As someone who doesn’t live among Chinese speakers, one of the biggest challenges is getting enough exposure to a variety of speakers. I have been able to have occasional simple conversations with Chinese speakers when I run across them in stores and airports, but it doesn’t happen often enough to really stimulate everyday fluency. So, besides the excellent conversations with my tutor on a weekly basis, I try listening to and talking back to various youtube videos sometimes.
There are some frustrations with this. The first issue is finding videos that are at a level that is a good balance for me. If they are too simple, it can be encouraging, but boring. It is good to listen to these once in a while, because there is nothing quite like repetition to cement vocabulary in the brain. However, many of them are made with very beginning students in mind. As such, they have very little sentence structure and can seem slow and have a lot of English mixed in.
Listening to native broadcasts, such as news reports or TV shows that native speakers watch, can have some benefits. It mimics what you might hear if living in a Chinese speaking country. It can be motivating to understand snippets of phrases or be able to distinguish the sounds enough to look up something in the dictionary without understanding what is being said. But it can also be very overwhelming. When I do this, I have to make it a point to relax and not get stressed out about how much I don’t understand. The newest president seems to be pretty easy to listen to in spite of my limited vocabulary:
The best videos I have found so far for my level are those presented by Ben over at Learn Chinese Now. It’s kind of like the 3 bears. He doesn’t speak too slow and he doesn’t speak too fast. He is just right. He uses many complete, though simple sentences, most of the time, but mixes in a variety of longer and faster conversation. He also has well edited videos, that combine good photography with nice graphics to explain the language. Here is one that I listened to today:
The video linked to next, about visiting Taiwan, is by him, but not under the Learn Chinese Now banner. I liked it because I could remember my times in Taiwan and it has a lot of good sentences for me to listen to: 老外看小七：我的環島日記│郝毅博 X 7-ELEVEN
Below are some other videos I have recently used to practice and review, with some notes on each:
Mandarin stories for children to read along – this series of children’s stories is captioned by simplified Chinese characters. I find this alternatively helpful and distracting. While I would much prefer to have the option to see the characters, I have decided that after an initial viewing of a video and studying of some of the newer vocabulary, it is best for listening practice if I avoid reading along. So far, these videos fall in the category of being above my current full comprehension, but still overall simple enough to help me practice understanding how things I have learned fit in common Chinese sentences.
Chinese Class 101 – I have only listened to a couple of their free videos. Even though the ones I watched were on the simple side for me, they kept moving along at a pace that maintained interest. Be aware that their promotional video begins automatically when you visit their channel.
Learn Chinese with Emma – I watched the New Year’s song and began the one about snow with Emma. She definitely had good graphics and explanations for the song. Listening to it was a good review of things I have recently talked about with my tutor. I found myself wishing that at some point she would speak in Chinese a bit faster. The second video began with her spending a long time speaking in English about her university. Possibly, I had already listened to too many videos by then, but I gave up listening after a few minutes. I may go back later and try to find where she actually speaks in Chinese, since I did like the first video well enough.
Learn Fruits in Chinese with Peggy Teaches Chinese may have been one of her older videos. It was a list review of names of fruit with helpful graphics and verbally clear pronunciation, but it was not quite fast enough for me. I also listened to her video about Shopping in Convenience Stores, which I found more to my liking in spite of the extra long intro.
Using a variety of videos can help me get accustomed to how different people speak, even if I don’t understand every word said. It can motivate me to be interested in new vocabulary because I see how I might find it useful in other sentences. And, like my tutor keeps saying, it is good to practice a little every day than a lot all on a couple days. It puts the brain in Chinese mode more frequently, which somehow stimulates the whole learning process. One last thing, I may just try commenting on some of the videos in Chinese! If I make mistakes, the worst that can happen is someone laughs at me, but it is more likely that it will be another learning opportunity.