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bchang

Chinesepod.com-Does it really work?

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flameproof

Looking at CPod's changes the last few month I feel like those guys are in love with computer technology. Main focus now seem to be gadgets, rather then useful functions. And still nothing is really connected and they don't explain well how to use it.

I did gave up on CPod, mainly because of the MP3 content. There is no beginners content only in Mandarin. MP3 incl. intermediate are mostly in English, with a very short dialog in Mandarin.

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koreth
I did gave up on CPod, mainly because of the MP3 content. There is no beginners content only in Mandarin. MP3 incl. intermediate are mostly in English, with a very short dialog in Mandarin.

But if you throw a 100% Mandarin program at a beginner, they won't understand any of it, yes? If someone can understand an entire program with no English, is "beginner" really an appropriate description of their level?

Try the upper intermediate lessons if you want lots more Mandarin. Those will typically have at least twice as much Mandarin as English, sometimes much more than that; they're what I mostly listen to and I find them satisfying. And the advanced ones are pretty much all Mandarin with an occasional word or two of English to define a particular piece of new vocabulary. Typically those are just Jenny and another native speaker, no foreigners involved. I'm not at a point yet where I can get too much out of those.

The intermediate ones seem to have the most variation; some of them are very English-heavy and some of them are very Mandarin-heavy.

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csit

I was doing a web search and came across this site CSLpod: http://www.cslpod.com

It has 50 episodes and seems to focus on intermediate and advanced speakers. I didn't find it here under search, so I thought I'd throw it out in case readers of this thread were interested.

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mirgcire

Great question. But a little vague. What do you mean by "work"?

Maybe a good question to ask is: If someone started with no knowledge of chinese, and studied chinesepod exclusively for one year - say 10 hours per week, how well would they function if dropped off in some interior city of china. Better yet, if we compared this same person with someone who spend the same amount of time with pimsleur how would their level compare. Actually to be fair we need to take a random sample of (say) 7 people in each group and measured their relative competence. I tend to think the pimsluer group would do better on most measures.

Of course a more realistic comparison would be with a class - high school, college, or adult evening level. But there is lots of veriablity with classes starting with the teacher and the text book.

I my opinion Chinesepod is great as an augment to some other study method, either a class or living in china immersion. But as a single source is not all that helpfull. For example, I have met very few chinese people that speak as clearly as Jenny. Her mandarin is not perfect - but it is vastly more clear than 99.99% of other chinese speakers.

Several previous posters to this thread have noted that Chinesepod fails to address the gap between "Elementary" and "Intermediate". The Eli level is 10% mandarin and the Ini level is 90% mandarin. It seems like they just forgot a level. This must be a difficult level to address, as I have found it difficult to locate any useful material. However, I think Foreign Service Institute material is probably the best (http://www.fsi-language-courses.com/Chinese.aspx)

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Luobot

I agree with most of what Mirgcire (in post #52) said, except for these two points:

1 – If Jenny’s Mandarin is clearer than 99.99% of what’s out there (I would lower that to just 99%), then Pimsleur’s Mandarin makes up the other 0.01%. From a listening perspective, neither one is what you typically hear in the “wild.” On the other hand, repeating after “perfect” Mandarin is a valuable strategy for improving one’s own pronunciation. It certainly makes absolutely no sense to me to repeat after an entirely realistic but poor pronunciation.

The obvious question that arises, then, is what constitutes good versus bad pronunciation? Isn’t that relative? From the perspective of a native speaker, doesn’t that depend on what region you come from? I’ll leave that for others to answer. In case you have any thoughts on this question, I'd be interested in hearing them ... at this thread.

Where Pimsleur prevails over Cpod is in the fact that they give you space to practice your pronunciation within the audio itself. This also adds to the repetition, which in turn enhances retention. To date, Cpod’s podcasts don’t permit this; however, Cpod has indicated they will do something Pimsleur-like in the very near future (already available at CLO from their first lesson and augmented in their “Level 2” material with “Premium/Review Podcasts”). If Cpod follows through, as promised, then this may finally fill at least one of the several holes in Cpod.

2 – Then there’s the gap issue, which I also mentioned in my earlier post in this thread (#16): This is a fatal flaw for beginners who come to that point where the elementary level podcasts yield diminishing returns, but the intermediate level podcasts are beyond reach. The potential problem with inserting a level between the two is creating a new gap between the old and new levels, which then needs to be closed, and so on. In fact, you need a level for every notch on the radio dial, so to speak, with small, incremental increases in quantity of Mandarin used, sentence length, structure, complexity, and so on. In other words, you need a progressive approach, which starts at lesson 1 and builds brick by brick from there. The problem for Cpod is, how many discrete levels can they simultaneously, profitably support? Hence, I imagine, their current reluctance to add more levels. Given where they are now, their best solution may be to have a well crafted, progressive series of podcasts that bridges the gap. A number of Cpod users have been asking for this for some time. Cpod seems to be about a year behind listening to their listeners, so this may eventually catch up with them. A half-way solution that may be easier for them to implement would be to rebalance the levels between newbie, elementary, and intermediate. Note that there isn’t such a huge difference between newbie and elementary as there is between elementary and intermediate. Much of elementary is indistinguishable from and could be merged into newbie. The most challenging elementary and the least challenging intermediate could form the range for the missing “upper elementary” level that Mirgcire identifies. Note: To keep the same number of levels as present (assuming that's necessary), this would replace the current elementary level, which would, as indicated, be largely merged into the newbie level with the remainder becoming the bottom range for the new elementary level. In other words, those three levels need to be restructured and rebalanced if the gap is to be narrowed without increasing the overall number of levels that Cpod needs to support.

It should also be obvious that there are a sufficient number of newbie lessons, without adding to the existing sprawl. I’ve estimated that I’ve downloaded over 30 hours of newbie podcasts (200+ newbie podcasts at an average estimated length of 10 minutes each). If it really takes more than that to get past the newbie level, then that fact by itself proves the failure of Cpod’s approach. Objectively speaking, refocusing on where the need is (the “missing level” and beyond) would seem to be a smart move. I’ll guess that Cpod feels that they need to continue to put out new newbie podcasts to attract new newbie’s, who constitute the majority of the market at this point; and Cpod presumes this market wants to listen to the latest “hot” lessons rather than a “cold” archive. Had there been a connection between lessons, then most of these listeners would prefer to listen to lesson 1 and go forward from there. CLO, by contrast, brilliantly provides a course outline so that you can get a pretty good feel for where you should jump in, and you can always move up or down from there. Given Cpod’s present structure, they will never be able to do that or take advantage of any benefit from knowing that they taught “N” so next up is “N+1.”

I don’t want to be entirely negative. So let me add that for those who like to spend their study time “discovering” or "exploring" (which is hype-speak for wondering around not knowing where your going) Cpod remains your best bet. Other ways to make Cpod work include following a structured course and using Cpod as an entertaining break. Sign up for their practice plan and start handing over some real money. Live in rural China where no one speaks a word of your native language. Get a Chinese wife (seems to be the most satisfied demographic at Cpod based on user comments that I’ve “discovered” ... j/k :wink: ).

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simonlaing

To the profound Luo bot,

I think the issue of good pronunciation is important. I do think listening to standard dialect is quite good but don't think the R hua ying (the adding of an R sound to everything ) is close to what the majority of Chinese speak.

Sometimes it seems like DongBei northeastern people seem to have very good pronunciation (see tone correctness) partly due to their complicated local dialects.

Also one drawback to Cpod and Pimsleur is the lack of verification. I think you need a Chinese person, either a teacher in your classroom or a tutor (or a girlfriend with good chinese ) to correct you and show you the correct lip position.

I found the Zhao and Jiao sounds hard to seperate and with the Zh sound I was walking around with my lips puckered for kiss for a week just to get it right. Plus the Shi 4th tone the lips are pierced sort of like a bird. I don't know if I could figure out how to make these differentiations from just listening.

Classroom learning or tutoring with a model is necessary also correct a student when they say it wrong but think they say it right. My mum is learning French and she can't figure the difference between the j and the G as the sounds are flipped.

I wandered around trying to learn on my own for 3 years and I was in CHina. I argee Chinese pod can be very useful in learning and the pods are interesting (unlike a lot of dry chiense books) . But to use them solely can't give you great pronunciation just like watching a lot of Chinese kungfu movies won't give you good pronunciation either. (though they're cool , yeah Jet Li)

Some two cents. Do you think Cpod could make a voice analyzer like they have on the english Tell me more..?

Have fun, Study hard,

Simon:)

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Luobot

Dear Simon 老师,

On the question of pronunciation, I realized that I was spinning off on another topic, so I started another thread to discuss what I was getting at here, but didn’t adequately explain. Please see -- this thread -- to continue this part of the discussion.

On the question of verification, I agree with you entirely: Having “a girlfriend with good Chinese to … show you the correct lip position” beats the pants off ChinesePod every time. ChinesePod may argue that they now have their Practice Program, which offers verification, but I still like your idea better.

To use your analogy about Kungfu, you can learn somewhat by watching, but ultimately you can only master it by actually doing it yourself. To get back to whether ChinesePod works, the answer again seems to be, not if you’re relying on their podcasts, because there is no practice opportunity built into the podcasts themselves, as there is with Pimsleur, CLO, or possibly some other resources mentioned earlier in this thread. In CPod, Ken does all the practicing, and you sit there being passively entertained. The result is that after 6 months of CPod, I found that Ken had noticeably improved, which is great, but I hadn’t. No surprise. If and when they come up with something "Pimsleur-like" then I may reassess my opinion.

Regarding using computer programs, they have very limited usefulness, in my experience, for spoken Chinese, which is my primary interest for now. For written Chinese, grammar, and recognizing sentence patterns, they can be a great tool. I originally started learning Mandarin with programs, and it was a waste of time and money. LanguageNow, for example, has a voice analyzer that you can just hum into, and it will tell you that your doing a great job. Rosetta Stone was a complete waste for me. The most useful program that I’ve found is ZDT, which is free. My dearest wish is that ZDT would enable me to attach my own soundfiles to word lists so that I can integrate it with the podcasts that I'm listening to. (Hint to Chris.) I’m looking forward to what GeekFrappa (post #42) comes up with… Hope I answered your question. :wink:

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furyou_gaijin

Luobot-san et al.,

With due respect for the validity of many points made so far, I'm amazed by this discussion: is this a particular feature of people who tend to actively participate in discussion forums that they are more concerned with discussing technical aspects and devising a 'perfect' learning resource than they are pragmatic in taking the best from what is already available?

No pauses in dialogues to allow for repetition?! Has no one noticed a pause button on their iPods then?!

Not enough content? The banter too irrelevant? Well, there are over 500 highly relevant transcripted dialogues out there for free, with thousands of vocabulary items - have people covered them all before commenting on the lack of material?

Explanations repetitive? Who cares about them anyway?! Just cut straight to the dialogue to get the vocabulary and/or learn the sentence patterns by heart.

No progressive study plan?! Those learning the language in self-study should be sufficiently mature to work it out for themselves, it's more fun that way, too: I only listened to a few minutes of Pimsleur before having to combat the urge to throw myself or my iPod out of the window.

No opportunity to practise speaking? Once again, learn the dialogues by heart and recycle them in your conversations - you'll never make a mistake and modifying the known sentences to include other vocabulary is a basic basic basic skill.

CPod is an excellent means to a goal. And I, for one, want to work my way through it in the fastest and the most efficient way, absorbing maximum vocabulary from what is available so far and moving on to applying this knowledge. And this implies that there is no point in dwelling on what could have been presented better in Lessons 1 to 1305 when there are still Lessons 1306 and 1307 to go through. And no time for it either.

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koreth

I generally agree with furyou_gaijin (I am a paid ChinesePod subscriber and consider it money well spent) but I will play devil's advocate for a moment and say that not all teaching resources are created equal. Time is a finite resource. I can spend an hour listening to a ChinesePod episode and studying its contents, or I can spend an hour with some other study material. If the hour spent with other material leaves me with a firmer understanding of some new language point, or with equally useful vocabulary but the ability to recall it more easily, then I'm better off going with that material instead.

To me, the thread's title notwithstanding, this discussion isn't about whether ChinesePod is any use at all, but rather about whether there are other resources that teach you more material (or teach it more effectively) in the same amount of time. In financial terms, it's about maximizing return on investment.

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Luobot

@ furyou_gaijin

is this a particular feature of people who tend to actively participate in discussion forums that they are more concerned with discussing technical aspects and devising a 'perfect' learning resource than they are pragmatic in taking the best from what is already available?

Actually, if you read my earlier post in this thread, you’ll see that I’ve suggested using a structured, progressive resource (such as CLO or some of the other resources mentioned by others) and using Cpod as a supplement. I do advocate a best of breed approach. I don’t agree with you about settling for what’s available, if by that you mean to say, “accept Cpod as it is and shut up about it.” Regarding our “discussing technical aspects and devising a 'perfect' learning resource” – speaking for myself, the answer is: Yes – and there’s certainly nothing wrong with that. Cpod and all other creations wouldn’t exist if we were so “pragmatic” as to only accept “what is already available” without questioning it and trying to push the envelope.

No pauses in dialogues to allow for repetition?! Has no one noticed a pause button on their iPods then?!

Sarcasm aside, I’ve noticed that it exercises the wrong skill, i.e., finger reflex rather than concentrating on the material. Constantly hitting the pause button is a distraction, especially as Cpod’s style is a continuous stream of banter without pause. It also requires that you keep your finger on the button all the time, which limits its mobility -- as in the gym, while shopping, driving, and all the other “any time, any place” situations.

I could also use audio editing software to insert pauses, and in the beginning I tried that, but it’s not a good use of my study time, especially when there’s other good material out there that’s better suited to my needs. When Cpod started up, they were the only Mandarin podcast game in town, so they could get away with this, but fortunately, now there’s growing competition. Competition will force all these content providers to offer better and better content, while keeping the price down. Competition in the Mandarin language marketplace is healthy and should be encouraged. Also, having experienced a number of alternatives to Cpod, I’ve come to a better understanding of what to expect and demand in return for my time and money.

No progressive study plan?! Those learning the language in self-study should be sufficiently mature to work it out for themselves, it's more fun that way, too: I only listened to a few minutes of Pimsleur before having to combat the urge to throw myself or my iPod out of the window.

I couldn’t disagree with you more.

As someone who pursues self-study for the sake of self-fulfillment, I ultimately work out everything for myself. Sites such as Cpod only provide study aids. They either succeed in aiding or they don’t. “Aiding” is the operative word. I find that the progressive approach aids my self-study far more effectively than Cpod’s random approach. You’re entitled to pursue and advocate in favor of your own learning style and to argue the issues on their merit. But if “maturity” is your concern, then you should be a little more grown-up about taking on board the thoughts of others who offer alternatives to your personal preferences, and who have learning styles different from your own.

No opportunity to practice speaking? … Once again, learn the dialogues by heart and recycle them in your conversations

Actually, I find this statement to be very UN-Cpod like. Ken Carroll, himself, is on record as having come out very strongly against rote memorization. Here, I agree with Ken, and again find myself disagreeing with you. Memorizing tons of stock dialogs has very little practical use, never mind being mind-numbing, especially if “fun” is your modus operandi.

By the way, Cpod has finally admitted to the value of what I and many others have long been asking for (as of yesterday) by providing a Pimsleur-style drill as a “Premium” feature. Notice that their not giving away the Pimsleur-styled drill and selling the banter podcast (which I also enjoy for its entertainment value). So in the final analysis, your whole argument has been refuted by Cpod, itself. The marketplace has spoken.

combat the urge to throw myself or my iPod out of the window

Famous last words.

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rherschbach

I'm not sure if memorizing dialogues is a good idea, but one thing that definitely helps is going over the vocabulary and patterns until you have them down and can replicate them on your own (even better if you can modify and expand on them with your own sentences). This is one way to get the most out of Chinesepod. They recently made it easier by adding a "dialogue only" podcast. This also makes it safer to study in the car -- less fiddling around with the Ipod...

Chinese has a lot of constructions that seem strange or counterintuitive to an English speaker. I just don't think there's any way to really learn them without a whole lot of repetition and study, until they become second nature. Otherwise you can end up with a large vocabulary and still be unable to form a sentence. The Chinesepod transcripts are full of patterns and, by my count, at least 10 good new vocabulary items per episode. (I'm referring to intermediate here). A person who mastered them all would be able to communicate pretty well, I think.

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rherschbach

As for the problems with the elementary-level lessons, I have a radical suggestion: just skip them! Or use them as a supplementary resource. Start with Pimsleur, as Luobot suggests, or a good old fashioned elementary course like Kan Qian's. After that, you are ready for intermediate Chinesepod.

IMO, the real strength of Chinesepod is at the post-beginner level. That's when a student can really take advantage of the dynamic learning model they provide.

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furyou_gaijin

Discussing individual learning styles is rather out of place in this thread. And yet, what realistic alternatives are there to memorising (bits of) dialogues - in the sense of listening to them to the point of being able to reproduce the whole sentences when suitably prompted? Or memorising (bits of) sentences from a written native source? If there is any other way to achieve the ability to sound and to write like a native speaker (and not like one who is constantly translating from one's own language), everyone is welcome to share.

Marketplace for Mandarin Chinese is the least of one's concerns when one has a goal to achieve fluency in the language: if one wants to make real progress, one simply has no time to comment on the colour of the banners and the user-friendliness of the section captions. The pragmatic approach is to take ANY available resource and squeeze the maximum out of it. And then discard it and move on to another resource that offers more.

And under the above approach, CPod was a no less valuable resource a year ago (in its pristine and simple form) than it is today (with tons of embellishments). I will continue to use it while I can still learn new things from it but I will also continue to adjust the ways in which I use it, to keep up with my needs of the moment: this is by far more efficient than trying to get CPod make any change if one's primary goal is to learn a language and not to benefit the community by creating a perfect resource.

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leosmith
No progressive study plan?! Those learning the language in self-study should be sufficiently mature to work it out for themselves, it's more fun that way, too:

Just curious - is this language learning method to your liking?

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Luobot

@ furyou_gaijin -

Discussing individual learning styles is rather out of place in this thread.

Why so? In my original post in this thread (#16), I started out by saying:

Chinesepod.com - Does it really work?

There isn’t a clear “yes” or “no” answer to your question. It depends on your personal learning style …

You are more than welcome to disagree so that we can consider all different perspectives, but you do need to back up such statements with an explanation. Why do you think that it’s “out of place” to discuss individual learning styles? I’m left hanging to find the “because …” Is it because you think there is only one right way for everyone to learn?

Regarding memorization, there’s a vast difference between memorizing dialogues wholesale, as you originally seemed to advocate (i.e., your statement: “learn the dialogues by heart and recycle them in your conversations”), to your latest statement about “memorising (bits of) sentences.” I agree that committing vocabulary words and phrases to memory is necessary, but it’s not enough. The most essential element is to have an understanding so that you’re able to remix the bits and small lexical chunks in an ad-hoc way, driving your communication on its own wheels, rather than on a pre-laid railroad track that only goes to certain stations.

Regarding the marketplace, it’s all important in determining what resources are available to us. The marketplace brought about Cpod, then its competitors, then improvements in Cpod, and so on. As the force of the marketplace continues to push this process, we continue to benefit.

Regarding criticizing the “colour of the banners and the user-friendliness of the section captions” – personally, I never have, as I have larger issues with Cpod – but on the other hand, why get so worked up about people who try to improve a service in ways that matter to them? If things are just the way you like them, then you should certainly say so, and even point out the advantages that you see in the current status, rather than criticizing others merely for expressing themselves.

The pragmatic approach is to take ANY available resource and squeeze the maximum out of it. And then discard it and move on to another resource that offers more…. this is by far more efficient than trying to get CPod make any change if one's primary goal is to learn a language and not to benefit the community by creating a perfect resource.

Isn't Cpod all about community? Isn't that why you're here writing?

What other Mandarin resources have you tried that work? That question is also part of the topic of this thread.

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hunxueer

I enjoy the occasional dose of ChinesePod, but as many others have already stated, as a supplemental resource. And the levels do seem quite arbitrary; I'm at the bottom of my class in Intermediate 1 at Sichuan University, yet according to CP's test I'm Upper Intermediate, and listening to some of the podcasts at that level, that seems about right.

I'd guess this has a lot to do with marketing: If the customers feel like they're making (rapid) progress, they're going to be more satisfied than if they feel like they're spending all this money and time and not being able to advance through the levels, which, with Mandarin, is entirely possible.

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furyou_gaijin

@leosmith

I have come across this site before. His approach is very hardcore indeed. Most people (even on kanji.koohii, where I started a thread on 'All Things Chinese' under a different name) come to the study of kanji parallel to learning the language via more traditional methods. So learning kana after kanji is not really an option. Then come the sentences: the only problem with that is where does one get the sentences from? How to make sure the sentences are diverse enough to cover sufficient vocabulary and grammar patterns? He doesn't seem to be giving an answer...

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leosmith
Then come the sentences: the only problem with that is where does one get the sentences from? How to make sure the sentences are diverse enough to cover sufficient vocabulary and grammar patterns? He doesn't seem to be giving an answer...

Good points. I've had an urge to criticize the method a few times, but I get such intense negative responses to my criticism, I crawl back under my rock. Maybe it's time to try again....

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furyou_gaijin

@Luobot

Ok, let's discuss individual learning styles. There is no 'right' way, there are many ways. Some of them are efficient, others are less efficient. But efficiency has to be measured in relation to each individual's goals. And as goals differ, it is impossible to impose one style for everyone. The discussion of specifics can merit a separate thread, hence I judged it out of place in the current one.

Regarding memorisation of dialogues: at the initial stages learners will probably find it beneficial to memorise the whole dialogue (ni hao ma? wo hen hao! ni jiao shenme minzi? wo jiao Ken, etc...), at a later stage - only sentences with new patterns and lots of new vocabulary will require memorisation. I didn't realise that this required clarification but will attempt to be more specific going forward.

I don't think we disagree on the importance of being able to remix, etc.

Regarding the marketplace: yes, it is important to know what is out there but there is a limit to the process of discovery. Often, it is better to stick with an old resource until it's exhausted, instead of keeping switching over to new ones as they appear. Time is a limited resource and there are enough people on forums and in language-learning blogs who seem to be passing more time searching for a perfect book or website than studying. Learning languages is in this respect similar to photography: many people spend much more time discussing and buying equipment than actually taking pictures...

Regarding criticism and praise: have I not repeatedly stated that CPod is a useful resource?

Regarding other resources, it may help to state my goals first: ability to read and comprehend any texts in the Chinese language (including, to a degree, wenyanwen). Any ability to speak and listen is a 'nice-to-have' and will take care of itself when the first objective is completed. I have exclusively used CPod and real-life conversations with native speakers to achieve my current intermediate (in CPod terms) level. However, most of my time is now spent on a 'full-time' study of hanzi and vocabulary, with a goal to learn 6,000 hanzi by year-end. My CPod routine has been very basic: listen to the whole podcast only once, discard the banter and carry on listening to the dialogue only. If I have a question on grammar, I will look it up in my grammar book or ask a friend. I have never considered using any of the CPod premium features.

Once again, many of the points you (and others) make in the discussion above are very valid points. It just seemed to me that at a certain point the discussion closely approached my photography analogy...

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koreth
And the levels do seem quite arbitrary; I'm at the bottom of my class in Intermediate 1 at Sichuan University, yet according to CP's test I'm Upper Intermediate, and listening to some of the podcasts at that level, that seems about right.

"Intermediate" and "advanced" are arbitrary labels by definition, though. Each curriculum defines them differently, depending on what its particular emphasis and pace is. Even universities don't agree on what materials are suitable for which levels: for example, Stanford University's second-year summer intensive program uses a textbook that claims to be aimed at third-year students (中国剪影 aka "A New Text for Modern China," the one from Peking University).

So the fact that one curriculum's "intermediate" doesn't match another one's is a universal truism in my opinion, nothing to do with either ChinesePod or Sichuan University.

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