Just about every ’90s kid can remember this type of glorious sick day:
Home from school, lying in bed, lazily watching talk show hosts chat about basically everything.
News, celebrity gossip, books, dubious lifestyle advice, you name it.
And they’re not just for your childhood sick days anymore.
Watching Chinese talk shows is actually a great way to learn conversational Mandarin and start sounding more fluent. Those unscripted, sometimes heated conversations will get you ready for discussions with native speakers in the real world.
Chinese talk shows are hugely popular in China and other Mandarin-speaking countries. They don’t differ that much in concept when compared to American talk shows, but there are some key differences that make Chinese talk shows even more entertaining.
Singing competitions? Satirical comedy sketches? Episodes that are almost entirely improvised? You’ll get it all!
How Can Talk Shows Help You Learn Mandarin?
- Most Chinese talk or “chat” shows have English subtitles, which makes a great stepping stone into conversational Mandarin. If you’re a beginner or intermediate Mandarin learner, those subtitles will help you naturally associate Chinese words with their correct translations.
- As indicated above, Chinese talk shows are conversational. When you watch a scripted movie or TV show, you’re not really listening to an organic real-life conversation. But talk shows are much less scripted and can help you hear how an actual conversation in Chinese sounds.
- Chat shows can open a door to modern Chinese culture, which is an important aspect of learning the language. You can’t become fluent by just studying textbooks. To really improve your Mandarin and get to native-speaker levels, exploring modern Chinese culture and slang is vital.
- Chinese talk shows are incredibly entertaining. What’s better than learning and being entertained at the same time?
In fact, that’s the idea behind FluentU, our site for learning Chinese through videos. FluentU was designed to make Mandarin learning both effective and entertaining, through authentic videos supercharged with interactive captions, flashcards and exercises.
Just like with talk shows, FluentU offers real-world Chinese from fun videos like movie trailers, YouTube clips, inspiring talks and more. There are also progress tracking tools to ensure you keep moving forward in your learning. So if you’re into these talk shows and want more, the FluentU free trial is a great next step.
5 Wildly Popular Chinese Talk Shows to Learn Conversational Mandarin
鲁豫有约 (lǔ yù yǒu yuē) — “A Date With Lu Yu”
“A Date with Lu Yu” is widely considered to be the Chinese “Oprah Winfrey Show” and follows its inspiration’s style and format. With an average of 140 million viewers per episode, it’s one of the most beloved talk shows in mainland China.
Conversational Mandarin in a somewhat formal tone is used throughout the show, often with several people speaking at once. Celebrity guests from all over China, Taiwan and Hong Kong are often on the show, so you can hear their own unique dialects, slang and accents.
If you’re a beginner learner, this one may be a bit too difficult to follow even with English subtitles. However, intermediate and advanced learners can definitely benefit from watching this talk show for its diversity and conversational speed.
The Hong Kong-based TV network Phoenix TV hosts “A Date with Lu Yu,” and unfortunately it’s very difficult to get in the U.S. However, there are YouTube playlists with English subtitles of the show available for viewing.
天天向上 (tiān tiān xiàng shàng) — “Day Day Up”
If you’re an advanced learner who really wants to get a grasp on modern Chinese culture, then “Day Day Up” is definitely for you.
“Day Day Up” is a very popular youth talk show that has an eclectic mix of content. Totally hilarious games between the hosts and guests, song and dance competitions and performances, interviews with celebrities, you name it. Each episode has its own “theme” as well.
This show may be hard to follow for beginners because it’s so informal. There are often several people speaking at once and the speech is usually fast. If you’re an advanced learner and want to improve your conversational speed, this show would be ideal for you.
“Day Day Up” is hosted on Hunan Television, which you can stream from Sling TV. This paid channel also features English subtitles, so beginners and intermediate learners can also benefit from purchasing it. Sling TV also offers a free trial if you wish to try before you buy.
Outside of paying for it, it’s somewhat difficult to find English-subbed episodes of this show, though a few are on YouTube. This YouTube playlist has tons of episodes with subtitles in 汉字 (hàn zì) — Chinese characters.
金星秀 (jīn xīng xiù) — “The Jin Xing Show”
This is another beloved talk show in China with an audience of 150 million viewers. And guess what, beginners? It’s the perfect talk show for you.
This variety/chat show has a ton of great content. Outside of occasional performances, the format of the show typically involves the host sitting down with one celebrity and interviewing them. The pace of speech is a bit slower than other talk shows, easy to follow and semi-formal.
The host, 金星 (Jīn Xīng) — Jin Xing is also an influential figure. She’s a famed dancer, choreographer, actress and one of the few transgender TV hosts not just in China, but also in the world.
世界青年说 (shì jiè qīng nián shuō) — “A Bright World”
“A Bright World” is set up almost like a grand meeting of international leaders, except it’s in a talk show setting and way funnier than anything you’d hear at the U.N.
Are you seeing a pattern here? Chinese talk shows rarely involve just talking about things or interviewing people. “A Bright World” boasts sketch comedy, interviews, song and dance numbers and “Saturday Night Live”-style improv.
Tons of people are on camera at any given time, so it may be hard for beginners to keep track of the conversations. However, it’s a good show to watch for beginners to see how casual conversations take place in Mandarin.
English-subbed episodes can be found on YouTube.
Another similar show like “A Bright World” is 非正式会谈 (fēi zhèng shì huì tán) — “Informal Talks” which is also on YouTube.
壹周立波秀 (yī zhōu lì bō xiù) — “Mr. Zhou Live Show”
If you love improv, you’ll love “Mr. Zhou Live Show.”
This talk show is hosted by the famous stand-up comedian 周立波 (zhōu lì bō) — Zhou Libo and the show is almost 100 percent unscripted. Most of the show just focuses on Zhou talking to the audience alone, so it’s easy to follow what he’s saying—although he can speak pretty fast at times. Regardless, this show is ideal for beginner Mandarin learners.
You can find this show on Phoenix or Dragon TV, but it’s easier to just watch episodes on YouTube. Keep in mind, however, that English subtitles are very hard to find for this show without subscribing to one of the TV networks.
Chinese talk shows vary widely, so you’re sure to find at least one that suits your entertainment needs! Are you ready to make a bowl of popcorn, nestle into the couch and veg out to these great Chinese talk shows? There’s no shame in being lazy if you’re learning something at the same time, am I right? Getting a grasp on the speed and tones of conversational Chinese can definitely help you improve your own fluency in real life.
Emily Casalena is a published author, freelance writer and music columnist. She writes about a lot of stuff, from music to films to language.
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn Chinese with real-world videos.