Watch TV And Learn Chinese At The Same Time

Watch TV and Learn Chinese At The Same Time

The best way to learn Chinese is when it doesn’t feel like a chore. Watching TV can feel like a useless activity, but why not turn it into useful learning time?

There are three reasons watching Chinese language programs can improve your fluency.

Reason #1

It boosts your listening comprehension. Watching TV can also help familiarize you with the language’s sounds and rhythm.

Reason #2

Most Chinese shows have subtitles that can help improve your recognition of words. You may find it hard to keep up with the subtitles initially, but your reading speed will improve with time.

Reason #3

You can pick up common phrases or learn new words. And by learning vocabulary within the context of a story, you’ll remember it better. Also, it’s less boring than learning from a textbook.

But before you turn into a couch potato, you should know the best ways to make use of your time in front of the tube. Don’t let it turn you into a TV zombie. If you want to improve your Chinese, you must be more active in your approach. In this post, I’ll give tips on how to get the most out of turning TV watching into valuable learning time.

What To Watch

You’ll want to find shows suitable for your language level. If the content is too easy, it’ll offer little challenge to your Chinese learning. If it’s too difficult to understand, then you may tune out and lose interest. Picking programs with the right amount of challenge is important. By doing so, it will motivate you to keep progressing with your Chinese learning. Here are suggestions of what to watch depending on your language level:


  • Music videos
  • Commercials
  • Short films
  • Children’s shows
  • Chinese pop songs, Chinese commercials, Chinese short films, Chinese cartoons, 中文流行歌曲,中国短片,中文广告,卡通,动漫


  • Modern TV dramas/comedies
  • Webisodes consisting several parts
  • Family shows
  • Chinese dubbed Disney movies

(Note: Be sure to check the region code. Most Chinese-dubbed DVDs need region 6 or region-free players to work.)

  • Chinese dramas, Chinese comedies, 电视剧,喜剧


  • Full-length movies
  • Interview/talk show programs
  • News and culture programs
  • 中国电影,清谈节目,综艺节目,中文新闻

How To Learn Chinese While Watching TV

Watch programs without English captions at first. Otherwise you’ll read the captions rather than try to make sense of what you’re hearing. It’s ok if you don’t understand everything. Just try to understand the gist of it. Instead of English captions, find videos with Chinese captions. Do your best to follow along as you listen. Your recognition of Chinese characters will improve over time along with your reading speed.

You can also dramatically increase your vocabulary. With a Chinese dictionary app installed on your phone, you can look up words as you watch Chinese shows. Pleco is a popular app that’s free to use (add-ons cost extra.) Another dictionary app is Hanping (Android only.) Whenever you hear a word you don’t know, enter the Pinyin to look up the definition. Then, tap the plus sign at the top to add it as a flashcard (add-on in Pleco.) In Hanping Lite, tap the star on the screen to save it to your starred lists and create your own Anki flashcard later.

The key is to study your flashcards after you’ve created them. I recommend including example sentences and images to your Anki cards. Adding these will help you learn words in its context and serve as a memory aid.

Don’t worry if you’re not catching all the words you don’t know. If it’s a common word, you’ll hear it again. And over time, you’ll look up words with less frequency as you build your vocabulary.

How To Boost Your Chinese Learning Even More

To further improve your comprehension, re-watch a program and add words you missed. Or you can re-watch with English captions turned on if you want to check your understanding.

Another way to make the most use of your TV watching is to work on your Chinese writing skills. Write a synopsis of what you watched and have a native speaker check your writing. To get your writing assessed, upload your summary to Lang-8, a free language-exchange network. Within minutes you’ll receive corrections from native speakers.

Likewise, you can improve your speaking ability by talking about what you’ve watched. Find a language partner on for an affordable fee or at a language meetup in your city. It’s also easy to find free language-exchange partners on Lang-8 who want to chat online. Lang-8 users often send friend requests and I find some also ask if I want to talk on Skype.

Review, Review, Review

Learning Chinese doesn’t have to be boring. It can be engaging and entertaining. But binge watching Chinese shows won’t do much good either unless you take a more active approach. Listen for words you don’t know, create flashcards, and review them regularly. You’ll feel less guilty about watching TV when learning Chinese at the same time. Also, by choosing what you watch and learn, you’ll be more engaged in learning Chinese. And you have a better understanding of a word’s meaning by seeing it in its context.

TV watching can improve your Chinese, but balance your learning with reading, writing, and speaking. A varied approach is best for studying Chinese and gaining fluency.

So try these tips out and let me know if they’ve helped you. Are you doing this already? What more suggestions do you have? Please add your comments below.

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