A method for learning Chinese by watching TV

(This is mostly for my own reference, but I'll share it in case someone else finds it useful. By the way, the video I'm using for this post is 向往的生活2 episode 1. I'm a 黄磊 fan.)

The short version of what I do: I listen to short clips of audio from Chinese TV shows and practice listening. Hearing Chinese sounds is very difficult for me—much harder than reading, writing, etc.—so I'm trying to overcome it with more deliberate practice matching what I hear to what the actual sound is.

Programs/services used

This is all running on a 2011 MacBook Air, so it doesn't require anything really sophisticated.


  1. Find a video. This one is easy for me—I just notice what my wife is watching. I'm looking for videos that have Chinese subtitles, not English subtitles. The important issue here is not worrying about the meaning of words, sentences, or topics—in fact, I find that to be a distraction. I'm focusing solely on the link between listening and hearing. It's the hardest part of Chinese for me.
  2. Download mp3 audio from video. Use the YouTube to MP3 app. I put these in a folder in Dropbox (Language/Chinese/[show name]).
  3. Set up table. Here's a blank table. I put these in a folder on Google Drive (Language/Chinese/[show name]).


  1. Open the mp3 file in Audacity. Usually takes a while to import the mp3, so later I'll save it as an Audacity project (.aup) and use that file.
  2. Select a range of audio to repeat. ⌘1 to zoom in, then select the range with the mouse. Usually I select less than 10 seconds at a time so I get to hear what's being said until it sinks in without being overwhelmed.
  3. Shift + Space to play the range on repeat.
  4. Listen and write the sounds that I hear in a notebook. If I know the character I'll write the character, but it's not important—the important thing is to correctly identify the sound.
  5. Select a new range and repeat.

After about a cumulative minute of video, I compare what I've written to the actual Chinese subtitles in the video.

Sometimes it's obvious and I recognize the character. Sometimes I can type the pinyin into Pleco or MDBG and see if what I heard matches a sensible word. Other times I have to switch to the Chinese handwriting keyboard on my phone and write the characters I don't know and let Pleco help me out.

There's a pattern to the colors: Black for what I hear; Red for corrections; Green for Hanzi; Blue for selected definitions (although no definitions shown here).

After I've figured out the correct sounds and characters, I'll store them in a table for later. (Example: 向往的生活2 #1) Sometimes I'll use that to later run longer ranges of the video and read along. Also, I'm saving the info for later when I want to study meaning, sentence structure, etc.

Extra step: New vocabulary gets used for another project, Chinese Word of the Day (@zhwotd).

Summer 2018 book recommendations from Bill Gates, with St. Louis library links

Bill Gates recently posted a reading list for summer 2018 on LinkedIn: 5 books worth reading this summer. He describes that whys and wherefores in the article, but I'd like to extend that with some links to more information and where you can pick up a copy of the books in St. Louis.

(SLPL is St. Louis Public Library, i.e., city library, SLCL is St. Louis County Library.)

Leonardo da Vinci, by Walter Isaacson:
SLCL (audiobook) - SLPL (audiobook)

Everything Happens for a Reason and Other Lies I’ve Loved, by Kate Bowler:

Lincoln in the Bardo, by George Saunders:
SLCL (audiobook) - SLPL (audiobook)

Origin Story: A Big History of Everything, by David Christian:

Factfulness, by Hans Rosling, with Ola Rosling and Anna Rosling Ronnlund:

A week in review, 2018-W19


  • ...




Steve Jobs President & CEO, NeXT Computer Corp and Apple. MIT Sloan Distinguished Speaker Series (Spring 1992), MIT Video Productions, YouTube

Added to /links



A week in review, 2018-W16





Summoning Salt, 4-2: The History of Super Mario Bros.' Most Infamous Level, YouTube, 2018-01-29.

Added to /links

#st-louis-blogs: St Louis Patina - Historical Urban Exploration



Image, or results

There's this exchange in "How to Love Criticism" in WorkLife with Adam Grant, where he's talking with Ray Dalio—intellectually I love the idea, but in real life... I don't know.

[10:38 AG] A challenge network can only help you if you're ready to listen.
[10:42 RD] It's particularly important for me to be showing anybody what I'm doing, including my failures, my successes. Yes. Why would you not do that?
[10:52 AG] Well, because you're afraid of the answer.
[10:54 RD] What are you afraid of?
[10:55 AG] Of the emperor being discovered to have no clothes.
[11:00 RD] If your objective is to be as good as you can possibly be, then you're going to want that.
[11:07 AG] I think a lot of people would rather maintain at least the illusion of a decent image than to actually improve.
[11:13 RD] But then they care more about their image than they care about results.
[11:18 AG] And you're not willing to tolerate that.
[11:21 RD] You know, life's much better with good results.

I think, when I'm pretending to be objective, that this is what I want at work. (By the way, if you don't know who Ray Dalio is, or haven't seen any of the marketing for his book Principles, there's going to be a lot of missing context here.) Be a Straight Shooter. No Bull. &c. On the other hand, what has 37 years of being alive confirmed but that my lizard brain really wouldn't be that interested in radical honesty anywhere.

But it's that part at the end that still resonates: how could you expect to get the best results if you can't see yourself as you are, not as your ego wishes you to see how you are in order to avoid the pain of coming up short?