A learner’s guide to TV shows in Chinese, part 2

Earlier, we looked at how and why to learn Chinese through television and we have also looked at a learner’s guide to TV shows in Chinese. In this article, Luke Howard will continue introducing several different genres of TV programs and explain why and how they can be used to learn Chinese. There will also be many suggestions for actual shows. If your favourite programme in a particular genre isn’t mentioned, leave a comment and recommend it! In part 1 and 2 in this little series, most programmes are Taiwanese, but I’m looking for someone to write follow-ups about Mainland shows as well!

cookLevel recommendations are just a guide

In the guide below, I provide a level recommendation for each genre. I’d like to emphasise that these are only a guide.

If you enjoy material that’s been recommended for a higher level of Chinese than you currently have, then you should absolutely keep watching it.

Likewise, if you’re still enjoying genres recommended for a lower level than you currently are, there’s no need to stop watching them. Keep it fun at all times!

Food and cooking shows

Level Recommendation: Intermediate – Upper Intermediate

Chinese language cooking shows can be really entertaining. Unlike many English language cooking shows that just feature a chef explaining his cooking as he goes, in Chinese versions there are usually several master chefs competing against each other.

fooodMany of the shows also bring amateurs onto the show for the master chefs to teach (with all sorts of constraints to keep things interesting). It’s a lot of fun watching the amateurs fumble around and makes me feel better when I try and cook new dishes and inevitably realise it’s not as easy as the chefs on TV made it out to be!

There are also Chinese language equivalents of popular English language cooking game shows like Master Chef, although I haven’t personally watched any of them.

A show to get you started: 型男大主廚

Homemade YouTube videos

Level Recommendation: Upper Intermediate – Advanced

In some respects, homemade YouTube videos should be the holy grail of television style media because they provide real language as it’s spoken on the streets. Unfortunately, that introduces some other difficulties, such as the fact the language will often be a mix of Mandarin Chinese and whatever the local dialect is, and they rarely have subtitles.

Of course not all homemade videos suffer from these issues, but it can be a mixed bag. Overall, the main reason to watch is that you get to be a fly on the wall and listen to very local language, which often differs from how Chinese is spoken on television, and is difficult to get exposure to if you’re living outside a Chinese speaking country where you can regularly interact with locals.

A show to get you started: “YouTube 熱門影片台灣” Channel (Has new content every day, usually at least some of it is interesting).

Quiz and game shows

Level Recommendation: Upper Intermediate – Advanced

Quiz and game shows are very popular in both the mainland and Taiwan. Many of the shows will be accessible for intermediate learners, but some of the shows have questions about Chinese history and the Chinese language itself (questions that are hard for even native speakers), and these shows are more suited for advanced learners.

A show to get you started: 歡樂智多星

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Anime and cartoons

Recommended Level: Beginner – Intermediate

Most cartoons in Taiwan are dubbed/subtitled versions of English language cartoons. Anime is mostly dubbed/subtitled versions of Japanese anime. Most cartoons and anime does get dubbed and aired on Chinese speaking television, so there’s never a shortage of material.

I’m not sure about mainland China, but in Taiwan the translation and voice acting of many cartoons into Chinese is done to a very, very high standard. For many shows, jokes are often not translated directly unless it would also make sense and be funny in Chinese. Often, the original script and meaning of an entire scene or episode will be altered to make it relevant and interesting to the local population.

Possibly the best example of this is the current instalment of The Simpsons been aired in Taiwan at the moment. Every episode I’m constantly amazed at the content, including statements about things like the controversial 22k minimum wage (an important issue in Taiwan at the moment), poking fun at president Ma (the current president of Taiwan) and many other locally adapted scripting.

In short, if you enjoy cartoons and anime in English, you’ll enjoy them in Chinese as well. The animation makes them enjoyable even for beginner students that can’t grasp all the language yet.

A show to get you started: 海綿寶寶/ Spongebob Squrepants (the version dubbed for Taiwanese audiences is well scripted and has very clear voice acting, making it very accessible for beginners)

Comedy

Recommended Level:Advanced

Comedy usually has many cultural elements to it. Understanding these requires a strong knowledge of both the language and the culture. It’s very different in style to Western comedy, and whether you find it funny or not (even when you understand it) is something you’ll need to explore for yourself. I don’t personally enjoy Chinese comedy that much, but it’s a highly subjective thing.

These comments only apply to pure comedy shows. Many dramas and other shows incorporate humorous script that is funny, even for cross cultural viewers.

Recommended Material:超級模王大道(this show is not strictly comedy, but rather about impersonating famous people, which is often very funny and more accessible than other comedies after you’ve been watching TV for a while and know many of the famous actors).

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 Conclusion

Take it slow, remember the FUN

Learning Chinese is a long journey. Remember to always keep it fun and enjoy each moment along the way. Taking it slow doesn’t mean to reduce the amount of exposure you get, but rather to not stress yourself with trying to understand everything at once.

Just go with the flow, enjoy the material in any way that’s fun for you in the present moment. Trust that your brain is processing all that information and that you are improving!

That’s all for now! Please recommend your favourite shows in the comments. If you feel you’re the right person to write a follow-up about Mainland genres and programs, let me know!

A learner’s guide to TV shows in Chinese, part 1

Last week, we looked at how and why to learn Chinese through television. In this article, Luke Howard will introduce several different genres of TV programs and explain why and how they can be used to learn Chinese. There will also be many suggestions for actual shows. If your favourite programme in a particular genre isn’t mentioned, leave a comment and recommend it! In part 1 and 2 in this little series, most programmes are Taiwanese, but I’m looking for someone to write follow-ups about Mainland shows as well!

Level recommendations are just a guide

In the guide below, I provide a level recommendation for each genre. I’d like to emphasise that these are only a guide.

If you enjoy material that’s been recommended for a higher level of Chinese than you currently have, then you should absolutely keep watching it.

Likewise, if you’re still enjoying genres recommended for a lower level than you currently are, there’s no need to stop watching them. Keep it fun at all times!

Sport

Level Recommendation: Beginner

The progress of a sporting match can be followed even with the sound turned off, making it an ideal starting place for beginners as you’ll never lose the plot.

Pick a sport that you already understand well and enjoy watching, and then learn some of the key vocabulary for that sport before getting started.

Commentator’s rate of speech varies widely, and there is usually some specialised vocabulary and phrases used. These can be easily self-studied beforehand as there’s not a lot of them for any given sport.

You’ll then be in a good position to start piecing together more and more of what the commentators are saying. And best of all, you can ignore everything you don’t understand without impeding your ability to follow the progress of the game.

scbroadThis also goes for E-sports as well. Large events with live broadcast and online streaming have become increasingly popular in recent years. Even when living outside Chinese speaking countries, it’s often possible to watch live streams of events for popular games like StarCraft with Chinese commentary (read more about how to use StarCraft to learn Chinese here). Not to mention all the videos on YouTube.

It should go without saying that if you don’t enjoy watching sport in your native language, you should avoid this genre in Chinese as well!

A show to get you started: Any sports match for a sport you enjoy watching that has Chinese language commentary.

Drama (and super idol drama)

Level Recommendation: Beginner to Intermediate

Beginners should start with Taiwanese super idol dramas. These are shows with a cast full of young, attractive men and women that are very famous (hence the name “super idol”).

There’s usually very little depth to the story, following very predictable plot lines of love triangles. Following the plot should be relatively simple even for beginners. But the charisma of the characters and plentiful eye candy (for both genders!) keep things interesting while you familiarise yourself with the sounds of the language.

Regular dramas are better suited to intermediate learners, because although the language used is still relatively basic (everyday language), the plots tend to focus more on familial relationships. Following the intricacies of these plots requires some cultural understanding, and a basic grasp of the many ways to refer to relatives in Chinese (of which there are many!).

A show to get you started: 痞子英雄 / Black & White (Super Idol Drama), 我們發財了 (Regular Drama)

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Entertainment / Talk shows

Level Recommendation: Upper intermediate – Advanced

Talk shows are very popular in Taiwan. There is a great deal of variation in the content and format. Many talk shows also incorporate a lot of “game show” elements.

Topics range everything from University students discussing make up, relationships and parties, through to parents discussing how to raise kids, political discussion, sports, running businesses, and even highly specific topics like North Korea observers having a debate!

The level of difficulty will depend on the subject matter. Usually it will require some preparation work learning specialised vocabulary if you’ve never watched anything on the subject matter before.
Participants can often get very heated during debates, so you might be surprised to find that even not so interesting subject matter can be entertaining for a while.

A show to get you started: 大學生了沒 (Although not a pure talk show, the mix of game show with topic discussion makes it more accessible for learners just getting into this genre.)

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News

Level Recommendation: Advanced

News is challenging for a few reasons. The news anchors speak very fast, they use formal language, and unlike regular TV programming, subtitles are not usually displayed word for word. Instead, the subtitles are usually highly abbreviated sentences of less than 10 characters that require a strong knowledge of the language to decipher, and are just a summary of the current news item.

Television news also has very little nutritional value outside the language learning aspect, so spending time mastering this genre should only be done if it’s something that really interests you (many people enjoy it just for the challenge of it!). This is true for news programming in Taiwan, but I’m not sure about mainland China.

A show to get you started: 台灣蘋果日報 (technically this is a newspaper, but there website has a video news section, with many new videos posted every day. The videos are often short and sometimes animated, with full subtitles, meaning it’s probably the only audio-visual news source that overcomes the issues learners usually face watching television news.)

Documentaries

Level Recommendation: Intermediate – Advanced

Many documentaries aired in Taiwan are just dubbed versions of English language documentaries (Discovery Channel etc). Still, this is one of my favourite genres as I can also learn a lot of really interesting things that are not directly related to the Chinese language.

A show to get you started: Anything that interests you on the Discovery Channel

Travel shows

Level Recommendation: Beginner – Intermediate

·Rª±«ÈTravel shows offer an interesting look at activities you can do as a tourist in other countries (or places inside your current country of residence). They are usually very similar in format to English language travel shows. While you won’t understand everything, there are usually enough visual cues for beginners to know where the show is taking place and what activities/local food is on offer there. Lots of eye candy to keep it interesting at the lower levels.

A show to get you started: 愛玩客 / iWalker

That’s all for now, keep reading part 2 here! Please also recommend your favourite shows in the comments. If you feel you’re the right person to write a follow-up about Mainland genres and programs, let me know!

How and why to use television to learn Chinese

This is the first guest article by Luke Howard, whom I met on one of the Hacking Chinese meet-ups here in Taipei. He speaks Chinese well and when he told me that he relies heavily on watching TV to learn the language, I naturally became interested and wanted to know more. I don’t watch much TV myself, so instead of writing about this myself, I asked Luke to write about it. Enjoy!

Television is a valuable asset in the modern language learners toolkit. The medium provides a convenient way to enjoy large volumes of passive listening practice in a stress free environment.

foodThe combination of visual and auditory senses makes the medium accessible to the entire spectrum of Chinese learners, from the beginner through to advanced learners.

I have been watching television (and reading books) as the primary staple in my Chinese learning since I started nearly 4 years ago. With the exception of a 3 month experiment where I attended a University class, I am entirely self-taught. It’s the fun of learning in this way that brings me back day after day.

Watching television is a healthy part of any language learners diet. I hope that by the end of this article, you will have a desire to go out and explore the medium on your own terms.

Why learn from watching TV?

Whether it’s your primary source of study material or just complementary to taking classes, watching TV in Chinese provides an abundant source of native Chinese listening practice. By watching material that you find fun and interesting, your brain will absorb the material in a more efficient way.

Media sources

If you live in a Chinese speaking country, cable TV is usually affordable and provides the most efficient way to access large amounts of content with minimal effort.

For those inside mainland China, 优酷 (youku.cn) and土豆 (tuduo.cn) will service all your needs. Unfortunately, outside mainland China these sites can often stream too slowly to be useful.

If that’s the case, YouTube has a great deal of user generated content, as well as uploads of many popular television shows.

For those that have extra discretionary income, I suggest buying box sets of TV shows that you enjoy. I’ve used www.yesasia.com many times before, and they provide free international delivery if you meet minimum order requirements.

Gotchas and how to overcome them

1. English subtitles

Many box sets and online sources provide an option to display subtitles in English. However, when English subtitles are turned on, your brain will derive all understanding from them, and filter out the Chinese sounds you are hearing. This means they act as a crutch that should be avoided as much as possible.

2. Character recognition

Chinese subtitles, however, are a great asset. They let your brain associate the sounds of the language with their written counterparts. This will only work though if you already have a basic understanding of how Chinese characters are formed (radicals, components etc) and can recognise a small number of common characters. Hacking Chinese has some great articles to get you started on the character learning journey.

3. Losing the plot

Even in the beginner phase, it’s still usually possible to follow the plot and get the gist of what’s going on, just by using the visual imagery. Of course, you’ll miss all the subtlety, but if you choose shows that interest you, this rarely detracts from the enjoyment.

However, you will still occasionally misinterpret what’s going on for an extended period, causing you to lose an overall grasp of the plot. In these instances, I suggest going to English Wikipedia or YesAsia.com (if it’s an older show already in box set form) to read the plot for the show.

Some people may even prefer to read these plot guides before watching the show in the first place. I see no harm in doing so.

4. Names

Names were one of the trickiest parts of learning Chinese for me, and you may or may not have the same experience. Since names are used frequently in television shows, having a strategy to deal with them is especially important.

I suggest using the plot descriptions, and pausing shows when names are used, to create Anki cards with names for each of the characters. Usually the main 3 – 4 character names will be repeated enough not to need this, but it’s very useful for all the rest.

5. Boredom

Boredom is kryptonite for TV based language learners. Learning Chinese with TV is a mostly passive listening exercise that only reaps benefits with massive exposure.

If you let even a little bit of boring content through your filters, it will compound and kill your motivation to keep watching TV at all.

Don’t ever fall into the trap of spending hours finishing a series you originally found fun but now find boring, all just so you can say, “I watched all of show X.” It’s not worth it in the long run.

rgAdd a dash of study

1. Spaced Repetition

Watching television is a natural “spaced repetition” system, in that high frequency words come up over and over again.

Still, in the beginner and intermediate stages it can be helpful to look up some of the interesting words that come up frequently in a show that you’re watching, and then add it to a formal spaced repetition system like Anki.

There are a number of Chinese language learners that I respect a lot who advocate the use of tools like subs2srs. Subs2srs is a tool which automatically cuts the subtitles for a show up into sentences and creates Anki cards for you.

Having tried this a few times, I personally cannot recommend this technique. It creates too many cards and after a while the amount of time I spend inside my SRS outweighs the time I spend in front of the TV.

Still, many other learners have had success using these tools, so your mileage may vary. If it sounds like your thing, consult the interwebs for an abundance of information to get you started.

2. Shadowing

Shadowing is a technique whereby you pick a character from a show you like, and mimic everything he says. Trying to get yourself sounding as close to the real actor as possible works wonders for your Chinese.

Shadowing forces you to focus on grammar and speech particles that your brain usually filters out, helps make you much more conscious of where breaks in speech and pauses between words should go, and provides good intonation and tone practice.

3. Complementary study

A balanced study regime is essential to be most effective in learning Chinese. Watching television is a passive learning activity, and you’ll find that when you hear words (or see them in subtitles) that you’ve recently learnt in a more active study session, your brain will hone in on that word.

At this moment, having seen the word in context, your brain will then decide it must be important to remember and strengthen the association.

Without complementing television watching with more structured learning activities, you’ll lose many of the benefits that come from watching television in Chinese.

Read more…

  1. A learner’s guide to TV shows in Chinese, part 1
  2. A learner’s guide to TV shows in Chinese, part 2