TV, Podcasts and Apps: how to prepare for the curve while keeping it interesting

TV, Podcasts and Apps: how to prepare for the curve while keeping it interesting

While learning and expanding one’s mastery of Chinese can feel rewarding, incoming Hopkins-Nanjing Center students may also feel worried about preparing for the learning curve. Eljoy shares his favorite Mandarin-language shows and channels to help students find ways to make learning Chinese more entertaining and easily digestible. 

As an avid language learner, I believe that supplementing language learning with cultural learning is a great way to improve one’s language abilities. This is the exact environment that the Hopkins-Nanjing Center provides. At the HNC, students utilize and continue to learn Chinese within a cultural context. Whether you are learning about inflation (通货膨胀) for the first time in an economics class, analyzing China’s ethnic minorities (少数民族) in a history class, or critiquing China’s environmental policies (环境政策) in your ERE class, HNC students are constantly introduced to and familiarized with high-level vocabularies containing cultural ties to the modern Chinese society.

Whether you are looking for a relaxing way to practice your listening skills or a channel that will help you learn field-specific vocabulary, the following media sources will certainly help you enhance your Chinese learning experience:

TV Shows & Variety Shows
微微一笑很倾城 (Love O2O)
Synopsis: A story about two talented computer science university students who met through their love for online gaming. The male lead, Xiao Nai, begins his relationship in game with the female lead, Bei Weiwei. After meeting up in real life, Xiao Nai and Bei Weiwei’s student and professional lives become entangled as Xiao Nai builds his own online gaming company.

Reason to watch: This light-hearted program will show you a glimpse to how China’s younger generation carry daily conversations. You will learn everyday oral terms (口语), gaming vocabularies, and business terms. In addition, the show is useful in helping to understand how popular online gaming is in modern China. I personally like Yu Banshan, one of the male characters who often misuses Chinese idioms, which his friends correct every time.

Vocabularies I learned:
开发权 - Development rights
“不惜一切代价” - At all cost
厚道 – Honest and kind
无耻 – Shameless
过奖 – A way to say thank you, especially for a complement
奔跑吧 (Keep Running)
Synopsis: A game show based on South Korea’s Running Man, a program with a similar format. The fixed casts include both older and younger Chinese celebrities divided into groups. Each group will compete for prizes including money, food, and travel rewards. Guests also include popular celebrities known to the public.

Reason to watch: The gameshow is filled with celebrities who are popular in China. Being aware of these entertainers has helped me start conversations with many Chinese friends. Reality shows are also a very good way to learn how Chinese people use Mandarin in a more casual setting. 

创造101/创造元 (Produce 101 China/Produce Camp)
Synopsis: A survival show where young contestants compete to debut as part of a new Chinese idol group. The show rotates between having male and female contestants every season. The mentors of the first season consist of known musicians such as Ella Chen (陈嘉桦), Jason Zhang (张杰), and Show Lo (羅志祥). The contestants include youths from China and foreigners who hope to be pop stars in China.

Reason to watch: For the past few years, China has had an influx of musical competition shows of various genres like rapping, dancing, and singing. The popularity of these shows is directly tied to China’s modern consumer behavior and pop culture. Watching these competition shows will expose you to popular Chinese songs, regularly used Chinese vocabularies and expressions, and China’s pop culture.

Vocabularies I learned:
取消 – to cancel
天赋 – natural talent; innate
用心 – attentive; diligent
信念 – belief; conviction
Podcast: Mandarin Corner

Mandarin Corner is a YouTube channel that focuses on teaching both casual and professional Chinese vocabularies. Their videos include HSK vocabularies, podcasts, and street interviews with regular Chinese people. 

Reason to watch/listen: First, the channel is very organized. For example, HSK vocabularies are divided into levels and grammar reviews are divided into “beginner,” “intermediate,” and “advanced” levels. Second, their podcast and interviews are very engaging, and the topics range from casual and cultural debate to in-depth analysis of important issues in China’s modern society.
Most importantly, each of the podcasts and interviews include simultaneous English translations and Chinese subtitles, which makes it easy for anyone to write down new words, idioms, and grammar points that stand out to them.

Topics discussed: 
996 Work Culture  & 躺平 
(tangping - literally, laying flat)
Domestic Violence in China 
“What Do Chinese People Really Think About Leftover Women?”
“How Much Chinese History Do Chinese People Really Know?”
App – Du Chinese

Most of us have probably used Duolingo or other applications to learn basic Chinese vocabularies, but I find that even the hardest levels stop being challenging after some repetition.
Du Chinese acts like a digital textbook with the addition of Quizlet. The app is designed to help you learn new vocabularies and grammar points through reading texts. The app comes with useful features such as audio-reading, hide-reveal pinyin, and color-coding by HSK level options. While the app comes with additional paid features, the free version is still very helpful.

The function I enjoy the most is the word bank. You can add vocabularies to your word bank, which you can review every day. Each vocabulary card includes the Chinese character and two types of hints. The first hint includes a sentence example with both Chinese characters and pinyin and the second hint includes both the pinyin and English definition. For each card, you can press “Got it” to mark words that you remembered. On the other hand, you can press “Forgot” for any hard words you encountered, which will make the word re-appear for another review session the next day. 

Words I have learned:
刮目相看 – to have a whole new level of respect for somebody or something
欲望 – desire
创新 – innovation
稍等 – to wait a moment, to ask someone to wait politely

Disclaimer: all the above shows are accessible in YouTube.