“Culture” is a funny word.
It can refer to “capital C Culture,” also called “high Culture.” If that’s what we’re talking about, we mean philosophy and literature and movies and music.
All of the things that we think someone should know about if we say they’re “cultured.”
There’s also this thing called “lowercase c culture.” It’s sometimes called “low culture,” but I’m not talking about the Kardashians or anything trashy.
This is the culture people talk about when they say “in Chinese culture the number four is considered unlucky” or “in Chinese culture babies and children wear split pants.”
Culture with a lowercase “c” refers to all of the little norms that a person has to abide by to fit into a society. It’s how close you should stand to the person you’re talking to and how much food is appropriate to order at a restaurant.
High and low culture are each essential to Chinese learners. Exposure to both will expand your understanding of the language and prepare you for interaction with any native speaker. But there’s so much to explore and absorb—where do you even start?
That’s where native Chinese podcasts come in.
With the range of genres and topics covered in the many Chinese podcasts out there, you’ll always have some Culture and culture for your language learning diet. You’ll get a direct view into Chinese speakers’ everyday lives as well as the forces that shape larger Chinese society, art and more—all while boosting your comprehension skills.
Let’s take a closer look at what native Chinese podcasts can do for language learners.
Why Listen to Native Podcasts
Authentic Chinese podcasts offer tons of advantages to everyone from beginners to advanced speakers. Here are some of the key benefits:
- Podcasts will prepare you for real-world interaction with native Chinese speakers. Listening to podcasts is a great way to train your ear and hone your listening comprehension skills, especially because you can download anything from formal lectures to informal talks and conversations. You’ll get exposure to all kinds of accents and speaking styles.
Intermediate and advanced learners in particular need to be able to understand native-level audio and podcasts are a great place to get started.
- Podcasts are generally short but updated frequently. As a language learner, it’s good to have resources that aren’t hours-long and won’t overwhelm you. At the same time, it’s easy to waste a lot of time searching for appropriate listening material. Podcasts are great because they solve both of these problems.
- Podcasts are generally educational. You can learn about something that interests you, but in Mandarin Chinese. I like to cook, and listening to Chinese cooking podcasts is one way that I practice the language while doing something I love. You could choose any hobby and find a podcast about it in Chinese.
- And, of course, podcasts are a window into Chinese culture. Because even though you can find a native podcast about almost anything, it’ll always have a Chinese flavor. A cooking podcast will likely be about Chinese food, and it’ll certainly reflect Chinese attitudes and expectations about food. Likewise with any topic.
So what are some good podcasts if you’re hoping to learn about Chinese culture? I’ve outlined six great podcasts below, half of which focus on “high Culture,” the other half of which focus on “low culture.” These are just some suggestions. There are many more in the iTunes store!
6 Native Chinese Podcasts for Learning Language and Culture
High Culture Podcasts
Staying Healthy with the Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Internal Medicine — 黄帝内经与养生智慧 (huáng dì nèi jīng yǔ yǎng shēng zhì huì)
Even for those who aren’t studying the language, Chinese medicine is one of the most fascinating aspects of Chinese culture. Chinese medicine spans the Culture-culture bridge. It’s based on research and ancient practices recorded in classic works, but it also influences the daily life and habits of people throughout China.
Ever see elderly people hitting themselves as they walk? They’re actually hitting specific spots on the body in a way that’s believed to be beneficial according to traditional Chinese therapies.
Back to this podcast, though. It’s updated twice a week and each episode is between 15 minutes and half an hour long. “The Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Internal Medicine” is one of the most important works in the history of Chinese medicine, and because this podcast is based on that text, the podcast falls into the “high culture” category.
The podcast focuses on ways to stay healthy according to “The Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Internal Medicine.”
Language: The announcer has a slight southern accent, but speaks relatively slowly. The most difficult aspect of listening to this podcast is that every episode has some medical terminology that you won’t find in your HSK lists.
If you’re interested in Chinese medicine, though, this is a great podcast to dive into.
The Bad Guy Movie Review — 反派影评 (fǎn pài yǐng píng)
Movies are such a good way to learn a language, it would make sense to use podcasts to learn about movies (and perhaps get ideas about what movies you should watch!). This podcast will introduce listeners to Chinese movies (although it covers more than just Chinese movies), and will give language learners an idea about what Chinese audiences value in a film.
It’s updated once a week and each episode is between one and two hours (!) long.
Language: There’s a male announcer and a female announcer and they speak in a standard accent at a normal speed. The professionalism and lack of background noise make it relatively easy to understand, but it requires a solid foundation in Chinese comprehension.
365 Reading — 365读书 (365 dú shū)
If you’ve ever taken an advanced/university-level language course, you probably know that some people think language learners need to read tons of literature. You’d think that all those years of talking about your hobbies and vacation plans were only stepping stones on your path to reading 18th-century literature.
I happen to think this focus of many university programs is bogus. But it’s true that reading Chinese literature can enrich your experience of the language and open you up to new vocabulary, expressions and ideas, and it’s a worthy intellectual pursuit. If reading is your thing, then this is the podcast to listen to.
Each episode lasts around 10 to 30 minutes and the podcast is updated daily. Each episode focuses on an article or piece written by a famous writer (often, but not always, a Chinese writer).
Language: Although the male presenter has a slight southern accent, he speaks slowly and clearly, making this a good podcast for intermediate learners who are just starting to listen to native audio.
Low (Everyday) Culture Podcasts
Talking About the United States — 随口说美国 (suí kǒu shuō měi guó)
Technically this is a podcast about the United States, but it’s from the perspective of a Chinese person and there are plenty of interesting lessons for Chinese learners.
The presenter draws detailed comparisons between life in China and life in the U.S., providing listeners with a very clear idea of what’s the same or similar and what’s different. It’s a good way to answer the questions, “what would a Chinese person think about X?” or “how do they do X in China?”
Each episode is between 40 minutes and an hour long and it’s updated once a week.
Language: The host speaks Mandarin Chinese with an accent from Fuzhou, which is similar to the Taiwanese accent. Even though it’s not especially standard, it’s clear and at a normal speed, so it shouldn’t be impossible for a Chinese learner to understand.
Listening Alone — 一个人听 (yī gè rén tīng)
Relationships are a source of joy and angst all around the world, including in China. If you want to get a Chinese perspective on this universal preoccupation, this is the podcast for you.
Each episode is between 10 and 20 minutes long and it’s updated twice a week.
Language: The presenter speaks slowly and in a standard broadcasting accent. Coupled with the relatively short length, that makes this podcast another great one for intermediate learners looking to break into native-level podcasts.
What a Joy! — 不亦乐乎 (bù yì lè hū)
Want to know what everyday life in China is like? See what Chinese people laugh about.
Very few subjects illustrate everyday life better than jokes. This podcast primarily consists of jokes that are submitted by listeners. This is also a great introduction to Chinese pop culture.
Language: The presenter’s accent is pretty close to standard and he speaks fairly slowly. But that doesn’t mean this is an easy podcast to start out with. It’s actually probably the most difficult on this list! Jokes are a fabulous window into a culture, but also require a certain level of linguistic and cultural knowledge.
There might be plays on words that are hard to get if you’re a Chinese learner, and some jokes won’t make any sense unless you already know the cultural phenomenon they’re referring to. Listener be warned!
Whether you want to listen to jokes or learn whether Chinese medical texts agree that laughter is the best medicine, there’s a Chinese podcast for you. Podcasts are a great window into all aspects of Chinese culture.
Oh, and they’re great for your language skills too.
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