Want the most comprehensive and entertaining education in spoken Chinese out there? Go to ChinesePod.

If you’re serious, you’ll sign up for a Premium account. It’s true that before September 2008, all lessons were free, published under a Creative Commons license. There are plenty of those lessons available here.

But the “Golden Age of ChinesePod” was 2008 through 2014.* Without a paid account, you’re missing out on most of the good stuff.

Also, there are interactive tools on the website that reinforce those lessons. In my experience, the difference between studying ChinesePod with those tools and without those tools is like (as Mark Twain might say), “the difference between the lightning and the lightning bug.”

I’ve found that paying also helps motivation. I have almost all of ChinesePod’s lessons downloaded on my computer, and over the past five years, I’ve made almost no progress. I finally bit the bullet last month and re-committed myself to a Premium account, and I’m moving forward again.

However, if you’re either smarter and more motivated than me (or, at the other end, you’re not so serious), then listening to those free lessons is still terrific. There are enough lessons to get you all the way through the highest levels.

Note: I don’t endorse everything they produce. But, when you’re learning a foreign language, you end up touching every subject.

Newbie (Just the dialogues here.)

ChinesePod recommends that you do 50 of these before dipping your toe into the next level. That’s pretty much what I did, but I also blasted through an additional 50 at the same time I was struggling with Elementary. I wanted Newbie to become annoyingly easy as I was struggling with the major step up to Elementary.

Here are some favorites:

There is also a series about each of the tones:

Elementary (Just the dialogues here.)

ChinesePod recommends that you do 80 of these. I think I did at least 120 before permanently ditching this level.

Some highlights:

Intermediate (Just the dialogues here.)

ChinesePod recommends that you do 120 of these. That was about right for me.

Some highlights:

Upper Intermediate (Just the dialogues here.)

Personally, I’ve found this to be the hardest level to break through: ChinesePod recommends that you do 160 of these. I was stuck here from 2009 until 2017!

But it’s a good place to be stuck. Looking back, I’d consider Upper Intermediate to be the very best level on ChinesePod. Most of the awesomest lessons aren’t free, but there are some.

Unfortunately, there’s only around 100 of these that are free, and that’s woefully inadequate to prepare you for Advanced. If you’re going to subscribe, now is definitely the time. Do be aware that lessons produced after 2014 weren’t graded on the same scale, so unless you want to be frustrated by crazy hard lessons (not to mention bored out of your mind by dialogues that sound like they were ripped from a BLCUP textbook CD), stick with ones made before 2014.

Advanced (Just the dialogues here.)

ChinesePod recommends that you do 120 of these.

As I’m working through this level, I’m finding that ChinesePod’s grading of difficulty was quite inconsistent before 2007. Earlier lessons are almost at a native-speaker level, so you’re better off doing those last. (If you can learn from native-speaker material, what are you doing on ChinesePod?! Go to YouTube and YouKu!)

This would again be a good place to get a subscription, so you can dive into 2008-2013 lessons, which were graded with rock-solid consistency.

I’ll post highlights of the free lessons once I’ve picked some out.

Media (Just the dialogues here.)

ChinesePod recommends that you do 80 of these. Warning: They’re super hard! This is where ChinesePod works to wean you off graded Chinese for foreigners and push you into the real world of for-native-speaker materials.

I’ll post highlights once I’ve picked some out.

*December 13, 2018: I recently had some contact with John Pasden, and he places ChinesePod’s “Golden Years” more narrowly as 2008-2010. There is definitely an infectious energy in those lessons that waned somewhat in later years.