I’ll share two strategies that have helped me. The first is, always move forward. I remember several months ago feeling (as you’ve described) burdened by how much I had to review, and I decided to revise my approach. Now, once I understand a podcast, text, video, or whatever, I move on (that is, for the most part–very occasionally I’ll review old material). If a phrase or grammar pattern is important enough to know, you’ll find it again and again in other contexts. You just have to have faith. And if you don’t find it again, then maybe that means you don’t need to learn it just yet.
Second, your metric for success should be less about the what you know (the size of your vocabulary, the speed in which you can converse, your grammatical accuracy, etc.), and more about what level of content you are comfortably able to digest. When I talk about “level of content,” I’m not just referring to ChinesePod’s levels, but outside content as well: news articles on Chairman’s Bao, graded readers that you can buy on Amazon, children’s shows you can watch on YouTube. To borrow gaming terminology, once you “unlock” the ability to digest higher level material, then further progress will suddenly become easier.
If your goal is to speak in Chinese one day, you can watch Elementary ChinesePod lessons forever and you’ll never be able to attain that goal. But if you are able to “unlock” the ability to understand the Intermediate lessons, then you suddenly gain access to a much higher caliber tool for learning. Then as you listen to more and more Intermediate lessons, your skills will accelerate at a much faster pace than if you devoted the same amount of time to listening to Elementary lessons. Then if you unlock Upper Intermediate, suddenly fluent conversation comes within reach.
It’s the same with reading. You’ll never be able to read native books and articles if you study the characters in isolation, or if you only read exercise material. But if you unlock the ability to read graded readers, then your reading ability will start to accelerate. And the great thing about graded readers is that they’re graded–they step up in difficulty just like ChinesePod lessons.
Unlocking the ability to digest higher level content also acts as a bulwark against quitting, because frankly, higher level content is more interesting. If I only listened to Elementary lessons, I probably would have quit by now. I think it’s impressive that you’ve lasted as long as you have–it speaks well to your perseverance. But the Intermediate and Upper Intermediate lessons are more fun. And reading graded readers are fun, as is watching Mandarin-dubbed Peppa Pig on YouTube (even though it’s a show for kids). Now that learning Chinese is more fun, I am less motivated to quit, and more motivated to continue reaching for even higher levels. And hopefully one day, I’ll be reading and watching content in Chinese that I would normally read and watch in English.
Of course, although higher level content will accelerate your progress, you still have to make some progress in order to “unlock” it in the first place. It’s like that old phrase, it takes money to make money. So if you’re stuck in Elementary, how do you get to the point where you can start studying Intermediate?
If I had to hazard a guess, I’d say you’re already at that point. If you’re not used to Intermediate, it will be difficult at first. It took me months to be able to understand the Mandarin-speaking host (whether it be Jenny, Dilu, or Fiona). My tactic was to get fully familiar with the dialogue first (using the handy dialogue tab on the website), and only afterwards listen to the full podcast, thereby using the dialogue to understand the podcast instead of the other way around. And I still listened to plenty of Elementary lessons during this time as well. The idea isn’t to jump from one lesson to the next cold turkey but to make a gradual shift. The important point is to constantly push yourself to listen to more challenging material. If you stick to Elementary lessons hoping you’ll someday magically be able to understand Intermediate, it’s just never going to happen. 加油！