In this article, I am going to explain to you why watching Chinese films can play a big part in Chinese learning no matter what your level!
You may find that difficult to believe.
You may have thought watching Chinese films would only benefit the advanced learner.
Read on to find out the three major benefits it brings to your Chinese studies…
What’s more, at the end we provide you with a list of great Chinese language films!
Keeps You Coming Back for More
Finding an enjoyable way to learn is essential to nailing any language.
Learning a language is a bit like smashing it at the gym – you need to keep at it! So it needs to be fun enough for you to keep coming back for more!
Even if you are learning Chinese strictly for business reasons, I am going to assume that you have some interest in Chinese culture. There is no doubt too that you will find some Chinese films you can enjoy. How much you enjoy the film will determine how you learn from it. Let’s look at three different scenarios:
a.) I want to watch it again.
Fantastic! Watching a film more than once will help your Close Listening.
b.) I liked it but I probably won’t watch it again.
Great that you liked it! Choose your next film! It is great to watch a broad range of films to discover more culture and new contexts and accents in which to hear the language.
If your Chinese is closer to the “beginner” end of the spectrum, you may have hardly understood a word of Chinese in a film you watched only once. However, you are still improving your ear through Passive Listening.
c.) I didn’t like it.
Well, if you stuck with it and watch it tto the end, this will still have benefited your Passive Listening!
Choose another and you will find one you like!
2. Close Listening
Improving Your Vocabulary and Understanding
Having a favourite film that you are willing to watch again (and again) is a great asset to your Chinese learning. A close study of unfamiliar words and phrases in the film is a great way to build your vocabulary. You also get the chance to hear words and phrases learned in the classroom in an (almost) real life context, and spoken at more natural speeds.
The second time you watch the film, you already know the context of your favourite scenes and you will find it much easier to pick up on what is being said. The third time, you might even know the gist of what a character says before she says it, meaning even a beginner might be able to make out a sentence spoken at native speed.
Some learners even like to replay their favourite lines over and over again and mimic the actors to improve their speaking. It is up to you whether you want to make this casual watching or get involved in full-blown interactive learning experience!
3. Passive Listening
Tuning in Your Ear
Passively listening to a broad range of content without trying too hard to understand is just as important to your learning as Close Listening. Watching with English (or English and Chinese) subtitles is good enough!
You don’t need to be constantly trying to work out the Chinese. Just relax and enjoy the film. Meanwhile, you are subconsciously tuning your ear into the language. It’s a bit like those strange exercise belts which tone your abs while you just sit around… I don’t know if those help, but watching Chinese films certainly does!
Eventually you might find that you are picking up a few words or phrases. It is great to be able to hear what you have learned in the classroom in context. But even if you cannot make out what is being said, you are at least getting used to hearing the speed of the language, and the language spoken in a wide variety of voices.
My Personal Favourite
And How It Helped Me Attain Fluent Mandarin
At the end of this article you will find a list of recommendations, many of which have left a deep impression on me. I watched most of those films just once and they all thereby helped tune my ear through Passive Listening as I have described above. Many of them left a deep impression on me but there is one film which played a bigger role than the others in my Chinese learning.
你那边几点 (What Time is it There?) is one of those long, slow “arthouse” films where not much happens. Don’t ask me why, but I liked it! And I wanted to watch it again. There is not a lot of dialogue in the film which meant my ears really perked up when someone did start to speak. The Mandarin spoken is in a Taiwanese accent which was interesting to me as it was quite different to the accents I heard in the classrooms. As the film is set in both Taiwan and Paris, it contains bits of English too and creates an atmosphere of cultures colliding which is a great environment for language learning! Check out a trailer here:
This film helped me because I took a liking to it. Check out our list below and I’m sure you will find a film, or maybe just a few scenes, that you will want to watch again and again. In the process, you will tune your ear into the language, learn a lot about Chinese culture and enjoy many hours of great watching!
Of course you will only get so far with watching films – you need to speak your own thoughts and needs, not just imitate actors. The small class environment and oral focus of our courses at Practical Mandarin provide you with a structured way to keep on top of your language learning!
Check out our course page here to find your level!
Chinese Film Recommendations
Mainland Chinese Films
Director: 张艺谋 – Zhang Yimou
《十面埋伏》House of Flying Daggers
《大红灯笼高高挂》Raise the Red Lantern
Director: 陈凯歌 – Chen Kaige
《霸王别姬》Farewell My Concubine
Director: 贾樟柯 – Jia Zhangke
《山河故人》Mountains May Depart
《天注定》A Touch of Sin
Director: 冯小刚 – Feng Xiaogang
《我不是潘金莲》I Am Not Madame Bovary
《老炮儿》 Mr. Six
Director: 姜文 – Jiang Wen
《让子弹飞》Let the Bullets Fly
《一步之遥》Gone With the Bullets
《阳光灿烂的日子》In the Heat of the Sun
Director: 田壮壮 – Tian Zhuangzhuang
《蓝风筝》The Blue Kite
Director: 李杨 – Li Yang
Hong Kong Films
Director: 王家卫 – Wong Kar-wai
《花样年华》In the Mood for Love
Director: 吴宇森 – John Woo
《英雄本色》A Better Tomorrow
Director: 叶伟信 – Wilson Yip
《叶问》系列 Ip Man 1, 2 and 3
Director: 李安 – Ang Lee
《卧虎藏龙》Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
Director: 蔡明亮 – Tsai Mingliang
《你那边几点》What Time Is It There?