I agree that quality is more important than quantity, but if no new lessons are being created then users are left with neither quality nor quantity. I note that the last Advanced lesson to be published was on October 4: This hiatus, following a period of several months earlier in the year in which no new content was released, is clearly unacceptable from a subscriber standpoint. If my subscription were monthly, I would have been long gone by now; as it is, I’m stuck with a subscription that I did try to cancel on the day in which it renewed.
With regard to your questions about how Advanced lessons can be improved, there have been numerous insightful suggestions in the comments section for individual lessons. The subject matter is not the issue. The issue is that lessons consist merely of an article read aloud once at the beginning that is then followed by selected vocabulary, usually defined and translated, and minimal, sometimes awkward conversation–and that’s it. What made ChinesePod uniquely successful in the past was not, in my opinion, a specific format or selection of subject matter (although those are also significant); rather, its success was due to the personalities and critical insights of its speakers, combined with a rigorous standardization of presentation. I do not take issue with the personalities of the presenters so far, but I do take issue with the lack of insightful commentary and standardization.
Insightful commentary means that the lesson provides more than vocabulary exposition, which has itself been inadequate in recent lessons. Let me explain. It is not enough to say a word in Chinese, define it in Chinese, offer an English translation (which, as users have consistently commented, is unacceptable in Advanced lessons), and then provide example sentences. I have noticed that many of the words selected are too easy and commonplace for advanced learners and some of the words not chosen are actually quite complicated. Idioms and uncommon words–or words that have certain subtle connotations or require background knowledge–should always be explained. Differentiating what words need explanation from what words do not requires shrewd instructors with an eye for picking up whatever a non-native speaker might not fully comprehend. Both prior teams accomplished this task skillfully.
Yet vocabulary alone is not sufficient for advanced–or even intermediate–learning because it dos not go beyond the word level. What we are looking for is in-depth textual and subtextual analysis. That means moving beyond mere vocabulary, beyond even sentence analysis, and getting into analysis of passage structure, language techniques, overall tone of voice, implications and assumptions, and cultural context. I have yet to see this kind of analysis with the new team. Instead, what we get are superficial and trivial comments, often about food in the case of Tamia. For examples of what we want, just look at the older content. Fiona and Constance’s greatest contribution was in going into greater depth on subject matter while always staying relevant to the passage. Look at their analysis of Xi Jinping’s speeches or famous poems. They consistently delve deep into the material for those insights that keep listeners interested rather than always staying at the surface level and hoping a few “cute” or funny comments will suffice.
Xinhua is a fine resource for lesson materials, although it’s limiting if that is the only source. What about literature? What about other forms of speech and language that are not typically contained on a news/commentary website? Even when you use Xinhua, news articles are not sufficient material for advanced learners. They are too factual and do not allow for in-depth analysis of subtext. It at least needs to be commentary to allow for higher order critical thinking skills.
All of these requirements should be part of the standardization process. A lesson needs to have a beginning, middle, and end–or, as Fiona structured it, an intro, body, and outro. The opening introduces the topic, provides background information. The body is when the article is first read and then analyzed in-depth before being read a second time for reinforcement. The final segment should wrap up loose ends, discuss the wider relevance of the article, as well as potential consequences if it is an event-based lesson. This basic structure has already been perfected by the previous teams, so there is no need to reinvent the wheel.
It goes without saying that all lessons should be in target language without recourse to English (even for translations). It should also go without saying that everything within the lesson and discussion should be relevant to the selected article or dialogue. There should not be tangential conversations that do not illuminate the main topic, nor should there be frequent distracting remarks about food or whatever else happens to emerge in the heads of the instructors. Cut those digressions out of the final product before publishing.
To summarize then:
- No English
- Everything in the lesson must be relevant
- Materials should be selected that are engaging, informative, and offer commentary (not simply factual news reports)
- Lessons should be structured with an introduction, body, and conclusion
- Lessons should offer in-depth linguistic and cultural analysis, not merely vocabulary exposition or casual conversation
You can reference some principles of foreign language acquisition here: https://startalk.umd.edu/public/principles
I appreciate your willingness to seek feedback and accept criticism. However, I will be honest and say that I am not optimistic because I have not seen any sign that the standards to which we have become accustomed will actually be adopted and enforced, or that the instructors will perform as well at these higher expectations: It will, after all, require rigorous training and development of certain inherent characteristics that not everybody possesses, to include self-awareness, engaging personality, insight into customer needs and expectations, and critical thinking skills.
There is a real opportunity here to build on the foundations of the previous teams and improve upon what they accomplished. Fiona and Constance represent such an advancement from the original team, as they went into greater depth in their analyses, experimented with a new video format, etc. They adopted what worked and then improved it. That is what I would suggest this team does as well: Build from what works. The problem, it seems, is that the new team is unaware of what works and what doesn’t and has not really invested the necessary time and energy into reviewing previous lessons that users then have to urge upon the new and inexperienced instructors.
I hope that this feedback is helpful and not unfairly critical. At the same time, I want to make it clear that I am not merely looking for an opportunity to vent and will not pretend that everything is okay because I have had an opportunity to express my continued dissatisfaction. I expect real and meaningful change or a partial refund, if possible. As I mentioned at the outset, I paid for an annual subscription and have already been deprived of six months of service. That’s the way I see it.
Thank you for your attention and consideration.