I’m really enjoying the lessons over at this site. They take a different approach from Chinese Pod and are geared toward a somewhat different audience. (If you’re preparing for the HSK exams, this is your place to go.) What’s most useful to me is the authentic sound and pace of the dialogues – even the elementary lessons are spoken at the actual speed at which you’ll hear people speak here, and loaded with kouyuhua. That means you have to strain to listen harder, and in doing so you become a better listener. Or at least I do.
I haven’t given up Chinese Pod, though. Their podcasts are unsurpassed for familiarizing yourself with essential phrases you’ll use again and again. Unfortunately, they shy away from grammar, while Popup Chinese embraces it. (Isn’t understanding grammar key to unlocking the mysteries of a new language?) So I find the two sites complement one another.
Too bad Chinese Pod’s lessons aren’t free anymore (not that I blame them for doing that). A few months ago I would have paid to subscribe, but right now I am being soooo careful with my money. I have a bank of about 60 pre-August 2008 CP lessons on my iPod, and soon I’ll have most of them memorized word for word. I even hear the voices of John and Jenny in my dreams.
Update: Forgot to mention this: Thanks to John over at Sinosplice I’ve started spending a couple of hours each day over at Skritter. If you’re working on improving your hanzi reading and/or writing skills, just go there now, sign up and start practicing. Once you sign up it starts customizing the lesson for you, repeating the characters you’ve had trouble with. Totally addictive. It’s a first: an addictive Web site that actually produces benefits. My reading ability shot up after just a few weeks. It helped me learn to spot the clues that differentiate certain characters that look annoyingly similar. It also drove home to me that memorizing characters by reading and looking at them isn’t enough. You have to write them. Priceless. Of course, they’ll probably ask for money soon, too, and I don’t blame them. Like Chinese Pod – and Popup Chinese – it’s worth paying for.
Richard Burger is the author of Behind the Red Door: Sex in China, an exploration of China's sexual revolution and its clash with traditional Chinese values.