Top critical review
8 people found this helpful
Not too bad, but not great either
on 8 April 2016
I've made a few partial runs through these CDs. I've listened to the basic / beginner set (first 8 CDs) three times, and most of the advanced (next 4 CDs) once. I'm on my fourth run currently, and intend to complete them all (mostly out of sheer stubbornness to see it through to completion) and try the vocabulary builder set. My feelings on these CDs are mixed. They were a useful basic introduction to Mandarin for me when I first started, but haven't taken me any further than that and I've gained a lot more subsequently from other resources.
- The concepts and words are explained in a very simple and easy to grasp way. There is no difficulty in following the CDs.
- It will help to dispel the myth that Mandarin is an extremely difficult language to learn and you will be pleasantly surprised to learn about things like lack of plurals, lack of verb conjugation, using adverbs as verbs, lack of lots of redundant "filler" words that we have in English, the simple building block nature of many words (e.g. the word for "chinese" is formed by combining "china" and "person"), and the often intuitive word order (e.g. the statement "you are busy" simply becomes "you are busy?" as a question, or "this is what?" is answered with "this is book"). All of these help to boost your confidence and motivation to continue.
- It introduces you to enough of the basics that you will understand the tones, a small selection of words, and some sentence structures (but your pronunciation will be lacking - see below in the bad points).
- Worth doing prior to starting other, better, resources, as it will give you a head start without much effort or time, and you will have lots of "I'm already familiar with this concept" moments when first starting out with other resources.
- Most of the first CD is fairly tedious, but necessary to get through. The tones are explained in a very long drawn out fashion. On the plus side (and probably why it was done this way), you can't really forget these concepts after you've listened to it, and you can skip these tracks on subsequent listens.
- Sometimes the pronunciation of the students is noticeably bad (which is fair and expected) but not always corrected by the native speaker. The native speaker does however always repeat every line afterwards. It would have been better to correct all mistakes to reduce the risk of misleading the listener into thinking the student's pronunciation was good, and to constantly reinforce through practice. This is only a problem some of the time though and on the whole this aspect is dealt with reasonably well.
- The native speaker pronounces words very carefully and slowly. This is good when you are just starting out, but is not realistic or helpful for when you are exposed to real speakers. On the advanced CDs she repeats it a second time a bit faster, but I would have preferred this to have been the case from the beginning. Towards the end of the beginner set I was feeling like I wasn't really being challenged enough.
- There is hardly any introduction to pinyin. Pronunciation is only explained when you are first introduced to a word (and with the exception of the native speaker, not very adequately), and there is no explanation of initials and finals. Given that there is a fairly small set of initials and finals in Mandarin, and that you can correctly pronounce every single possible syllable once you know them, this is a real missed opportunity and could have easily been covered in around half of a CD's worth (perhaps spread throughout the course, as each sound becomes relevant). I recommend ChinesePod's pinyin course to fill this gap.
- Words are almost never spelled out when they are introduced. Doing so would have only added a few seconds to each word and but would provided enormous benefit. Some sounds are fairly similar to sounds we are used to in English, but some are very different and yet at the same time sound similar to a beginner. Examples are ZH / J (both "similar" to the English J but neither actually the same), CH / Q ("similar" to English CH), and SH / X ("similar" to English SH). Until I had used other resources, I didn't even realise that these distinctions existed, and was pronouncing all of my ZHs and Js as Js etc. Sometimes the mnemonics given by the teacher even deliberately confuse this distinction, which would be fine if the listener knew about it, but actually causes you to pronounce the word incorrectly when you don't. This is a serious issue and I would go so far as to say can actually be harmful once you go beyond basic beginner status to upper beginner / intermediate as you have to spend time and effort unlearning bad habits. This problem could have easily been avoided by (1) introducing the pinyin sounds each time they first occur, and (2) spelling out each word when first introduced, so that you know what pinyin sound to match it to.
- The pinyin R initial is never properly explained. On rare occasions that words are spelt out and start with an R, the listener is left confused when hearing it pronounced as what sounds to a beginner like the S in "treasure" (when in reality the correct sound is neither like that, nor like an english R). For me, how to attempt pronouncing words like 'rén' was never really clear until I learned about this from other resources.
- The marketing of the various CD sets in this series is highly exaggerated and misleading. You will see descriptions like "Speak Mandarin Chinese Instantly", and "Speak and understand perfectly". This is far from the truth. What you will get is a very basic beginner level introduction. You will still be a beginner when the complete the course, and will NOT be able to go to China and easily have a conversation just from doing 10 or 20 hours worth of audio - there is no course that will do this for you. To achieve that you will need a much bigger vocabulary, a lot of practice, and exposure to a variety of naturally-speaking Mandarin natives, as opposed to the artificially slow and correct speech you will hear on these CDs.
- The 4 "advanced" CDs are not anywhere near advanced level (or even intermediate) and should be thought of as merely a continuation of the beginner level content you will hear on the first 8 CDs. I would describe the first 8 as basic beginner level and the next 4 as mid/upper beginner level.
In summary, this course is worth it to get you started, but needs to be followed by a lot of other content. I recommend one or two decent textbooks (e.g. Integrated Chinese, New Practical Chinese Reader, HSK), more varied and realistic audio (e.g. ChinesePod), spaced repetition apps (Memrise, Anki, Skritter), and immersion techniques (plaster your home with labels, have access to audio everywhere so that you're listening constantly, etc.). I also wouldn't recommend bothering to run through these CDs more than once (I am only doing it because I never completed it the first times) as you will get much better value for your time using other resources beyond the first listen.