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Baron

Review of Chinesepod 'classes' service (Skype lessons)

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Wang7

Great post and thanks for the info. I was just wondering why choose Chinesepod's twenty minute Skype class package?

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Baron

Thank you.

 

I chose it because I had very little time to faff around with disorganised or disreputable admin from a tutoring service or individual. I'm satisfied with the quality of Chinesepod's site and resources and felt that it was a trustworthy brand. Additionally, I have extremely high standards for teachers and I was under the mistaken impression that Chinesepod would employ full time 'career teachers' on par with the standards of reputable TEFL schools in London.

 

So they did well on the marketing.

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Ruben von Zwack

Thank you for the review!

 

I would find it difficult to ask for a different teacher or different teaching style, too, especially as you say she is nice. But at the same time, the opportunity that you are missing out on is very sad, too.

 

Even more so, as GBP 30.- per hour seems outrageous to me.

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icebear

In the future I would recommend:

  • In China - get a personal tutor, rates are around $10-20/hour, depending on quality and your patience in searching.
  • Out of China - use http://italki.com/. Rates are generally $5-15, again depending on the same things. After a few tries I found a great one for about $10/hour in early 2012 that I use for about 6 months (before moving back to China).

ChinesePod is great for passive listening, although I think their other packages are clearly offered at executives, both price and style-wise (at least from how they've marketed it). What you've described about their service only cements that they are taking a hefty chunk of your money strictly as a middle-man fee.

 

A few comments related to your notes:

  • Holidays - this is hard to solve if you are using China-based tutors, given the entire country more or less shuts down for a few weeks a year, and the education sector even longer. Just a note that it isn't particular to any one service/tutor.
  • Part-timers - as a counter example to your implication that part-timers are probably under-qualified - it all depends on why they are part-time tutors. My tutor is a full time instructor of Chinese to foreigners at a local university (for the past 5+ years), and tutors privately a few extra hours a week. The reason for this arrangement would be that the full-time job generates stability, social welfare benefits, but a paltry income, which a few extra hours of private tutoring a week can nicely bolster. Plus, since she's good and only needs one or two students to fill her time, she can be choosy before settling on students that she enjoys teaching more (e.g. I've been with her for over a year, and I think her other student is even longer - the lessons are very useful, but also very fun for both). 

Finally, I'd note that the only positive you listed which is unique is them calling your land/mobile line. All others are standard for Skype teachers. I'd suggest giving iTalki (or a similar service) a try - many tutors there are happy to use CPod lessons as material, so long as you forward the PDFs ahead of time.

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Baron

@icebear

 

Thank you for the website suggestion and I understand why you appreciate your tutor. I also understand that some part time tutors spend the rest of their time teaching, and thus is possible, but not a certainty that they are.

 

Also, regarding your point about China shutting down for new year, private sector companies have a statutory holiday of a week or less, so it's not unreasonable to expect an online teaching service like Chinesepod to follow that practice, and indeed they do. However they also are lenient in allowing multiple teachers to take extra time off, which is all very well for a tutoring service but rather poor for a an 'executive service' provider.

 

My review comes from my expectation that the 'middle man fee' that you refer too would not only cover excellent administration, but also bring in the means for them to a fairly high standard of teachers, working on formally contracts. I'm under no illusions about the proportion of the fee that goes to the teacher, yet a general model of higher priced service usually allows a company to pay marginally higher wages which is an extremely effective method of obtaining more experienced teachers.

 

So yes, if someone wants a tutor and is happy to do the transactional side of things with a teacher or through italki or Google Helpouts or whatever, and is unlikely to need to cancel lessons at fairly short notice (or doesn't mind doing that to their teacher, who may be dependent on tutoring for their income), services like Chinespod aren't necessarily worth any consideration. 

 

@Ruben Von Zwack

 

Thanks for you comments. I'm going to give her a bit more time (one she finally returns) and if we can't come to an understanding I'll give her the heave-ho.

 

I don't think £30 an hour is necessarily unreasonable for a teacher, unless the work is just a bit of pocket money for them. My view is, if it's a freelance tutor, they need to earn enough to not work flat out, and not resent their work. They also need to be working at a rate that will make them feel under obligation to prepare well and invest their own resources in improving their profession. That said, you don't need to have a mindblowing teacher to make good progress. For a school, the price is reasonable because you are (theoretically) paying for the consistency of the service, reliable (but not necessarily outstanding) teaching quality, and contributing to the livelihood of the other staff members, and the company costs and taxes, and you don't need to worry about things like paying teachers in advance and them high-tailing it or dying on you. It just depends on what you're after.

 

Some Chinese tutors in London charge £50 to £60 ph, though the going rate for a tutor who also works at a school or university is around £30ph. The random Chinese students charge about £10 or 15.

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Meng Lelan
and emails me in English, despite my telling her that I had chosen the lessons so I could get 100% Chinese. It creates the familiar 'I can't believe that foreigners can really speak Chinese' vibe that many folk give off in China. 

 

Oh jeez. I would not like having my Chinese teachers email me in English if I were the student. Emails in Chinese are such an awesome learning opportunity. Yes, maybe that makes the student work harder at figuring out the Chinese email but still an excellent learning experience. 

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icebear
My review comes from my expectation that the 'middle man fee' that you refer too would not only cover excellent administration, but also bring in the means for them to a fairly high standard of teachers, working on formally contracts. I'm under no illusions about the proportion of the fee that goes to the teacher, yet a general model of higher priced service usually allows a company to pay marginally higher wages which is an extremely effective method of obtaining more experienced teachers.

 

Fair point. My impression is that the service provided didn't justify its cost relative to what else is out there on the market. Using iTalki is nearly identical to what you described in terms of convenience, consistency and quality, and about 1/3 to 1/6 the cost.

 

The extra cost is probably going towards marketing, rather that tutors. Again, I find the podcasts great. Not convinced their other services are worthwhile.

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tysond

Love ChinesePod's podcasts (there are faults, but overall a super useful service).  But I think this is more them responding to their own users demand to attach teaching services, and create a more executive "package".  It seems that they have priced this to be profitable.  

 

2 x 20 minutes a week [day] ... it's pretty tough to get value out of that much time.  Most expats coming to China at least do a 1 hour lesson a week (mind you they frequently just do that).    2 x 1 hour would be pretty good.

 

I have had varying degrees of success with the email in Chinese thing.  My teacher is great and practically ignores English.  Helps that her English is of the huge vocabulary but not-so-fluent variety - works great as a teacher.  But the billing, scheduling and so on staff - they go for what is clearest with the customer, to avoid screw-ups.  I understand.  You can actually get a lot of email/web forums/social media and so on in Chinese if you need these days.... so it's not like the 1980s where you are waiting for a pen pal in China to write you a letter before you can study any Chinese. 

 

edit: week instead of day.

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Meng Lelan
so it's not like the 1980s where you are waiting for a pen pal in China to write you a letter before you can study any Chinese. 

 

 

I do remember those good old days, they were awful!

 

In those days of the 1980s, I never imagined that the future would bring such an abundance of Chinese study opportunities in the form of emails, web forums, online Skype chats and so on. 

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FadedStardust

 

 

2 x 20 minutes a day ... it's pretty tough to get value out of that much time.  Most expats coming to China at least do a 1 hour lesson a week (mind you they frequently just do that).    2 x 1 hour would be pretty good.

 

Indeed, I do 2 x 1 hour via Skype with my teacher (also found via italki) and it's great! She's a certified teacher with a background in Education and her "day job" is teaching at a language school in Shanghai. Her rate is $12/hour. I too think that £30 is an insane price, especially when you're only getting 20 minute lessons and you can find qualified, amazing teachers on italki for so much less (just go to the professional teacher section of the website when searching and look at their profiles for verified credentials if you're worried about that sort of thing).

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Baron

I thought I'd share an update of my adventures in Chinesepod as it might help people make an informed decision about whether they want to invest in the classes.

 

Changing teachers

 

As promised, they were accommodating about teacher change requests. On top of that, my new teacher is excellent, exactly what I was hoping for when I chose Chinesepod.

 

Complaint handling

 

There were some further issues with teacher absences, and I requested a refund. They countered with an offer to extend my subscription significantly, and the customer service guy padded it out with some very unwelcome emotional appeals along with unnecessary divulgences of his own personal situation (past work situation, relative holiday allowances etc), references to parts of the T&Cs that didn't seem to exist, and a very irritating reframing of my grievances as being based on my misunderstanding of national holidays. In the time it took to write and subsequently decide against a few emails that attempted to address my dissatisfaction in a polite manner, I discovered that my new teacher is of very high calibre, and thus decided to accept the offer of an extension and emailed to say as such. That email inexplicably bounced, but it turns out they'd cleverly foreseen my acceptance and extended my subscription. Make of that as you will.

 

So, revised good points: they have some very good teachers, and they have a sense of responsibility towards customers (many tutoring services would have probably told me to screw myself for asking for a refund after the 30 day refund period was up). Somewhat revised drawbacks: odd and time consuming customer support staff.

 

Additionally, now I have a chance to actually speak in my lessons, I find 20 mins is too short for a class if you're not a beginner.

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