Have you ever, out of curiosity, clicked around on a Chinese news website?
To sum up the experience: it can be kind of terrifying.
Don’t get overwhelmed!
All you need is to have the right strategy behind you, and in no time you will find yourself reading Chinese newspapers and watching Chinese news broadcasts like a pro.
Why you Should Learn Mandarin Chinese with the News
There are over 1 billion people in China. It stands to reason that there is a lot happening there. It’s fascinating, really – every day there is more to learn about modern Chinese politics, culture, and society. Unfortunately, a lot of the good stuff gets lost in translation by the time it gets to our English news reports. Wouldn’t it be great to learn about China from primary sources?
That’s just an added bonus. Being able to understand news broadcasts in Chinese is a very important step on your way to an advanced proficiency level. Getting engaged in Chinese news is important for many reasons:
- Availability – The sheer amount of freely available news broadcasts is fantastic. You can find as much as you want about almost anything that’s going on in China, or the rest of the world for that matter.
- Transcripts – Many (but not all) providers of audio news have transcripts of their broadcasts, which is excellent for checking your understanding or for filling in the details you missed when listening.
- Knowledge – News teaches you a lot of what is going on in the Chinese-speaking world, which is essential to know if you want to be able to integrate with natives. Being up-to-date with local news is a great way of better understanding the locals and their diverse perspectives on current affairs.
- Variability – Since the news covers almost any topic in any region of China, the language used in broadcasts is very varied (although the style may not be). News is a very good way of learning more formal Chinese and tons of vocabulary.
The Challenges of Chinese News
This sounds very good, but if you have tried listening to news in Chinese, you have probably found that it’s quite hard. It can be intimidating. You may need to remind yourself of all of your inspiring Chinese proverbs to help you conquer your fear.
There are many reasons for this perceived difficult. The main one is that the language used is not very colloquial. It is not your everyday Chinese. The experience is more akin to listening to written Chinese read aloud, and this can be pretty intense. For instance, there are lots of sentence patterns and vocabulary contractions that simply aren’t very common in spoken Chinese, so being a good listener in general doesn’t guarantee success. Furthermore, news anchors speak notoriously fast. This isn’t just a false impression created by the fact that you’re unfamiliar with Chinese. It is the straight up truth.
The main takeaway here is: don’t feel discouraged just because you do not understand what is going on. If you understand nothing of what’s being said in a particular newscast or in a segment about a particular topic, don’t stress it. Change the channel. Pick another show. Naturally, different types of news broadcasts have different difficulty levels, so trying a few to get a general idea is necessary. Stay tuned for some great broadcasts to get started with.
Tips and Tricks for Learning Chinese with the News
If you have already learned how to make Chinese input more comprehensible, you are one solid step closer to understanding Chinese news. Let’s take a look at how you can practically apply your Chinese comprehension strategies and skills to news broadcasts:
- Watch and listen – Listening to the news on the radio is much harder than watching the news on TV. The reason is very simple: when you watch news, not only do you see the person speaking, you’re also likely to see pictures or video of what their talking about. This gives you the fundamentals you need to get the general gist of things. There is also a chance you will see subtitles or headlines written out below the newscasters. It is not necessarily a crutch – learning to listen and make sense of things in context will help you develop comprehension skills in the long run.
- Old news – Instead of listening to news about something you are unfamiliar with, listen to news about things that you already know. Perhaps you will have heard about this topic before or read about it in your native language already. This also gives you a good base to work from.
- Absorb headlines and pictures – Before you start listening, read the title of the broadcast carefully. Be aware of what you are getting yourself into. Are you interested in this? Will discussion of this topic involve a lot of technical language? Sometimes there are pictures, so look at them too. This, again, sets the stage for the actual listening and makes it a lot easier to make sense of what the broadcast is about. If there is a transcript, there might be several subheadings. Read them as well.
- Wean yourself off reading – Reading about news stories beforehand, following transcripts, and turning on subtitles can be good to get you on the right track. However, it is important to understand that reading and listening are two separate skills and that if you are very good at one of them, you will probably rely more on that. This could stop you from effectively learning the other. So, if your reading ability is very good, you need to step up your game after a while and watch Chinese news broadcasts without subtitles. You could also look to radio broadcasts and podcasts to help you with listening practice.
- Don’t give up – When I started listening to news in Chinese, I usually didn’t understand much the first time around. I didn’t give up. I listened to the same old thing over and over again. After several times, I gradually understood the content. This is true for most Chinese language learners. You have undertaken a difficult language to learn, so you must understand that the first time will be hard. The second time will be slightly less hard, the third even less. These things take time.
- Avoid perfectionism – You don’t have to understand every little detail. In fact, trying to understand everything is very bad for your long-term learning, mostly because you will end up spending a lot of time learning things that aren’t very useful. You want to spend most of your time learning the most useful words, not the other way around.
- Read the News – Reading the news is very useful for learning language structures common in the news. You will come into contact with important vocabulary, phrases, and grammatical patterns which are used in newspaper articles as well as broadcasts. Reading is usually easier because you can use pop-up dictionaries while online, and you will never doubt which word is being used. While listening, it can sometimes be hard to figure out what someone is saying. Taking the time to read articles online can really boost your overall news broadcast comprehension.
In fact, you should maximize Chinese news by watching, listening and reading all at the same time. For this, I recommend a program with interactive subtitles in Chinese and English such as FluentU!
The Best Chinese News Sources for Language Learners
The following news sources are intended for language learning purposes. Some of them might have strong political links, but just be sure to inform yourself beforehand of potential biases. As usual when dealing with any kind of information source, be critical and don’t believe everything you hear or see. Do not abandon critical thinking when focusing on language learning. Regardless of the complicated nature of television news broadcasts and political ties to journalists, these resources are definitely helpful for getting started with Chinese comprehension practice.
- BBC news podcast – delivered in Chinese.
- Voice of America – delivered in Chinese.
- iMandarinPod Special Chinese – designed for Chinese language learners.
- Radio Taiwan International
- 凤凰网卫视新闻今日谈 – Chinese language discussion about recent news events.
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