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.

Setup

  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]).

Action

  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).

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