Hacking Chinese

A better way of learning Mandarin

The 10 best free Chinese listening resources for beginner, intermediate and advanced learners

In this article, I will share the best Chinese listening resources for beginner, intermediate and advanced students. I have spent years collecting resources for learning Mandarin and these are the best free ones I’ve found so far!

Listening and reading and are the most important aspects of learning Chinese. Without enough input, you’re not going to perform well in other areas of the language, and lots of listening and reading will help you develop a feel for how the language is used. Speaking is the tip of the iceberg, visible over the surface; listening is the bulk volume under the surface that makes it float.

Tune in to the Hacking Chinese Podcast to listen to the related episode:

Available on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcast, Overcast, Spotify, YouTube and many other platforms!

Skip directly to the overview by clicking this link (but I strongly recommend you don’t, because there are some important things I want to say first).

You don’t listen enough

Students don’t listen anywhere near as much as they should. It’s not enough listening to your teacher, the texts in your textbook and a podcast here and there. Your total time spent listening should be equal to or greater than all other types of learning combined.

This is not necessarily because listening is that much more important, but because listening is so easy and convenient to do compared with almost anything else. You can listen while walking, commuting, cooking and exercising. If you struggle finding enough time to practise listening, try the advice I offer here: 7 ideas for smooth and effortless Chinese listening practice.

7 ideas for smooth and effortless Chinese listening practice

Chinese listening resources for beginner, intermediate and advanced learners

Below you can find an overview of the best free Chinese listening resources. They have been separated into three levels: beginner, intermediate and advanced (links go to discussions about each level and for general advice about learning Chinese on that level).

Please note that people’s ideas of “beginner”, “intermediate” and “advanced” vary wildly. Typically, beginner content is harder than advertised and advanced content is easier compared with other languages:

  • Listening resources on the lower levels are harder than advertised, so you’ll find content labelled as “absolute beginner” even though it’s not beginner-friendly at all. This is probably because it’s hard to create actual beginner content.
  • Listening resources on the higher levels are easier than advertised, or actually not “advanced” according to most international frameworks. This is probably because Chinese is hard to learn and creators want to encourage student to feel that they have reached a higher level than they actually have.

I’ve done my best here, but note that each resource often has multiple levels within it, so check a few episodes/videos/lessons before passing discarding a resource!

The best free Chinese listening resources for beginner, intermediate and advanced learners

Some of the resources listed here have premium content, but my evaluation for the purpose of this article is based solely on content that’s freely available. Naturally, creating good listening content, especially for beginners and intermediate learners, is not easy, so many of the best resources will inevitably cost money.

If you have some money to invest into your learning, explore the free options below and pay for those you like to get access to more content. I’ve written more about resources worth paying for here, but not everyone can afford to pay for their learning, so the rest of this article will focus on free content!

Please note that these are the best resources I know of, and that I will update this article with better resources if I can find them. If you know of a good one I haven’t mentioned here, please leave a comment below!

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If you’re after reading resources instead, check out this article: The 10 best free Chinese reading resources for beginner, intermediate and advanced learners

The 10 best free Chinese reading resources for beginner, intermediate and advanced learners

What to listen to, how to do it and how much you should be listening

There’s much to say about improving listening ability in Chinese, but I will stick to the most important points here and provide links to further reading if you’re interested.

In general, three factors determine how much you learn: content, method and time, or otherwise what you do, how you do it and how much of it you do. This can be applied to listening practice as well:

  • What should you listen to? You should listen to Chinese at roughly your own level that contains the kind of language you want to learn. This sounds obvious, but can be very difficult in practice, especially for beginners.  For example, podcasts in English (including my podcast) don’t count as listening practice, but neither does English spoken in learner podcasts. For the purpose of this article, I discarded a vast majority of podcasts I found because they simply contain too much English! If in a ten minute episode for beginners, there’s a twenty second dialogue played a few times, and then some vocabulary or grammar, but the rest is in English. If you listen to this for an hour, you’ve actually only spent ten minutes practising your listening! I wrote more about this problem here: Can too much guidance make you learn less Chinese?
  • Comprehensible input for learning ChineseHow should you listen? The goal should be both quantity and quality (not necessarily at the same time), but since the next point is entirely about quantity, let’s talk about quality first. You learn Chinese when you connect form (spoken or written words in context) to meaning and function. If you don’t understand what you’re listening to, you won’t learn much, but the more you understand, the more likely you are to pick up the few things you didn’t already know. You want comprehensible input. Furthermore, fluency development is important, so even listening to relatively easy Chinese is beneficial. The answer to the question of how you should listen is that you should vary your approach depending on circumstances. Do active listening when you can, but otherwise passive listening is good too, and when you can’t do that either, it’s still often possible to have something on in the background.
  • How much should you listen? As much as possible! I’ve already said this, but I think a reasonable goal is to listen as much as you do everything else related to Chinese combined. This includes all types of listening, including listening to Chinese music while working and the like. I’ve already linked to my article about 7 ideas for smooth and effortless Chinese listening practice, but if you struggle to integrate large amounts of listening in your life, you might benefit from shaking up how you think about time management a bit. This is beyond the scope of this article, so I will just provide a few links I think are extra important: The forking path: A human approach to learning Chinese, The time barrel: How to find more time to study Chinese and How to find more time to practise Chinese listening.

I’ve written dozens of articles about various aspects of improving listening ability  in Chinese, some of which I have provided links to above. For more about listening ability in general, please check out the main page for listening here on Hacking Chinese.

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A few practical tips for improving listening ability in Chinese

Here are a few practical tips for how to get the most out of the resources I have recommended below:

  • Listen before you read If there are transcripts, turn them off and listen first. Listen more than once, and only look at the written version once you’ve exhausted your listening ability. When you have exhausted your reading ability, look at the transcript if you must, but you’d be better off switching to a resource you don’t need to use the transcript to understand.
  • Make the audio easy to access Many of the resources recommended below have audio that is embedded in a way that makes it hard to access easily. If there is a podcast, use a dedicated podcast app to listen, as this is both practical and easy. If there are videos, extract the audio and put it on your phone for listening (search online for how to save mp3 from YouTube, while staying clear of illegal behaviour, of course). More advice for smooth and effortless listening can be found in the article linked to above.
  • Build your own audio library – Save everything you listen to and like. After doing this for a while, you’ll have plenty of old audio to listen to when you do’t feel up to listening to something new. Reviewing old audio is almost as valuable as tackling new content. By making sure this is easy to do, you can maximise your listening.

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The 10 best free Chinese listening resources: Beginner

As a beginner, you are mostly limited to Chinese spoken specifically with language learners in mind. Anything else will flood you with new vocabulary and will make it impossible to understand without a ton of dedicated studying.

The problem is that creating this kind of content is not easy,and there aren’t that many good resources available. Many podcasts, for example, are much harder than advertised, so even if you’ll find some episodes from the recommended resources that are for “absolute beginners”, they are sometimes quite hard.

Click here for advice about how to learn Chinese as a beginner

Slow and Clear Chinese (YouTube)

Level: Beginner
Topic: Listening
Type: Resource collection

Slow and Clear Chinese offers beginner-friendly listening practice without using any English. They are able to do this even for absolute beginners by using gestures, images, body language and props in their videos. This is one of very few resources I’ve found that you can use right from day one without relying heavily on English translations and explanations (also check Bumpy Chinese and Mandarin Click). Excellent!

Pros: Only Chinese, well-produced content, clear audio

Cons: Only on YouTube (and the channel is no longer updated)

Sample video 1: Immersive Series Lesson 1 (Absolute Beginner)

Sample video 2: Life of a University Student

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Mandarin Click (YouTube)

Level: Beginner
Topic: Listening, Reading
Type: Resource collection

Mandarin Click is one of the best channels on YouTube for beginners. They offer many videos completely in Chinese, spoken in a slow and clear manner, with supporting images, body language and, if you really want it, translation to English (but you should turn subtitles off). Feel free to explore the channel, but in my opinion, it’s the playlists called Slow Chinese Stories that are the best. Also check Slow and Clear Chinese and Bumpy Chinese.

Pros: Only Chinese content in most cases, clear pronunciation, supporting images and body language

Cons: Only available on YouTube

Sample video: 我感冒了

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Mandarin Bean

Level: Beginner, intermediate
Topic: Listening, Reading
Type: Resource collection

Mandarin Bean offers a large number of beginner-friendly texts with audio, Pinyin you can toggle on and off, as well as a pop-up dictionary that shows you meaning, pronunciation and HSK level of the words used. If you register and log in, you can also find exercises and translations. There are more than a hundred clips available for free, directly accessible on their website!

Pros: Easy to access and download, only Chinese in clips, easy to look things up

Cons: Somewhat stilted audio recordings in some cases

Sample episode: 最近怎么样 (How is it going recently?)

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Bumpy Chinese / Comprehensible Chinese

Level: Beginner, intermediate
Topic: Listening
Type: Resource collection, Podcast

This is one of the best comprehensible input channels I’ve found so far! That means that she gives you plenty of listening practice without spending five minutes speaking English for every one minute she speaks Chinese. In fact, there is often no English spoken at all. This channel has less content than some of the others I recommend in this article, but feels more engaging, so is well worth checking out! Available as a podcast, as well as on YouTube. Also check Slow and Clear Chinese as well as Mandarin Click above.

Pros: Only Chinese, engaging, clear pronunciation

Cons: Some videos have to be watched (she refers to images shown on screen sometimes)

Sample video: Self-introduction in Chinese | my mum and my boyfriend

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Chinese Tools – 40 lessons

Level: Beginner
Topic: Listening, Reading
Type: Resource collection, Courses and textbooks

As the name implies, Chinese Tools is mostly about tools for learners and teachers, but they also have 40 lessons for beginner students of Chinese. This is not a stand-alone listening resource, but since all lessons have easily downloadable mp3 files, it works well as a complement to whatever else you’re studying. The only downside is that the website is badly organised and, to be honest, rather ugly, but don’t judge a book by its cover!

Pros: Easy to access, only Chinese in audio clips, somewhat structured, comes with supporting content and tools

Cons: Audio quality not the best, very short dialogues

Sample lesson: Conversation 3 : What time do you have a break?

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ChineseForUs

Level: Beginner
Topic: Listening, Reading
Type: Resource collection, Courses and textbooks

ChineseForUs offers a large number of free videos on YouTube. The most basic lessons are much like other lessons found on YouTube, but if you skip to HSK 2 or so, there’s a surprising amount of Chinese-only content which is great for listening practice. You can ignore that it says “intermediate” on these lessons, because it’s still very much on a beginner level.

Pros: Clearly spoken, mostly in Chinese

Cons: Only available on YouTube

Sample video: Listening Practice I.I

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Du Chinese

Level: Beginner, intermediate, advanced
Topic: Listening, Reading
Type: Resource collection, Tools and apps (iOS and Android)

This is a well-designed app for iOS, Android and the web, providing lots of easy-to-texts with audio on various levels. New content in the app is free, so if you check regularly, you can keep listening, but you need a subscription to access the archive of over a thousand articles. The app features a pop-up dictionary and many other features.

The app is very well-designed, but not built primarily for listening. You can check out many of the free lessons online on their website, which also clearly labels what is premium and what isn’t. Even if most content isn’t free, the free parts in Du Chinese still makes it a good listening resource.

If you want to access the paid content, the code HACKINGCHINESE will give you 10% off!

Pros: Well-designed app, lots of content, text/audio syncing

Cons: Not primarily designed for listening, free content cycles (so no binge listening)

Sample clip (elementary): The Nose

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Popup Chinese

Level: Beginner, intermediate
Topic: Listening
Type: Resource collection

This is a traditional learner podcast, which means that beyond the Chinese content, they also speak English explaining the words and talking about the content. The Chinese content appears early, though, and is repeated many times, so it’s easy to ignore the English if you want to. The recordings are of good quality overall and quite natural. I suggest skipping the earlier absolute beginner episodes as they contain mostly explanations in English.

For some reason, only the absolute beginner category works, but you can still access the other episodes by using a service like The Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine. Here’s a link to the elementary episodes where the audio is still available. There are about 350 episodes in the beginner categories combined.

Pros: Good content, natural audio

Cons: Short bits in Chinese, too much English, site not fully working and not updated, (and as a result) no transcripts

Sample episode: A strange telephone call

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ChineseSkill

Level: Beginner
Topic: General
Type: Tools and apps (iOS and Android), Courses and textbooks

ChineseSkill is an app for iOS and Android that is similar to Duolingo, but is tailor-made for students of Chinese. This makes a big difference, because many of the grievances Chinese learners experience with Duolingo are handled much better here. ChineseSkill is not a listening resource per se, but I include it here anyway because if you know no Chinese at all, starting here is not a bad idea.

Once you’ve worked your way through the free sections of the app, you should be ready to move on to the other listening resources shared above! As far as I know, you can’t choose listening only here, so you need to work your way through the written language as well.

Pros: Interactive, built-in repetition

Cons: Repetitive, short chunks (mostly words), not mainly for listening

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Mandarin sound and tone references

Level: Beginner, intermediate, advanced
Topic: Listening, Reading
Type: Information and advice, Tools and apps

This entry is not a resource in itself, but rather a collection of resources related to Mandarin sounds and tones that I have collected over the years. While you can’t use most of these for extensive listening on your commute, it’s still important to be able to look things up and learn more about the sounds and tones of Mandarin.

Here are my top picks:

  • AllSet Learning Pinyin Chart with audioIf you want to check what a certain syllable with a certain tone sounds like, this should be your go-to reference guide. You can also find many other useful things on the Chinese Pronunciation Wiki.
  • The Hacking Chinese tone training courseThis is a free tool I built with Kevin Bullaughey for a research project. It will present single tones to you in a systematic and carefully planned manner that is meant to help your brain sort out the differences between the tones. It only works for single tones, so this is for those of you who struggle with the basics.
  • Free and easy audio flashcards for Chinese dictation practice with AnkiIf you want to drill listening, but don’t have access to high-quality premium audio or a real teacher or native speaker, you can create fairly good audio flashcards in Anki completely for free.
  • Text-to-speech (speech synthesis) – While synthesised speech is remarkably good these days, it’s not good enough to rely on for pronunciation practice and mimicking. However, it’s good enough for extra listening practice when you really want to listen to a text and don’t have anyone around who is willing to read it for you. Search for plugins for your browser, operating system or stand-alone software for this.
  • ForvoThis is a crowd-sourced pronunciation dictionary that covers a very large number of words and phrases in many languages. It’s useful for looking up pronunciation of words when you want to get a feel for how different people speak Chinese. Please note that many of the recordings here are decidedly not standard, which is the reason I list it here. You can, for example, check out 42 different pronunciations of 你好, including information about where the speaker is from.

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Help! Do you know of any great listening resources for beginners?

When writing this article, spent a dozen hours looking for additional beginner podcasts and audio lessons that are both free and contain mostly Chinese, but I couldn’t find anything better than those I have listed above. I’m sure there are excellent beginner resources out there that I have missed, so if you know of one, please leave a comment below! Please also include why you recommend it.

It has to meet the following criteria:

  1. Free, or have a large free component that is worthwhile on its own
  2. Mostly in Chinese, so most learner podcasts are disqualified
  3. For beginners (although not necessarily total beginners)
  4. Enough content to be worthwhile (I’ve found many channels that have one or two good videos, but that’s not enough)

Thank you in advance!

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How-to advice for intermediate Chinese learnersThe 10 best free Chinese listening resources: Intermediate

When you reach the intermediate level, finding good listening material becomes easier. There are fewer students on this level, but it’s also easier to create content when you can assume that the listener understands basic words and phrases. A skilled teacher can speak Chinese using mostly words and grammar their students know, which is the best kind of listening practice.

Of course, “intermediate” covers a broad range of learners, from those who have just graduated from the beginner level to those who are almost ready for authentic content produced for native speakers. This means that the resources I recommend herre often contain a mix of levels, so don’t discard a resource because you checked one example and found it too hard or too easy. Instead, look around and see if they offer slightly harder or easier listening depending on what you want.

As before, the labels used vary a lot. It’s very common to call intermediate content “advanced” in order to encourage students, so don’t be scared by something the creator has slapped an “advanced” label on, as it might be just the right resource for you as an intermediate learner!

Click here for advice about how to learn Chinese as an intermediate learner

Learning Chinese through Stories (听故事说中文)

Level: Intermediate
Topic: Listening
Type: Resource collection, Podcast

Learning Chinese through Stories is probably the best podcast around for learners in the intermediate range, from low intermediate up to high intermediate. The structure is straightforward: They present a story of some kind and then, in a parallel but separate episode, they discuss that story, all in Chinese. While the stories are not spectacular, the fact that they discuss words and grammar almost entirely in Chinese in a comprehensible manner is great. They are also quite good at doing this without throwing in unnecessarily difficult words.

Please note that while almost everything on their website is premium content, you can still access all the podcast episodes for free through the podcast platform of your choice! Of course, if you like the show, you can consider signing up, but this article is meant to focus on free content, and if you want that, listen to the podcast.

Pros: Good at keeping things in Chinese, dual structure of episodes, generally quite interesting

Cons: Hard to access on their website (find the podcast instead)

Sample lesson: 2.1.35《活鸟还是死鸟》

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TeaTime Chinese (茶歇中文)

Level: Intermediate
Topic: Listening
Type: Resource collection, Podcast

TeaTime Chinese is an excellent resource for intermediate learners. The host, Nathan, speaks slowly and clearly about recent and/or interesting topics. He speaks almost exclusively Chinese and only adds occasional words in English if it’s something learners can’t be expected to know, but is crucial for understanding. He also explains words and grammar in Chinese.

It’s worth noting that this is one of the few learner podcasts with a male host, which is great for listening variety and for mimicking purposes for those with deeper voices than the average Chinese teacher.

The best way to access the podcast is through the podcast provider of your choice or on YouTube.

Pros: Interesting topics, teaching new things in Chinese, male host

Cons: None, really

Sample episode: 第49集:中国的“四大发明” The “Four Great Inventions” of China (Spotify, Apple Podcasts)

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Maomi Chinese

Level: Intermediate
Topic: Listening, Reading
Type: Resource collection, Podcast

This is another great podcast for intermediate learners which is almost exclusively in Chinese. There are some occasional words or phrases in English, but you can count on training your listening muscles every minute of this podcast! I think one of the best things with this podcast is that the topics are rather interesting. Browse through the catalogue of episodes and see if you find anything interesting.

As usual, this podcast is best accessed through the podcast platform of your choice, but their website is also good and provides transcripts and easy access to the audio itself.

Pros: Easy to access, some support for free, interesting topics

Cons: None, really

Sample episode: #87 What is Chinese horror like? 什么是中式恐怖?

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Slow Chinese (慢说中)

Level: Intermediate
Topic: Listening, Reading
Type: Resource collection

Slow Chinese was a podcast aimed at the intermediate level, talking about topics relating to culture, language, society and more. The podcast is no longer being produced, but the more than two hundred episodes that were produced are still available online, completely free and easy to access. As the name implies, the reading speed is slow, but still not ridiculously slow. A variety of people worked on the podcast, so you can look around for someone with a voice you like. No frills, no ads, no English.

Pros: Interesting topics, good content, easy to access, completely free

Cons: Not updated anymore

Sample episode: 145 – 李小龙与中国功夫

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Mandarin Bean

Level: Beginner, intermediate
Topic: Listening, Reading
Type: Resource collection

I have already recommended Mandarin Bean for beginners, but it’s worthwhile for intermediate learners as well. You get several hundred episodes completely for free, with Pinyin you can toggle on and off, as well as a pop-up dictionary that shows you meaning, pronunciation and HSK level of the words used. If you register and log in, you can also find exercises and translations.

Pros: Easy to access and download, only Chinese in clips, easy to look things up

Cons: Somewhat stilted audio recordings in some cases

Sample episode: 刻舟求剑 (HSK4 story)

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ChinesePod

Level: Beginner, intermediate
Topic: Listening
Type: Resource collection, Podcast

ChinesePod has been around for so long that I had access to it when I started learning Chinese more than fifteen years ago. There’s a vast archive of content, most of which is freely available through the podcast platform of your choice. No need to sign up, log in or jump through hoops.

The reason I only mention it here on the intermediate level is that I don’t think the beginner content is very good compared to the content I have recommended already. However, the episodes labelled upper intermediate and advanced are great for intermediate learners!

For the more advanced podcasts, just ignore the dialogues they have created and focus on the language surrounding the dialogue instead. The hosts speak only or almost only Chinese, which is what you’re after. I’ve listened to hundreds of hours of ChinesePod and the catalogue has expanded dramatically since 2007. Most is accessible as a podcast on the major platforms for podcasts. You can check my full review of ChinesePod here: ChinesePod review: Your companion to Mandarin fluency

Pros: Enormous library, natural style between hosts, easy to access via podcast

Cons: Intermediate episodes still contain too much English

Sample episode: 在中国上大学 (Spotify, Apple Podcasts)

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Du Chinese

Level: Beginner, intermediate, advanced
Topic: Listening, Reading
Type: Resource collection, Tools and apps (iOS and Android)

This is a well-designed app for iOS, Android and the web, providing lots of easy-to-texts with audio on various levels. I already recommended it for beginners, but it works well for intermediate learners too! New content in the app is free, so if you check regularly, you can keep listening, but you need a subscription to access the archive of over a thousand articles. The app features a pop-up dictionary and many other features.

The app is very well-designed, but not built primarily for listening. You can check out many of the free lessons online on their website, which also clearly labels what is premium and what isn’t. Even if most content isn’t free, the free parts in Du Chinese still makes it a good listening resource.

If you want to access the paid content, the code HACKINGCHINESE will give you 10% off!

Pros: Well-designed app, lots of content, text/audio syncing

Cons: Not primarily designed for listening, free content cycles (so no binge listening)

Sample clip (elementary): Piecing together holidays (拼假)

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Learn Taiwanese Mandarin

Level: Intermediate
Topic: Listening, Reading
Type: Resource collection, Podcast

This is a relaxed podcast where the host, Jiayu, talks about Taiwan and life there. She also occasionally brings in guests. The podcast is entirely in Chinese, spoken in a fairly standard Taiwanese Mandarin accent. Please note that if you’re after intermediate listening, skip the first three episodes as they use a completely different style and are for beginners.

The website features an episode gallery which makes it easy to navigate, and for each episode, you have transcripts with a pop-up dictionary, all for free! I also like the podcast because it’s very practical in many cases. Check the sample episode below, for example, which is not only good for teaching you the language, but also has some great tips if you’re looking for an apartment in Taiwan. I’ve lived in five different apartments across Taiwan, and I would have benefited immensely from this episode back then!

You can access the podcast both on the website or through the podcast provider of your choice.

Pros: Clearly spoken, extra support available, easy to access

Cons: None, really

Sample episode: 在台灣租房子

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TV and movies

Level: Intermediate, advanced
Topic: Listening, Reading
Type: Information and advice

As an intermediate learner, you are in a great position to learn Chinese through TV and movies. Sure, there are some specific shows that work for beginners as well, but generally speaking, watching something where you understand almost nothing has almost no benefit.

As an intermediate learner, you have the basics of vocabulary and grammar down to make sense of TV and movies. Naturally, you still need to choose your shows, but there’s plenty of great content to choose from. If you want suggestions for what to watch, including an indication of how difficult it might be, I strongly suggest you check out Graded Watching, which has more than a hundred TV shows analysed by difficulty.

There are also many articles about TV series and movies here on Hacking Chinese:

Improving your Chinese while watching TV shows

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Music and songs

Level: Intermediate, advanced
Topic: Listening, Reading
Type: Information and advice

Just like TV and movies, music can be used to learn Chinese at a beginner level too, but again, the songs you can choose from if you want it for listening practice are rather limited. From a listening perspective, songs in Mandarin also have the downside that tones are often completely ignored, which is okay once you have a good grasp of them, but not very good when you’re struggling to learn them in the very beginning.

Music has great potential for background and passive listening, though, because the more songs you listen to and learn in Mandarin, the larger your personal playlist becomes. Put these songs on in the background when you do other things and you will soon find that you know the lyrics by heart!

While  it’s hard to quantify the impact of lyrics on my English, I probably know the lyrics of several hundred songs in English, without even having tried to learn them. I haven’t learnt that many in Chinese, but I can still identify many words and expressions I know that came from a specific song I have learnt. I’ve written more about learning Chinese through music here:

Why learning Chinese through music is underrated

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The 10 best free Chinese listening resources: Advanced

Learning Chinese at an advanced levelNow that you’ve passed the dreaded intermediate plateau of learning Chinese, you should switch mainly to audio produced for natives by natives. This means that your options are virtually unlimited and it is in fact very easy to find free materials. Naturally, you will need to provide your own scaffolding, as none of these resource come with transcripts, vocabulary lists and so on.

As was the case for the intermediate resources, difficulty can vary hugely between resources or even between texts within the same resource. Thus, don’t give up just because one article turns out to be difficult!

Click here for advice about how to learn Chinese as an advanced learner

Video-sharing platforms

Level: Advanced, Intermediate
Topic: Listening
Type: Resource collection

Most high-quality listening content produced today is embedded in video of some kind. Sure, there are podcasts, audiobooks and other audio-only formats, but video is the medium of the century.

There’s a virtually unlimited amount of content shared online for free just waiting for you, the only question is where to find things you really like. Let’s start with the major platforms so you know where to start. These sometimes work well for intermediate students as well, but as I haven’t curated specific content, I chose to put this in the advanced category.

While YouTube is blocked in China, it’s still an excellent platform for learning Chinese, especially if you’re using YouTube in your native language anyway. There’s a plethora of content there, and here are some of my favourites, including some I’ve mentioned separately above:

Also, check the #1379号监听站 hashtag I also mention audiobooks, which collects almost five thousand clips on YouTube, many with audio only.

Pros: Infinite and varied content

Cons: Often in video format (although you can rip the audio or just listen), can be hard to find high-quality content you actually like

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Science in Chinese with 李永乐老师

Level: Advanced
Topic: Listening
Type: Resource collection

李永乐老师 is a science teacher at a prestigious school in Beijing, but also has a popular channel on YouTube (2 million subscribers) and 西瓜视频 (15 million fans). To date, he has published almost 400 videos, mostly dealing with mathematics and the natural sciences, but also other topics such as finance, biology and statistics. Most of these are available for free.

I like 李永乐老师 a lot and find almost all of his videos interesting in some way. In content, it’s similar to many big YouTube science channels in English, such as Veritasium, although the style is very different. I’ve watched or listened to almost all videos on his channel, so I’ve probably spent more time with this resource than any other specific recommendation on this list! I wrote an article about 李永乐老师 in which I go into much more detail: Learning science in Chinese with 李永乐老师

Learning science in Chinese with 李永乐老师

Pros: Very good content, interesting ideas and pedagogically excellent

Cons: He speaks really fast, his handwriting will be illegible for most learners

Sample video 1: 1. 外星人存在吗?人类为什么看不到外星文明?李永乐老师讲费米悖论

Sample video 2: 2. 我们为啥摆脱不了贫穷?穷人富人有啥差别?诺贝尔经济学奖解读

Sample video 3: 3. 烧脑面试题:老鼠和毒药问题怎么解?二进制和易经八卦有啥关系?李永乐老师告诉你

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锵锵三人行/圆桌派

Level: Advanced
Topic: Listening
Type: Resource collection

One of my favourite listening resources used to be 锵锵三人行, hosted by 竇文濤, and it still is, even though the show was closed down a few years ago. The program aired daily for over fifteen years, so there’s a virtually unlimited amount of content still available, most of it easy to access through podcast platforms such as Spotify, and many episodes can also be found on YouTube.

Here, I also recommend 圆桌派, which is the spiritual sequel of 锵锵三人行 with the same host and a similar style, although with different and maybe less sensitive content. The show is still going strong as of 2022 and is excellent for advanced listening practice! You can easily find the show on YouTube or any of the Chinese video streaming sites, as well as various podcast providers.

I’ve written an article about why 锵锵三人行 is great, and it mostly applies to 圆桌派 as well.

Chinese listening practice with 锵锵三人行

Pros: Huge catalogue of old episodes, variety of guests and topics, interesting content

Cons: 锵锵三人行 is no longer being produced (but 圆桌派 is still running)

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Audiobooks

Level: Advanced
Topic: Listening, Reading
Type: Resource collection

Breaking Chinese down into bite-sized chunks is great for beginners, but when you’ve reached an advanced level, switching audio clips every few minutes becomes annoying. If you want to listen for hors, you need some continuity where you can get into something and stay there. This also allows you to adapt to language in a certain style and genre.

Audiobooks are the perfect solution. A book is typically somewhere between eight and fifteen hours, which means a lot of listening practice. Unless your Chinese is awesome, you probably want to relisten to parts of it, maybe more than once, so you can get many hours of learning from a single book. I’ve written more about how to use audiobooks for learning Chinese here, including tips for how to find them.

Learning Chinese through audio books

It’s important that you choose a book you really want to listen to, and that you choose something which is not outrageously difficult. It’s impossible for me to say what will work for you, but you should try several books before you settle on one. It’s usually easier to find excerpts in text format online, which is good enough to tell you if the book is at an okay level.

You can often find audiobooks on major streaming sites. For example, this hashtag on YouTube has almost five thousand videos, many of which are science fiction audiobooks.

Pros: Hours of listening with the same voice and coherent content

Cons: Written Chinese read aloud is much harder than spoken Chinese

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Podcasts for native speakers

Level: Advanced
Topic: Listening, Reading
Type: Resource collection

I spend roughly half of my listening time on audio books and the other half on podcasts, but I’ve started listening more and more to podcasts in recent years. The great thing about podcasts is that they are easy to access through a variety of platforms and apps, all which are highly suitable for listening.

What do I mean by that? Many of the other resources I have recommended here come with videos, can be hard to access on the move, and come with several other restrictions, such as not being available when you turn your phone’s screen off or require you to download them in advance.

Podcast apps are great, because you never run out of content, you can adjust playback speed, archive episodes for later, download what you need in advance with just a few taps and much more. As I’ve argued in the introduction to this article, making listening easy is very important if you want to listen a lot, and podcasts are a great way to achieve this.

Pros: Infinite and varied content

Cons: None, really, this is one of the best ways of practising listening ability

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Live streaming of games and sports

Level: Advanced
Topic: Listening, Reading
Type: Resource collection

In order to be able to listen as much as you should, it’s essential that you are able to channel your interests to access content in Chinese. Streamed commentary of games and sports is a great example of this.

Practising sports is great for learning Chinese, but watching games can also be great. I’m more interested in practising myself than watching, but I have watched a lot of gymnastics in Chinese.

The same is true for video games, which I enjoy watching more for some reason. I’ve watched a few hundred hours of  mostly Starcraft 2 and Valorant matches in Chinese. I’ve written more about games in general and Starcraft 2 in particular.

In order to channel your other interests to learn more Chinese, you need to focus on things you are truly interested in. It must be something that’s so interesting that you’re willing to increase the effort required and still have enough motivation to feel a strong urge to continue. Of course, it gets easier after a while, but it can be hard when you watch your first match.

I can’t really suggest specific channels to follow since it’s so dependent on what you want to watch, but YouTube  is a great place to start; simply use Chinese to search for the game/sport you’re interested in! YouTube will also help you find more related content once the algorithm understands that you like this stuff. You can of course also use the other video-sharing platforms I’ve mentioned above.

If you have specific suggestions for how to watch a lot of sports in Chinese, please leave a comment below and I’ll consider adding your resource here.

Pros: Combining a hobby with learning Chinese is great

Cons: Steep learning curve at first, can be hard to find exactly the content you want

Back to index

Good old radio (aonalog and digital)

Level: Advanced
Topic: Listening, Reading
Type: Resource collection

In this digital era, the line between radio and podcast is rather blurred, as many radio programs are also available as podcasts and you can listen to radio shows digitally. One meaningful difference is that radio stations program their content and provide you with a mix of content, topics and voices, whereas when it comes to podcasts, you normally choose exactly what you want to listen to (and don’t listen to anything else).

For language learning purposes, radio has some advantages over podcasts (just like a printed magazine has advantages over reading online), which is why I’m recommending it here. Content is juxtaposed in a way you would never encounter if you chose all the content yourself, so you might have a program about the life of ants followed by a newsreel followed by a program helping you improve your singing.

While you could recreate this with handpicked podcasts, it would be hard. Radio is a way of breaking out of your filter bubble a little bit, both linguistically and otherwise. For the purpose of classification here, radio is where you can tune in (analog or digital) to stream. If you pick your own programs, see the podcast entry instead.

Pros: Varied content, no need to actively look for new material

Cons: Increased variety means it’s more challenging too

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TV and movies

Level: Advanced, Intermediate
Topic: Listening, Reading
Type: Resource collection

I mentioned TV and movies on the intermediate level as well, but in my opinion, it’s at an advanced level where these turn into truly amazing resources. As an intermediate learner, you have to study a lot to be able to make full sense of what you’re watching, but even if there might be things you don’t get immediately as an advanced learner, it’s much easier to enjoy watching something if you don’t have to look up every other word.

If you’re in China, you can watch TV the good old-fashioned way, but for most people (including most who actually are in China), watching online is easier. Here are some popular websites you can check out:

Also remember that the video-sharing platforms I mentioned above often have TV shows and sometimes full movies as well. If you have a specific recommendation for how to watch ordinary TV channels internationally, please let me know!

Even if this is more relevant for intermediate learners, I still want to mention IGraded Watching again, which has more than a hundred TV shows analysed by difficulty.

There are also many articles about TV series and movies here on Hacking Chinese:

Pros: Infinite and varied content

Cons: Often in video format (although you can rip the audio or just listen), can be hard to find high-quality content you actually like

Back to index

Lectures and academic content in Chinese

Level: Advanced
Topic: Listening
Type: Resource collection, Information and advice

A common misconception about language learning is that academic lectures, articles and textbooks in the target language make up the hardest content there is. Tthis is simply not true. Consider the fact that in science, being clear and consistent is a virtue, whereas in literature, consistent is another word for boring. In my experience, academic content in Chinese is considerably easier than literature and fiction, even though you do of course need a certain amount of prior knowledge in a relevant area.

The best way to approach academic Chinese is to do so with a topic you’re already familiar with. This way, you know most of what they are talking about already, and so your main challenge is to figure out how this is done in Chinese. Once you’re familiar with this, you can learn new things as well.

When it comes to listening, there are many lecture series, presentations and seminars available online, for free. As is often the case when it comes to advanced content, interest should be the main factor when you choose what to focus on, so I can’t help much there. If you’re like me and like science fiction, you can check out the lecture series linked below.

Here are some platforms you can use to find interesting content (if you know of more or better ways of accessing courses in Chinese, please let me know by leaving a comment below):

Pros: Interesting if you choose the right topic, learn more than just the language

Cons: Some effort required to get started, requires certain basic knowledge in a field

Sample lecture series: 科幻概論 by 鄭運鴻(國立清華大學)easily accessible on YouTube

Back to index

News and current affairs in Chinese

Level: Advanced
Topic: Listening
Type: Resource collection

News in Chinese is a tricky beast for several completely unrelated reasons. On the one hand, if you’re interested in current affairs and want to follow what’s going on in the world, it would be natural to incorporate this into your Chinese learning routine at an advanced level. I have listened to approximately 5,000 hours of The Economist, and while it’s hard to say how much that has improved my English, it’s likely to be quite a lot.

Problem number one is that there aren’t many Chinese-language news outlets of high quality that aim at an international audience. If you’re only after the language, this is not a problem, but if you also want to learn more about the world, you should be mindful of what channels you choose. Simply replacing your English-language media with Chinese-language counterparts as I usually suggest is not unproblematic here. Listen as much as you can, but add a healthy dose of critical thinking.

Problem number two is that news is hard in Chinese, much harder than in English. This is probably because the formal, written Chinese used in news articles and broadcasts are further from the colloquial spoken language than in English. The step from classroom English to real news is not that big if you choose your news outlet carefully, but the step from classroom Chinese to real-world news is very big indeed.

That being said, here are some news sources you can checkout. Please note that I have chosen these purely from a language-learning perspective. Please also note that you can find lots of news on video and podcast platforms as well (see the other categories in this article).

You can also check out 新浪网新闻中心 and 中廣全球資訊網 that I recommended in my article about the best reading resources.

Pros: Interesting topics, wide variety of topics and language, more formal language, enormous amounts of content available

Cons: Difficult (especially if based on written sources), hard to find high-quality content, often in video format even if you only want the video

Back to index

500+ learning resources sorted and tagged by level, topic and type

I have spent many years building up a huge library of resources hor learning Chinese, including those mentioned in this article. If you’re looking for more listening resources or resources for other areas of learning Chinese, head over to Hacking Chinese Resources! There, you can find articles sorted by difficulty:

But also by topic:

…and more!

What’s your favourite free listening resource for learning Chinese?

This article is based on a lot of research and took dozens of hours to compile, but I’m sure that I missed good resources and new resources might have popped up recently too. What’s your favourite free listening resource? Please leave a comment below to let me and others know! Don’t forget to mention why you like it!

Editor’s note: This article, originally published in 2014, was rewritten from scratch and massively updated in October, 2022.



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42 comments

  1. david says:

    #2 Viooz How do i watch movies without it trying to install viruses on my computer?

    Also i really recommend downloading 爱奇艺 (iQiYi in the green box)

    as long as you watch things through this program you can download chinese tv shows, and some movies.
    I’m watching 熊出没 at the moment and its fun to watch .
    [intermediate-advanced level]

  2. Brent says:

    Thanks a lot, this gives me several new things to explore!
    For 锵锵三人行, what is the best way to find the transcripts?

    1. Olle Linge says:

      Just click the episode and scroll down (you have to select an individual episode in the list). Example: phtv.ifeng.com/a/20141028/40849185_0.shtml

  3. Corey says:

    Hi, this is a great list! Even though I have been keeping an eye on these kind of things, several I had not seen before.

    I have recently signed up for a paid popupchinese account, and I like their podcasts, though even the elementary ones are quite challenging for my listening ability. Except for the absolute beginner podcasts, they are all at natural speaking speed and sometimes with a bit slurred/sloppy speech, in other words natural speech, but with reduced vocabulary for the elementary and intermediate lessons.

    I will say also that the paid account is worth it because many times there are words in the podcast that are not explained in the podcast itself, and so having a transcript there is a huge help. popupchinese also has some quizzing, and SRS features, though it seems have a few bugs still.

    One downside is that they seem to be a very low-budget operation there in Beijing, so the frequency of new podcasts coming out is pretty low. On the other hand, they have a lot of archived podcasts you can listen to if you are new to the site, so you can spend many many months there before running out of material, especially if you are at at the beginner to intermediate level

  4. Kalin Jan says:

    If you are learning to read Chinese characters (e.g. the subtitles) a good place to start to build up your word recognition is with the HSK Locker android app. Its free, you learn and test yourself at your own pace. Also, its based on the basic 5000 characters as listed in the official HSK syllables. Its a long, tough climb in the beginning, but I’ve manage to comfortably reach level 5 (of 6) now and those words I’ve learn, its comforting to know that no one can take that away from me.

    And this added knowledge makes for easier understanding of subtitles too.. well, at least most of them.

  5. Ash says:

    I suggest CLO. The only problem with this podcast is that it’s Taiwanese Mandarin, but the majority of the vocab is pretty neutral. Took me from a struggling upper beginner and into the intermediate level (I went from part of level 3 to level 4 to level 6.) There’s 420 lessons total and it’ll take you further than Pimsleur, the only other progressive course I know of, and in less time (no ridiculous 30 min lessons).
    In later levels, they begin to use Chinese to teach the lesson and describe vocabulary using Chinese before giving the English definition. Another plus is they answer any questions you leave in the comments. I’ve never bought the packages, but what you get for free is already pretty nice.

    Most people don’t figure this out, but the audio is free. Just scroll to course outline at the bottom and choose a level. To choose a lesson, click one of the orange links.
    http://www.chineselearnonline.com

  6. Daweilaoshi says:

    Great videos here at all levels: http://english.cntv.cn/learnchinese/
    Many have English subtitles and Chinese transcripts.

    I started at this site about 4 years ago and still have not seen all of them. I spend about half an hour a day there.

  7. Hans says:

    锵锵三人行 is a really interesting program, thank you! But the transcripts are nonexisting right? Or am I overlooking something?

    1. Olle Linge says:

      Just click the link to an individual episode and scroll down, it’s right there! For instance: phtv.ifeng.com/a/20141028/40849185_0.shtml

      1. Hans says:

        Aah… the episodelist on the right, not on the episodes listed under the video. Thanks!

  8. Global says:

    There is nothing better than free learning resources. Listening is definitely going to help me learn the language as I have been struggling with it.

  9. Cooper says:

    Hi Olle,

    Thanks for this great resource list! Big fan of your blog and your writings here, and elsewhere.

    Just FYI the second resource, Viooz.co, appears to have been the subject of a seizure and take-down by Interpol and various international law enforcement agencies.

    1. Olle Linge says:

      Thanks for letting me know! I have deleted the resource from this article and added CCTV’s language learning section instead. I will wait a few weeks before deleting the other resource from the resource site simply because it might come up again or might have moved elsewhere.

  10. Lucy says:

    XimalayaFM came up recently in Chinese Forums.

    http://www.ximalaya.com/explore/

    It has many podcasts and ebooks. It’s free and the site is free of malware and not clogged with dubious animations and ads. I’ve been using it a lot lately, it’s a great source of material for this challenge. The programs I listened to are good for upper intermediate and advanced level, but there are also children’s programs that may be suitable for lower Intermediate.

    1. Olle Linge says:

      Thanks for the recommendation! If you want to, I can invite you to Hacking Chinese Resources so that you can add it there? If you prefer, I can of course add instead, but it’s nice with other people helping out. 🙂

      1. Lucy says:

        Yeah, you can add me up, but adding the link yourself is OK with me too. It’s a well worth sharing resource.

        1. Olle Linge says:

          Hm.. I failed to send an invite, it says your e-mail address is invalid?

          1. Lucy says:

            did you use gorinto@gmail.com? I just tested it and it’s working. Strange! Try again and let me know if you have any problems.

            1. Olle Linge says:

              There must be something wrong on my end, it doesn’t accept any e-mail addresses. I’ll send you an invite as soon as I have sorted this out. 🙂

  11. Leyla says:

    hi this is a dumb question but where do you find the transcripts for 《锵锵三人行 》? I too love watching the show but never seem to find any luck for finding the transcripts.

    1. Olle Linge says:

      Please read the article, there are detailed instructions. I think I’ve received this question twenty times, so do make sure you really follow all the instructions. If it doesn’t work, please point to the exact place where it doesn’t work!

  12. Anastasiya says:

    Thank you for your wonderful work, Olle Linge! This is really useful information for those studying Chinese.

  13. watsondan825 says:

    Thanks, it helped me explore more. It is amazing surfing your sites.

  14. Nico says:

    Hi! does anyone know what happened to Slow Chinese? Did they shutted it down

    1. Olle Linge says:

      I don’t know what happened, but yes, it seems that the have shut down. I can recommend Learning Chinese through Stories instead. Most of the content is free and they are better than anyone else at not speaking English.

      1. Matt says:

        Hi all, it seems like they (or someone) put up a mirror of the Slow Chinese podcasts. I’m new to this content, so maybe it’s not what you’re referring to though!

        https://kitchenknif.github.io/SlowChinese/menu/about.html

        1. Olle Linge says:

          That’s great! I have updated the post and the entry on Hacking Chinese Resources. I didn’t know about this mirrored site!

  15. rimie says:

    I want to learn chinese.

  16. 伊琳 says:

    The fm閱讀 link does not seem to work, It leads to a generic website. Did anyone else had better luck?

  17. Danilo says:

    I highly suggest LITTLE FOX CHINESE. Everything is free https://chinese.littlefox.com/en
    You can download the audios, watch the stories, download the transcript, download a mini-book, read the translation, create a vocabulary list, etc, it’s very funny and useful.

  18. 文佰川 says:

    The more I listen to LCTS the more it’s become my favorite podcast and maybe just favorite Chinese learning resources in general. I honestly have gotten tired and frustrated with ChinesePod, it’s just not as fun as it used to be. It feels like it’s the most useful at an elementary to low intermediate level to build you
    your conversational level and listening skills but past that it’s not as useful anymore. Even the upper-intermediates use too much English sometimes or the topics are just plain weird to get any benefit. The advanced though are way too difficult and if you can comprehend 80-90% of it then you are probably can just listen to native content at that point. LCTS on the other hand, always feels like it’s actually comprehensible input, and honestly amazing how they can explain a complete noob story entirely in Chinese. I’ll be listening to an intermediate episode of the their’s and be able to comprehend the story on the first listen and actually absorb the words. While a 10 minute ChinesePod episode in only Chinese even after five listens I am still not be able to understand what the heck they are talking about.

  19. 明菲 says:

    Chinese Online short story collection appears to have disappeared. Or am I doing something wrong?

    Thanks for compiling that list. I’ll be trying them out!

    1. Olle Linge says:

      This article is getting old and I plan to rewrite it from scratch fairly soon, probably in May for the listening challenge. I don’t know if the resource is gone or if it’s just changed location, but I’ll look into it then!

  20. says:

    故事 fm
    my favorite podcast!

  21. Peter says:

    Thanks for this list – very useful! I have tried Melnyk’s Chinese lessons and can recommend it for lower level learners. Unfortunately, CSLPOD doesn’t seem to offer their audio recordings for free anymore 🙁

  22. Sergy says:

    http://english.cntv.cn/learnchinese/ seems that it is not working anymore

    1. Olle Linge says:

      Thanks for pointing this out! I’m working on an updated version of this article and it will be update fairly soon (probably later this month or next month).

  23. Steve P says:

    How useful do you think it is for a beginner to get listening practice from something with no visual, such as a podcast? Not that listening is unimportant, but I imagine it is very difficult to learn vocabulary purely through audio (as opposed to seeing someone at something and saying “it’s called a ____”)

    1. Olle Linge says:

      Good question! The problem is of course that in order to produce something that beginners can understand, there needs to be some support beyond Chinese itself. That might be gestures, images, English or something else. Of these, I think English is by far the worst one, and for gestures and images, we need video.

      However, this is mostly true for absolute beginners. Once you know a hundred words or so, you can make sense of easy dialogues and stories without support. Or maybe you use some support the first time, but then move to audio only after that. You might study a text in your textbook, then put the audio in your audio library for listening only later. Or you have textbook that has extra texts with audio based on the chapters you’ve studied. Or you have a teacher who knows what you know and can tailor the content.

      In general, audio-only without support is probably not feasible for complete beginners, but it grows in usefulness as you learn more. Also, don’t forget that listening has many benefits beyond simply getting better at understanding new content, because you also get better at processing what you already know (fluency) and you hear the sounds and tones over and over.

      While I haven’t checked all the videos from all the recommended resources here, most of them don’t use direct references to things on-screen. In one case, I noted that as a disadvantage, but it’s actually not very common. Yes, they use on-screen support, but not in a way that makes it impossible to follow in audio-only mode!

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