With over 1.1 Billion fluent speakers, Mandarin Chinese is a no-brainer to learn for anybody with any sort of business and/or personal ties to Asia. The Chinese economy is also the second largest economy in the world behind the United States and is a manufacturing giant. There is a good chance that the phone you are reading this on and the clothes you are sitting in right now were made in China by Chinese workers speaking Chinese. It is for these reasons and many more that Chinese language skills are tantamount to success in all aspects of life.
ChineseClass101 Review Overview
ChineseClass101 (formerly ChinesePod101) is a well-designed and comprehensive language learning program. The creators have rooted their learning philosophy in a dynamic fusion of auditory and visual lessons, a learning style that works for many.
With thousands of lessons to choose from amongst four skill levels, ChineseClass101 could keep you busy for years. Each lesson includes detailed supplementary information that can be downloaded as a PDF and studied at your leisure. New content is constantly being added in new formats that reflect current user study trends.
What We Liked About ChineseClass101
When we tested the ChineseClass101 program, we were blown away by the presentation, the detail, and the effect it had on improving our Chinese quickly. Our team was already accustomed to the quality of language programs created by the Innovative Language team, and the Chinese edition exceeded our high expectations.
Lots and Lots of Lessons
The ChineseClass101 philosophy of learning through immersion and context proves to be useful to many aspiring Chinese language learners.
The lessons are intuitive, well thought out, and there are a lot of them: they offer an incredible 2425 lessons broken up over five study levels.
Here is the ChineseClass101 lesson breakdown by study level as of October, 2020:
- Absolute Beginner: 636 video & audio lessons spread over 31 modules
- Beginner: 316 video & audio lessons spread over 19 modules
- Intermediate: 288 video & audio lessons spread over 13 modules
- Advanced: 181 video & audio lessons spread over 5 modules
- Bonus: 1004 video & audio lessons spread over 6 modules
Because the course is so comprehensive and includes hundreds of hours of content like this, you likely won’t need to buy any additional programs.
Focus on Real World Understanding
ChineseClass101 seeks to teach the language through real world scenarios that also include information about the application, vocabulary, and grammar. Each lesson provides thoughtful context to help the learner understand, as well as information regarding China’s cultural norms. We found the anecdotes and topics covered in the lesson conversations to be really interesting, which really helps keep you motivated and engaged in the learning process.
Extremely Thorough Lesson Plans
Each module of the ChineseClass101 program is based on a different theme, for example:
- Chinese Holiday Words (10 lessons)
- Perfect Conversation Guide for Chinese Life (25 lessons)
- Top 25 Chinese Questions You Need to Know (25 lessons)
From the beginning to the bonus materials, lessons have been thoughtfully planned out by a multinational team of language experts, and it really shows. Audio and video lessons are thorough, easy to understand, and come with useful supplementary information that teach the dialogue in Simplified & Traditional Chinese, English, & Pinyin.
The range of topics is really something unique. It doesn’t take much browsing to come across lessons that catch your interest. Ranging from daily routines to must-know slang phrases, there’s enough material to satisfy your appetite, allowing you to focus on the topics that really interest you.
Like it’s more popular sister site JapanesePod101, ChinesePod101 is based on the central concept of podcasts and video content. This makes it an exceptional tool for practicing your listening skills, which is so key to studying Chinese. By following the audio transcript line-by-line and utilising all the comprehensive study tools on offer, ChinesePod101 makes a very effective and invaluable learning tool to help you master this difficult language.
Brilliant for Building Your Chinese Vocabulary
One of the shortcomings of most traditional methods of learning chinese is that the methods rely too heavily on memorisation. Whilst this method may work for some, memorizing large sets of vocabulary out of context is a surefire way to leave you feeling demotivated and exhausted.
Unlike other learning platforms such as Duolingo, ChineseClass101 tackles this problem effectively by filtering in new vocabulary gradually into the video & audio lessons. This way you start to build up a clearer picture of how and when to use specific words in the correct context.
Our brains are wired to remember stories and situations, and this is what makes this method of learning so effective since every new set of vocabulary comes with an accompanying story and memorable narrative. The speed function can then be adjusted for you to slow down and really nail the pronunciation of those new words. You can even record yourself and play it back if you’re brave enough! It really helps to dial in the tones and the specific sounds that don’t correspond to English.
What We Didn’t Like About ChineseClass101
Full disclosure: we loved this program, and think it is a dynamic and effective way to learn Chinese. But we can’t fully advocate for one aspect of the language course: the teaching of the writing system.
Lack of high quality lessons on the Chinese Writing Systems
The audio and video lesson format can only go so far in teaching Simplified and Traditional Chinese. While the romanization is helpful to learn what Chinese words and phrases sound like and how they are spelled out, there is a lack of lessons teaching the components of the writing system.
To be fair, teaching the Chinese writing system is an incredibly difficult task. Most modern dictionaries contain over 20,000 individual characters and the language constitutes the oldest writing system on the planet. Chinese characters have served as the inspiration for the Japanese, Korean, & Vietnamese languages, and Chinese is quite commonly referred to as the world’s most difficult language to read and write.
Lack of Structure
A common problem we’ve noticed across all the Pod101 products is the lack of structure to effectively guide you through the language in a logical and strategic manner. It’s greatest strength is also its greatest weakness. Whilst the customizable lessons do allow you to stay engaged by picking and choosing lessons based on your interests, you sacrifice a methodical roadmap that most traditional textbooks and learning resources rely upon heavily. Therefore, for serious learners it’s almost essential to purchase the PremiumPLUS package at a higher cost to avoid getting lost in a sea of lessons. If you do go for this option, however, then you’ll have nothing to worry about since their personalized learning program is one of the best out there, tailored specifically to your specific goals, strengths and weaknesses.
What Are The Lessons Like?
As mentioned above, the lessons span between 5 different modules that represent different Chinese difficulty levels. The lessons tend to vary depending on the module, but they all share commonalities. First, the lessons are all structured similarly. They start with a video or audio component and include a lesson transcript below.
Each lesson has a vocabulary section that highlights new words. In the browser version, there are sections for you to take your own notes, create flash cards, and ask questions to the staff.
One function that we really liked is that all of their lessons have a comment section and instructors will almost always reply to questions! This type of feedback is absent in nearly all of their competitors and is another reason why we like their products so much.
Another powerful learning tool is the ability to download the entire lesson plan as a PDF. This feature gives the user the ability to learn in their own style and pace.
The audio and video lessons are really the bread and butter of the platform. However, there’s some more really cool bonus features to really top it off.
2000 Most Common Words
First, there’s the 2000 most common words. I personally love this section. There’s actually 2540 words, to be exact, and you can narrow it down to the top 100, 200 etc. if you want to. What I love about this section is that you can filter the words by category. Are you currently learning about clothing? Just click on the drop-down tab, select ‘clothing’, and voila – you have the most commonly spoken words relating to clothing. Each word has an audio and pronunciation guide for you to mimic and get the pronunciation spot on.
For each vocabulary item, there’s also a corresponding image and one or two example sentences (to learn the words in context). Simply click the plus icon to add a word to your word bank or to one of your flashcard decks. To help you learn the Chinese characters, there’s a built feature which zooms in on the characters when you hover the mouse over them. The whole interface is very user friendly and quite fun to browse around whenever you have a bit of free time.
Chinese Key Phrases
The next feature worth mentioning is the key phrases section. This is pretty much what it says on the tin but one thing that sets it apart is that again we have several specific examples for each phrase, so you can get a good idea of what context the phrase is used in. I also like that you can toggle on or off the pinyin or chinese characters. For me, I’m still relying upon the pinyin but for more advanced learners this is a great way of testing yourself and getting used to recognising the chinese characters. There’s also the option of traditional or simplified characters if you’re into that kind of thing… One more thing to note is that this section is very limited in content, though they claim to be always adding to it so you can expect more and more useful phrases to appear over time.
This is, well, a dictionary. But you can search in both English and Chinese, and each word has an accompanying audio sample at both full and half speed, which is very useful.
Trackable Learning Progress
I use the term ‘trackable’ in a rather loose way because it really depends on which membership you go for. With the Premium membership you’ll get access to quizzes after every lesson and regular progress reviews. However, with the basic membership you won’t have this ability, but what you can do is mark every lesson as complete once you’ve finished it and you’ll see how many you’ve completed at the top of your dashboard. Personally, this serves as a really good motivator for me, since I always want to complete an extra lesson to boost my score.
If you’re someone who likes to make notes to organise your thoughts, you can do so during the lesson. These will be saved for you to review whenever you want.
For flashcards I usually use Anki or Pleco, however I can see how their flashcard system can come in real handy. What I really like is that there’s a whole load of pre-set flashcard decks on a whole range of interesting topics, from star wars day to bugs and insects. Unlike other flashcard programs, the images are already pre-assigned, along with sample sentences and pronunciation guides. If you learn best with flashcards, then every functionality is in place for your personal flashcard paradise!
ChineseClass101 vs. Competitors
As mentioned in our Japanese Pod 101 review, we believe Innovative Languages make some of the best language programs our there. That said, they are not the only good option out there.
We believe that an effective Chinese language instruction program should address three critical components of the Mandarin Chinese dialect. Those are:
- Chinese Grammar
While some basic Chinese grammar mimics that of the english language (SVO, or Subject + Verb + Object), Chinese sentence structure tends to deviate significantly from other languages. It’s important that a language program highlights these considerable differences.
- Chinese Tones
Tones and voice inflections have a huge impact on the meaning of words and even entire sentences. An effective language program needs to address the tonal/pronunciation aspect of Chinese speech correctly and effectively.
- Chinese Characters
When your language requires between 2,000 – 3,000 individual characters just to read a newspaper, you know the the writing system is important. Chinese characters are difficult to learn, however any effective language program should address teaching them.
How Much Does It Cost? And Is It Worth The Money?
From my personal experience using ChineseClass101, it’s apparent just how much thought the creators have put behind the whole platform. I was pleasantly surprised with the user interface and the whole layout of everything, it’s a breeze to navigate and hours can fly by as you jump around the different lessons and soak up all the new content. Even offline you can download the lesson notes and word bank, and all the audio files are downloadable as MP3’s for you to listen to on the go (which is really awesome, given the sheer amount of diverse audio content being regularly added).
Despite there being many very worthy competitors to rival ChineseClass101, for the price it’s definitely a very valuable learning tool to boost your learning, specifically when it comes to improving your listening skills. It’s the perfect resource to use alongside a more structured textbook or teaching curriculum. For busy people, I can see how it’d be perfect to squeeze in some language learning on-the-go, on a lunch break, during a work commute, or simply to unwind after a long day.
ChineseClass101 has three tiers of membership; Basic, Premium & Premium Plus. Anybody considering paying for the paid tiers should first consider their level of commitment to learning Chinese.
Casual learners may consider the Basic plan, while those who want to learn Chinese quickly should consider Premium. The top tier (PremiumPlus) is recommended for those who are able to make a serious time commitment in order to take advantage of the 1-on-1 instruction.
ChineseClass101 Discount Code
Since we like and use this program ourselves, we reached out to the course creators for a discount for our readers. They’re currently offering Perapera.org readers an incredible 30% off any purchase of ChineseClass101 Basic or Premium. That works out to only $2.80 per month for Basic and $7.00 for Premium; less than a trip to Starbucks. This is a great deal if you’re serious about learning Chinese and want to take your learning to the next level.
ChineseClass101 Review Conclusion: Recommended, But You’ll Still Need A Chinese Textbook
Chinese is a very difficult language to learn, and no language learning program will be perfect. However, ChineseClass101 does a great job at providing a structured curriculum, while still offering flexibility to choose the way you study.
The 1 on 1 lessons in the PremiumPlus tier offer excellent value, and we believe would be a significant boost in learning Chinese. That said, we still recommend you supplement the course with a dedicated Chinese textbook to really learn the writing system.
All in all, we recommend ChineseClass101 for students of Chinese who are auditory/visual learners, from absolute beginner to intermediate.
Have you used ChineseClass101? What do you think about our review? Let us know in the comments.