If you’d told me when I was at school that I could do my language lessons just by watching a video on a computer (or even my phone!), I would have leapt at the chance to watch a video tutorial from the comfort of my own bed!
With the arrival of high-speed internet, mobile apps, and digital tools, the way we learn languages (both in school and at home) has completely completely changed.
This doesn’t mean that we need to completely say goodbye to learning with a teacher in a classroom. In fact, learning a language with a teacher or private tutor still remains one of the most effective ways to learn languages. Find private Chinese lessons across the UK (including a Chinese tutor London) with Superprof.
Additionally, the Chinese language can be pretty complicated and it can be demoralising to to hit a speed bump during your language learning journey and have nobody there to help you.
So stop searching for “learn Chinese” on Google and check out some of the best video resources for Mandarin lessons we’ve put together for you in this article.
YouTube and Educational Channels for Learning Mandarin Chinese
“Real knowledge is to know the extent of one's ignorance.” - Chinese Proverb
Taking Chinese lessons is often seen as a journey where grammar, tones, and characters are the milestones. When you think about how different the language is to English, you can start to get demotivated at how complicated speaking Chinese is going to be. However, you needn’t worry about it. You're not the first Westerner trying to speak Chinese and you won't be the last!
Don’t forget that there are plenty of resources like Chinese apps and on-line videos that can make learning Chinese fun, interesting, and, above all, much easier. While YouTube may seem to have replaced textbooks, we're certainly not going so far as to say that they should all be consigned to a museum!
However, there are almost as many Chinese channels on YouTube as there are Chinese speakers on the planet since the demand for learning the language is so incredibly high at the moment due to the political and economic power of the countries where the language is spoken.
When you first start learning Chinese, the Chinese writing system, and the characters, these videos can help you massively without needing to show up to a single Chinese class. Whether you’re preparing for an official exam, looking to improve your listening comprehension or writing, or just studying the language for fun, you’ll find that there are plenty of ways to practice Chinese on video-hosting websites like YouTube.
There are also plenty of courses from “e-learning” (which basically means learning online) websites which aim to teach you through the medium of video.
You can also interact with other learners and teachers by leaving comments on videos, contacting the organisation running the video courses, via their social media channels, or just by simply sending them an email.
Here are a few channels that you should check out for learning Chinese:
Learn Chinese with Emma: Emma’s online Chinese lessons are very well produced and aimed at both absolute beginners and advanced beginners. While most of the videos are in English, there are sections completely in Chinese that are accompanied very clearly by subtitles so that you won’t get lost.
Chinese with Mike: While Mike’s lessons are never serious, that doesn’t mean they can’t be educational. These are a great way to learn Chinese while having a load of fun. The videos are between 10 and 15 minutes each and go at a very good pace for those learning. You’ll never be bored in Teacher Mike’s (MIKE LǍOSHĪ) classes.
Yoyo Chinese: The host of Yoyo Chinese is Yangyang Cheng, a resident of Los Angeles who’s fluent in English, Mandarin, and Cantonese. In addition to the lessons on the channel, you can also find interviews with other native Chinese speakers as well as some recordings of Google Live Hangouts that she’s conducted.
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Watching films is one of the best methods for improving your foreign language skills, especially in a language such as Chinese where pronunciation and listening skills are hugely important.
Just like how reading a book can improve your writing, reading comprehension, syntax, and writing style, watching Chinese films (maybe with subtitles in Mandarin Chinese, too) can help you to improve your listening comprehension, pronunciation, and level in general.
Concentrating on listening to Chinese pronunciation for around two hours at a time is effectively revision. Additionally, watching films is a great way to expose yourself to Chinese culture and conversational Chinese. However, heading straight to streaming sites is a grave error!
Since most film productions come out of Hong Kong, a lot of films available in the West will actually be in Cantonese. While this is great if you’re learning Cantonese, it’s pretty useless if you’re learning Mandarin. Thus, if you go straight to a streaming website looking for Chinese films without doing any research, you’ll end up getting films in a language you’re not even studying! If you want to learn how to speak Mandarin, you'll need to be looking for films from Mainland China or Taiwan.
Don’t panic, though! More and more films are coming out in Mandarin Chinese and not even the Great Wall of China could stop them making their way to the West.
Chinese directors and screenwriters are also very creative and their films offer something significantly different to the type of cinema that most of us are used to in the West. There’s something for every kind of film fanatic!
Here’s a few examples worth checking out:
- Wolf Totem 狼图腾, (2015): Based on a Chinese novel, this French-Chinese film tells the story of a Chinese student who is sent to inner Mongolia to teach shepherds.
Wǔ xiá (Dragon): In the same vein as Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, this historical Kung Fu film is full of impressive fights and high-flying acrobatics. Perfect for motivating you to study!
Lost In Thailand: A bit like a Chinese version of “The Hangover”, this film successfully mixes action and comedy. The dialogues in Mandarin Chinese will put your comprehension to the test. A great challenge for any Chinese learner.
- The Great Hypnotist 催眠大师 (2014): This Chinese mystery-thriller is for people who liked either “The Butterfly Effect” or “Inception” and may leave you scratching your head. With a bit of insanity and lots of introspective dialogue, this film is a great opportunity for anyone wanting to improve their listening comprehension and speaking skills.
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Cartoons in Chinese
Every generation has a certain passion for the cartoons they watched growing up. Whether they watched them on Saturday mornings or when they got home school as they had their tea, every cartoon is very reminiscent of the time in which is was made.
Whether you grew up watching Scooby Doo, Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles, or Rugrats, cartoons remind us of our childhood and bring back good memories.
While animation from Japan has made its way into Western culture (in the form of anime), China has yet to make animations as successful as Fullmetal Alchemist, Deathnote, or Cowboy Bebop.
It doesn’t really matter that the Mandarin Chinese spoken in cartoons is for kids and isn’t really the same as you’d hear it spoken by adults in streets around China since they're a fun, educational, and powerful way to improve your Chinese. While it’s nothing like the Chinese taught in universities around the world, especially in terms on pronunciation, it will still help you better understand Chinese and Chinese characters.
In China, the news, cartoons, and adverts are subtitled in Standard Mandarin, which has been the country’s official language since 1956. This is because there are plenty of people in China who speak different Chinese languages and dialects like Cantonese and Wu.
Standard Mandarin is thought of as the language of TV and is the common linguistic ground for around 800 million people, which is actually only around 70 to 80% of the population.
China has also banned 29 different anime series due to their violence, sexual nature, and on grounds of encouraging terrorism in order to protect the youngest generation. In addition to censorship, Chinese channels have to give priority to Chinese productions much like the French on the radio with French music.
Here are a few classic Chinese animations you should check out:
Journey to the West - Legends of the Monkey King is a 1999 cartoon show that is based on the novel “Journey to the West” that was the source of inspiration for the anime Dragon Ball.
The King of Tibetan Antelope.
Tian Yan Chuan Qi.
Monkey King: Hero is Back.
Mr Black: Green Star.
Ling and Tao.
- Sparkling Red Star (闪闪的红星 孩子的天空).
It should be noted that Russian cartoons (like “Masha and the Bear”) are also very popular in China. Perhaps this might be to the two countries’ shared history with communism or just due to their proximity to one another.
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When talking about China’s cultural influence on Japan, economists tend to describe it using the term “soft power”. This means that China uses its culture, rather than military strength, to influence its neigbours.
In terms of television, China produces thousands of series every year (around 30,000 episodes per year, making it the largest production in the world) which, while hugely popular in their home country, struggle to make any sort of impact here in the West.
Completely unknown by most people in the UK, the TV series and direct-to-TV films made in China are often watched by tens of millions of viewers. We are talking about a country of 1.3 billion people, after all. What a great education in language and culture you'll get from the comfort of your own home! Take Mandarin classes London, Birmingham or wherever you're located.
There are series on old Chinese legends, which are an integral part of Chinese cultural, dating back to the Ming, Qin, and the very popular Han dynasties.
There are also more modern stories focusing on the current social phenomena in the People’s Republic of China. These series tend to bear very little resemblance to the series we’re used to in the UK like Game of Thrones or even Coronation Street (I bet you never thought you'd hear those two shows mentioned in the same sentence!). In fact, with all the Chinese cultural richness available, there’s very little space left for Western concepts.
Thus, in addition to improving your understanding of the language, watching Chinese TV and films are also a great way to deepen your understanding of China’s culture.
Of course, for those who love martial arts, there’s always the “The Legend of Bruce Lee”, a Chinese biographical TV series on the Kung Fu legend himself. This series covers the stories of the world’s strongest man from a Chinese perspective without all the Western cliches that are often applied to his life.
Using media to learn a new language is the best way to learn Mandarin and a great way to create an artificial immersion environment. If you can't go to China, making sure that all the media you consume is from Chinese speaking sources, taking Chinese classes, and finding resources to learn Chinese online is the next best thing. Don't forget to ask your Chinese teacher for their recommendations, too!
If you're looking for a textbook to complement your classes or are just a keen reader, you should find out more about the best books for learning Chinese.
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