Have you ever heard of the 10,000-hour rule?
The basic idea, proposed by writer Malcolm Gladwell, is that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to master a subject. So apply this rule to language learning, and you’d need 10,000 hours to become fluent.
The good news is that this isn’t a hard-and-fast rule, although nobody will deny that learning a language requires practice, practice, practice. But if you’re not currently living in China, how are you ever going to log enough hours to get conversational—let alone 10,000 of them?
Well, you’re not the only Chinese learner with this question. In fact, there are several video channels and resources created exactly for you, which provide realistic Chinese dialogues and skits you can use to master the language.
Not only will you pick up essential vocabulary for conversing with native speakers, you’ll train yourself to understand the rhythms and cadences of authentic Chinese. Plus, you’ll have fun doing it.
Let’s start logging those hours!
How Videos with Real-world Conversations Boost Your Learning
When there are so many types of Chinese learning videos out there, why watch skits and dialogues, specifically? Well, these videos have specific benefits for all Chinese learners.
- They simulate real situations without being overwhelming. One of the best ways to get fluent is to practice understanding real-world speech and situations in Chinese.
Unlike Chinese movies or TV shows, which are often very fast and sometimes crammed with slang, YouTube skits and dialogues will get you comfortable hearing realistic Chinese without confusing you. Sometimes the dialogue is a bit slowed down to help your ear. Think of it as your training wheels before you graduate to authentic Chinese videos.
- They provide helpful visuals. We’ve all heard of the old cliche that a picture is worth a thousand words. Well, according to Forrester Research, a minute of video is worth precisely 1.8 million words.
That means these videos will help boost your language skills by creating connections between the dialogue and the action on the screen. Plus, since these videos are made for a Chinese learning audience, the visuals are typically designed to boost your understanding (rarely will someone be talking about something that’s not connected to what you’re watching).
7 Chinese Video Resources for Learning Real-world Conversation in Action
Learn Chinese Now
This channel is hosted by Ben Hedges. He’s quite comical in his commentary and makes learning Mandarin fun. What makes this channel so awesome is that the lessons are often based on current events in China or Taiwan. Ben discusses the event and uses it as the catalyst for the day’s lesson.
In the videos with a dialogue, Ben often assumes dual roles, dressing in silly attire to distinguish between the two speakers that he’s playing. The videos are interspersed with Ben providing an explanation of the conversation before resuming the skit. Other videos include multiple actors.
If you need a break from the typical repetitive nature of language learning, watch Ben’s videos; you’ll appreciate his light-hearted approach.
This YouTube channel produces video skits in Chinese using both actors and animation. It’s particularly worth watching for the “Speak Mandarin in 1,000 Words or Less” series—each of the videos in the series takes you through a different conversation you’re likely to encounter in the real world such as ordering food, getting a train ticket or going to the doctor.
There are also a good number of videos here if you’re interested in learning about Chinese culture. This includes a tour of a Chinese creative market, and renting a YouBike, a popular bicycle rental service common in Taipei, Taiwan.
If you love learning with YouTube videos, shows and other video-based programs, you’ll love FluentU!
FluentU takes real-world videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons.
You'll find a wide range of contemporary videos that cover all different interests and levels, as you can see here:
FluentU brings these native Chinese videos within reach via interactive captions. You can tap on any word to instantly look it up.
All words have carefully written definitions and examples that will help you understand how a word is used. Tap to add words you'd like to review to a vocab list.
From the description page, you can access interactive transcripts under the Dialogue tab, or review words and phrases under Vocab.
FluentU's quizzes turn every video into a language learning lesson. You can always swipe left or right to see more examples for the word you're learning.
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eChineseLearning is rich in material for beginners. The video skits typically begin with a brief lesson introducing new words or phrases. Then you’ll see a single actor assuming a dual role in a back-and-forth conversation in Chinese, with some explanations in English interspersed throughout. While it’s a bit cheesy, it’ll keep your attention!
The dialogue is also interrupted midpoint to provide a grammatical or vocabulary lesson of some of the words just spoken. This format, combined with the pinyin subtitles, makes the videos very beginner-friendly.
mandarinnetwork no longer appears to be active, but its videos are still published on YouTube so you can take advantage of the useful lessons found there.
Videos here normally begin with a vocabulary lesson before taking the viewer through a simple dialogue skit using the newly introduced words. Lessons include dialogue that visitors and expats may find useful, such as conversations you may encounter when visiting a produce market, getting a massage or writing a resume.
All the lessons in the beginning and in between the skits include Chinese characters and pinyin. Some of the skits also contain subtitles while others don’t. Most videos conclude with a recap.
Peggy is a Mandarin tutor with a YouTube channel full of free material. Like some of the other channels mentioned, several of the videos include Peggy assuming dual roles in a dialogue, though there are also others that include multiple participants.
What I really like about Peggy’s videos is that she clearly puts a lot of work into them. You get engaging lessons on unique topics, with lots of cultural relevance.
This is especially evident in this video where she has a conversation with an actual bartender. The end of the video contains a little humor where she tries to leave without paying and is arrested by police. Real police officers actually haul her into a patrol car. Now, that’s some dedication if you put in the work to get actual law enforcement involved for a skit!
This channel has a video series of an actual Chinese sitcom with professional actors. The premise of the show revolves around the daily life of a western foreigner living with a host family in China. It’s a fantastic stepping-stone to watching authentic Chinese TV!
While Chinese and English subtitles are provided, the dialogue is spoken at a near-native level. They’re geared more towards intermediate and advanced students. Nevertheless, beginners can still enjoy the show for its wholesome entertainment and even pick up a few words or phrases along the way.
Bonus Video: LIT’s “ABCs Call Their Parents in Chinese for the First Time”
Lost in Translation (LIT) is an entertainment channel intended for a Chinese-American audience. There aren’t really any dialogue videos here, but most videos contain Mandarin and English subtitles. I particularly wanted to share this video of ABCs speaking to their parents in Mandarin. If you don’t know, the term ABC generally refers to Asian Westerners.
In this particular video, ABCs who are just barely learning Chinese are filmed speaking to their parents in Mandarin over the phone for the first time. It highlights a series of phone conversations in Mandarin between non-native speakers and their native-speaking parents.
The dialogues are real and don’t consist of a pre-planned script. Aside from providing some useful vocabulary and listening comprehension practice, it should help you feel a little less alone in your language quest!
Textbook learning has its place, but it’s always nice to introduce some novelty to the way you learn. Videos showing conversations in action add a fresh spin. Best of all, they make learning fun, and fun maintains motivation.
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