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No New Advanced Lessons


#1

ChinesePod,

Why are we stuck waiting again for new Advanced lessons? I feel frustrated and cheated at the service I have received so far this year. Let me share my experience.

I sought to cancel my annual subscription back in March of this year. Since I cancelled literally on the day my subscription was set to renew, it was a hassle getting it approved. At the time, I said I would accept a cheaper subscription; however, even that was a mistake.

In the past nine months, there have been only 13 new Advanced lessons, all between June and October 4, and none of which are very good. Since I have already listened to all the existing Advanced and Media lessons, I am paying an annual subscription for a handful of subpar lessons.

I assume that new lessons are in the works and we will start seeing them soon, but in the meantime, there have been more than six months without new content (Jan 18-Jun 11, Oct 4-present)! Six months in a year! So we’re receiving half the service for which we subscribed.

When I offered to renew my subscription, I expected at least a regular flow of new content (not to mention quality material). So far even this minimal expectation has not been met.


#2

Hello,

Thank you for writing in. Being the new academic director, I truly hope to hear more on how we can improve on the advanced lessons. To do that it would really help us to know what works and what does not for you in a lesson. Is it the subject matter? The discussion format? The content? Is there a specific subject matter that you are looking for? The advanced lessons are now derived from Xinhua news content, a great source of Chinese materials that we have gained the rights to use. But as news report is a form of specialised writing, we are going to produce lessons that are of other writing styles. Is there a particular writing style, such as dialogue, personal narrative, or informational text, you are interested?

On releasing schedule, I need to follow a releasing plan of one lesson for each level per week. This is a general guideline and I have some flexibility to change but not too much. If our advanced students felt the need to see more lessons, which I think is entirely reasonable and understandable, I would bring this up to our management team and find ways to achieve it.

But this still brings us back to the questions of whether the lessons are meaningful and useful to users. So we hope to focus on the quality questions before we tackle quantity question.

Looking much forward to hearing from you again!

Warmest
Elsha


#3

Elsha,

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:

  1. No English
  2. Everything in the lesson must be relevant
  3. Materials should be selected that are engaging, informative, and offer commentary (not simply factual news reports)
  4. Lessons should be structured with an introduction, body, and conclusion
  5. 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.


#4

Hello,

It’s really users as you that make ChinesePod a very unique learning community which I am very happy and proud to find myself a part of. Many thanks for taking time to write in and certainly we welcome constructive criticism. Your write-up is so clear and explicit. My sincere reply is that we do not intend to deviate from the tradition, especially not from the good tradition, while we will continue to explore new grounds.

Best Regards,
Elsha


#5

Elsha,

While I have been critical of the new Advanced lessons in general, I should make an exception: 虎妈教育方式的利与弊 is a fine lesson and the instructors do a good job. The difficulty level is appropriate; the instructors speak entirely in Chinese and keep it relevant; and they do discuss cultural phenomena in depth. The format is different, but that’s not necessarily bad. My main, and perhaps only, criticism is that the PDF could be greatly improved by more accurate translations and more comprehensive inclusion of spoken sentences and vocabulary. Is there ever going to be a Part 3?

I should also note that I have not yet listened to the latest two lessons and so cannot include them in my criticism.


#6

Thank you for giving a thumbs up to the guest teachers in 虎妈教育方式 and by these lessons, I can gauge your level being one more than advanced. We are planning for Part 3, once we can work out the right schedule with the guest teachers. I hope the newer advanced lessons are more interesting and useful to you and we will continue to tweak our teaching approach to reach a good balance of various qualities.


#7

Forgive my persistent bluntness, but why are we yet again waiting for Advanced lessons?

The new Advanced lessons are not as challenging as those prior to the transition, which is fine (albeit disappointing for those who like a challenge or whose proficiency exceeds the current standard). But more frustrating is the dearth of content for subscribers for whom Advanced lessons are the only appropriate difficulty level. There has not been an Advanced lesson since April 6. That means that for anyone like me who has already listened to all the old content and does not benefit from anything below Advanced, there has not been any new content for the past two months.

I did listen to some of the lower level material out of curiosity, and I admit the quality has definitely improved (at least the quality of the ones to which I listened). But where are the Advanced lessons?

I know it’s hard work and I appreciate your efforts. You have been responsive and handled criticism with humility and poise thus far, for which I am grateful. Allow me then to express my hope that we will soon see more Advanced content. Yet even more, I hope to see some really challenging material that may require a level beyond Advanced (as currently oriented toward HSK).


#10

首先,我们对于没有及时更新高级课程感到抱歉,你很快将会看到新的高级课程。
至于课程的难度,在高级课程的学习中,同学们的知识掌握程度、词汇量和理解能力都不尽相同,我相信高级版的课程是适应大部分此阶段的学生的程度的,并且为中高级的同学提供一些向高级过渡的机会。高级课程注重文化现象的分析与讨论,我们短短的对话中展示出来的只是复杂现象的冰山一角,我们也鼓励学有余力的同学们进行延伸与拓展,也有不少同学积极地在课后自己查阅资料来丰富对课程话题的理解。
朴素中见真知,我理解你想要更多挑战的心情,作为一个生长在中国、从小接受汉语教育的母语者,我觉得我们也可以做一些古典诗词的课程, 毕竟诗词歌赋是我们现代汉语的来源,这些方面的学习会对你的语言积累大有裨益、也能强化你对汉语的语义、用法的理解。