skip to Main Content

Learning Through the Screen: How Chinese TV can Become Your Chinese Teacher

No matter how much I love learning Chinese, studying from a textbook can start to get boring after awhile. While the textbook’s explanations are clear, sometimes I just need to see a word used in a different context to gain a clear understanding of it. One thing that helps me to overcome these difficulties while continuing to improve my Chinese is watching Chinese TV shows.

Picture taken from Unsplash.com, woman sitting on bed with Macbook on lap, Victoria Heath

Of course, this idea isn’t completely unheard of and is actually a relatively common practice amongst many language learners. Coming from someone who enjoyed watching Chinese TV shows in her free time, it isn’t as simple as just watching TV. There is a bit of planning and work that must happen for it to actually improve your Chinese.

It is best to choose the right TV show – one that uses vocabulary that is appropriate for your level – and to use the right method, depending on what you want to achieve. Chinese TV shows can help improve your Chinese listening, speaking, reading and vocabulary if used appropriately.

In this article, we introduce how you can use Chinese TV shows to improve different areas of your Chinese learning.

Listening

Practicing listening can be quite difficult, especially considering the many dialects and accents that you can encounter when talking to native Chinese speaker. When practicing listening with strictly audio-based content, speed, accent, and lack of vocabulary all become obstacles to understanding and render the whole process inefficient and boring. The added visual aspect of TV shows helps to solve this problem.

To practice listening while watching TV shows, there are just a few things that you need to do.

First, I would recommend using a TV show that you have already seen and understood, or at the very least, one that you are familiar with. When you already understand what is happening, it makes it easier to concentrate on what you are hearing and infer what the characters are saying.

Second, I recommend excluding any kind of subtitles from the show when you are watching it. While Chinese subtitles may seem helpful, they become a crutch for practicing your listening. It is important for you to get used to only relying on your ears.

Last, make sure to stay focused. When re-watching a TV show, it can become easy to lose focus and stop paying full attention to the audio. So, make sure to pay consistent attention, even when the characters may be saying things you don’t understand.

The fact that TV shows are an audio-visual resource makes them more conducive to building your auditory capabilities. As humans, we have a natural ability to gain meaning from body movements and facial expressions, so having those added hints while practicing makes for a more natural and enjoyable process.

Speaking and Pronunciation

The optimal way to improve one’s Chinese speaking ability is to speak to a native Chinese speaker, but that does not mean there’s no way for you to practice by yourself. Using TV shows, you can practice your speaking and pronunciation without any added pressure.

To practice speaking, it is very important to use a TV show that contains vocabulary that is at your level. I would also recommend watching with Chinese subtitles on since that would make it easier to be sure of what is being said. 

Practicing speaking and pronunciation with TV shows is very easy. You simply watch the show and when you hear a sentence you understand, repeat that sentence out loud. Be sure to mimic the character’s speech and intonation as best as you can. It may feel silly to do this at first, but as you keep doing it, you will become more familiar with Chinese speech patterns and tones, and they will come out more naturally the next time you actually speak. It goes without saying that this practice should be done in a place where you will not disturb others and will feel comfortable.

Keep in mind that this is not a replacement for your conversation practice, it is simply a way for you to improve your pronunciation and get more familiar with speaking in Chinese.

Reading

Similar to speaking, reading is better practiced with more appropriate resources like books, articles and other such materials. The language that can be read from Chinese TV shows is generally colloquial spoken language, which differs from that used in written resources. However, using TV shows to practice reading can help you get better at recognizing Chinese characters at a faster rate.

To practice reading with Chinese TV shows, you must simply watch a show with Chinese subtitles which shouldn’t be too difficult since practically all Chinese audio-visual media include subtitles. As you are watching, be sure to read the subtitles while paying attention to the audio. This will train your brain to associate the sound and meaning of the characters with their appearance.

Practicing reading with simpler more stimulating material like TV shows allows the transition into reading longer written texts to be much smoother.

Vocabulary

Acting as the building blocks of language, vocabulary can be acquired via practically every language resource. Of course, this also includes TV programs, but I would argue that TV media is one of the best resources to acquire vocabulary from. The audio-visual properties of the medium allow learners to receive visual, auditory and contextual references for every word they encounter.

When watching a TV show in Chinese, you are likely to come across many unknown words. There are a variety of practical ways to deal with such an abundance of vocabulary. I would like to offer a disclaimer that the method written below is one that I personally use and is not the only way to learn vocabulary from Chinese shows.

First, have a pen/pencil and notepad with you as you watch the show. Make sure that you have chosen a show that is appropriate for your level and only contains Chinese subtitles that you have already seen. This allows for maximum clarity with minimal distraction.

Then, enjoy the show while looking out for sentences where you understand all but one or two words. When you encounter such a sentence, write it down and look up the words you don’t understand. Doing it this way ensures that you understand the meaning of the context in and the usage of the new words, and increases the likelihood that you’ll remember them. It also allows you to enjoy the experience more rather than pausing the video at every second to write down words that you don’t know.

By the end of an episode, you’ll surely have a whole list of new words and example sentences noted down. Whether you choose to further study those words is completely up to you, but the process alone is already a good way to expand your vocabulary.

Now, having taken all of this in, I’m sure that your approach to watching Chinese audio-visual media will be at least a little bit different. While Chinese TV shows may be a versatile and practical tool for your Chinese learning journey, it’s important to keep in mind that the key point of using them for language learning is to have fun in the process. The methods listed above should be taken as informative guidelines of how a Chinese show can help you to improve your Chinese skills rather than strict rules to follow whenever you sit down to enjoy your favourite show. Just remember to have fun as you explore Chinese language and culture through television!

For a list of suggestions of Chinese TV shows (click here)

For many other Chinese learning resources (click here)

Shinnel Ferary

Shinnel is a soon-to-be graduate majoring in East Asian Studies. She is an active Mandarin Chinese learner who loves learning about Chinese culture and believes in making language learning both interesting and fun. She aspires to have her knowledge of Mandarin Chinese and Chinese culture be a part of her future career.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back To Top