 03:47

I just want to be able to listen to all the podcasts with a pinyin transcription and a translation. What's it cost? How do I sign up? How do I pay?

Give me an answer in baby steps (geriatric actually) or I'll blow a valve and conclude you don't know how to make things easy and not sign up.

as far as I can tell you are the best language learning site on the planet.

Jimmy the saint there seems to have it wrapped up. Make sure that what you teach is useful and make sure you recycle it in novel, interesting environments that give tons of clues to meaning through context.

If you have translated material in earlier lessons don't translate it again. At an upper intermediate level the last thing we need/want is to be listening to English when we could probably understand the chinese.

Thanks.
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Re: Chinesepod vs Popup Chinese

Postby Adam_CLO » 22 Jan 2012, 07:02

For those interested, there is also my Chinese Learn Online course, produced and developed right here in Taiwan. While the lesson count is much lower (420 in all), I tried to differentiate from competing podcasts by making each lesson continue right where the previous one left off. As vocabulary is taught, it is integrated into the lesson, so you're getting constant review. The early levels are taught mainly in English while the later levels are all in Chinese - they key being they can only use Chinese that has been taught previously, so you're never inundated with Chinese you don't understand.

Word for word transcripts of each lesson are provided to premium subscribers in a variety of formats (pinyin, traditional, simplified, English) with popup translations online, so you can follow along in the way that suits you best.

I think this format works well to bridge the gap between different levels, as there is a clear line of progression from one to another.

This post was recommended by russell359 (06 Mar 2012, 02:27)
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Re: Chinesepod vs Popup Chinese

Postby trubadour » 22 Jan 2012, 14:55

the dude of the second post above, might be hot rockin' Chinese for all us white folk - I would certainly favour ChinesePod, too - but forgive me if I may suggest that the lessons (at least up to the low intermediate that I got up to), are progressive in terms of vocabulary and grammar; they refer to earlier lesssons and use stuff previously taught. They also work as stand alone lessons, in as much as each podcast is sufficient unto itself to provide a decent chunk of each (new vocab and grammar). So, it wins there too!
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Re: Chinesepod vs Popup Chinese

Postby zender » 23 Jan 2012, 22:42

JimmyTheSaint wrote:In the past six months, I’ve studied, not skimmed, every single one of Chinese Pod’s lessons, from Newbie through Intermediate, and every single one of Popup Chinese’s Intermediate lessons. ...


Excellent write up! I've listened to a few of the Chinese Pod lessons on iTunes, and maybe a hundred of the Popup Chinese lessons from their website. I like that so much of the Popup Chinese listening material is provided free. How much free listening material can you get from Chinese Pod? :ponder:
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Re: Chinesepod vs Popup Chinese

Postby zender » 24 Jan 2012, 16:07

I have. Unfortunately, the result was less than successful. They had me sign in, and assured me that I should be able to see confirmation in an email which never came. So, I can't seem to sign in for anything free. Maybe that's my fault.

I was able to listen to some free pods from both sites via iTunes, but I am now asking a very helpful/informative poster (JimmyTS) if he would be willing to add just a little more info.
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Re: Chinesepod vs Popup Chinese

Postby JimmyTheSaint » 25 Jan 2012, 17:29

ChinesePod released a torrent of its first few years into the public domain. They don't seed that torrent anymore, but you can find it in the usual places. Downloading the whole shebang requires several days, even on a fast connection. You can download the remainder for free from their web site during your one-week trial, so it's worth contacting them if your sign-up isn't working properly. But you have to sit there for several hours clicking through everything to download it, so it's work. ChinesePod must anticipate this behavior, so I'm curious as to their business model and how well it works.

I couldn't find free access to Popup Chinese, but for USD $50, it's all-you-can-eat for a year. They have enough content now that I wouldn't begrudge the small expense, even if, after hours of manually searching and downloading, I was presently only able to get 48 usable intermediate dialogs out of the deal. I figure by the end of my subscription, there'll be twenty or so more. Popup Chinese orients less to selling people on live tutoring services than ChinesePod's expensive but competitively priced packages. So again, I'm curious as to the business model. I wonder if the government subsidizes either of these organizations to promote spreading Mandarin acquisition, which will benefit Chinese interests.

As for ChineseLearnOnline, I've looked over their system and evaluated a dozen or so lessons. If the immersion plays out as progressively over the whole range as they lead one to believe--and it appears that it will--that might make it the best of the three, though not as numerous as ChinesePod. ChineseLearnOnline's web interface supports their lessons better than the other two companies', but that's wasted if you study via smartphone, especially if it's not iOS. I always have to download everything, then optimize the materials in a way customized for my phone's apps. ChineseLearnOnline will make a fine archive that I can put on random play for a kind of comprehensible Chinese radio stream. Their pedagogical technique sucessfully keeps the English to a minimum, even at level 3. There's not much free content, but apparently if you purchase web access (not just bulk download), you can also manually download the whole shebang. Their business model is clear: they add so much value to web access that peope will want to stay subscribed rather than download and leave, which I will do.

ChineseLearnOnline's first drawback is the non-standard Mandarin pronunciation. They use all Taiwanese speakers, so you're only going to have that sound in your ears, perhaps desirable for people on this forum. But if I were a beginner, that would have been unacceptable to me. The sound is pretty comparable to Shanghai's ChinesePod, though the latter's native Chinese speaker has been speaking a lot of standard erhua lately. ChinesePod also frequently points out regional differences in usage and pronunciation during their spontaneous discussion.

ChineseLearnOnline's second drawback: absolutely no spontaneous discussion. 100% scripting may enable their superior systematic progressive immersion and exhaustive reference material for every single lesson, but the feeling of people reading to you rather than talking to you pervades every moment. The delivery never has that ineffable affect and rhythm of natural speech no matter how smoothly they deliver, rather than perform, the script. But their clarity and comprehensibility never waver, and I'm leaning toward the opinion that intermediate customers still benefit greatly, perhaps no less. ChineseLearnOnline stopped extending their series after 420 lessons due to a dearth of advanced customers. Instead, they went back and fixed glitches in the material already produced--depth over breadth, which was smart. They might consider hiring actors with standard accents to perform their already written scripts at fully native speed and with native lazy articulation. This would extend the MP3's utility much longer as intermediates became advanced.

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Re: Chinesepod vs Popup Chinese

Postby Adam_CLO » 25 Jan 2012, 22:02

Thanks Jimmy for your thorough review of my ChineseLearnOnline site. Your comments are spot on. I designed it on purpose to differentiate from other solutions that were already on the market. I wanted to add a Pimsleur type feel to them, continuing on where Pimsleur leaves off. I did try to add some variety to later lessons in the form of some scripted banter between the hosts, along with articles and other materials. Everything has to be scripted because the hosts are only allowed to use vocabulary that was taught in previous lessons, apart from the 4-5 new words taught in each lesson. Extensive review tools have been added to the website to let you practice your pronunciation, speaking, reading, writing, typing, grammar etc. The following benefits emerged from this process:

1. Commons words and phrases are automatically reused in future lessons, so you automatically remember them as you hear them enough times.
2. If you hear a word in a lesson that you don't remember, you can search for it on the site's word bank. In addition to the definition, it will highlight all the lessons that it has ever been reused.
3. The more lessons you go through, the more progress you make, as the lessons build off each other.

Since the lessons are progressive, I'm not sure how effective a random playlist would be, unless you're using it for review. Then again, I did have one user who started with the last lesson in each level and worked his way backward to the first and easiest lesson, so to each their own!
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Re: Chinesepod vs Popup Chinese

Postby JimmyTheSaint » 25 Jan 2012, 23:16

Adam_CLO wrote:Everything has to be scripted because the hosts are only allowed to use vocabulary that was taught in previous lessons, apart from the 4-5 new words taught in each lesson.


I'm suggesting that, if you're looking to enhance your current stock and not extend it, you can hire people trained in performing scripts. I imagine amateur theater actors would suffice and be cost effective. Untrained non-actors will never sound natural with scripted material regardless of their other abilities, even if they memorize it. Jenny and John at ChinesePod, for example, "perform" some of the early intermediate lessons and, despite their other talents, it sucks the life out of the material. ChinesePod quickly moved to trained performers. Jenny and John sound wonderful (i.e. normal) as they discuss prearranged themes and points. You could call this duplicated, more challenging to understand material "CLO After Dark," or something to make it sound dangerously appealing. And even if actors don't hit every word, rendering the reference material a bit inaccurate, it wouldn't matter because the After Dark users will be assumed to have already been through the lesson and only in pursuit of more challenging listening comprehension. Actors screened for this particular ability might be able to give a "good enough" in just one or two takes, economizing resources.
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