Music moves us.
It makes us dance, cry and laugh.
It puts melodies and prose to concepts that we think about constantly, such as love and anger.
It helps us cope and keeps us entertained.
Music can also help us learn languages and learn about different cultures.
As we enjoy the pleasant feeling music can give us, we can also learn vocabulary words and reinforce grammar concepts.
Chinese is no exception: Watching Chinese music videos and listening to Chinese music can help us practice Mandarin and learn new words.
Through these videos, we can take a peek into modern Chinese culture as well.
It seems too good to be true but it is: Sitting down and binge-watching Chinese music videos can actually improve your Mandarin fluency!
How Can These Music Videos Help Me Learn Mandarin?
You might be surprised at how useful Chinese media can be for the non-native speaker. There are many great reasons to study Mandarin Chinese with music videos:
- They improve your listening skills. Mandarin is all about tones and pace. To the non-native, spoken (or sung) Chinese may be difficult to grasp due to its speed. Listening to modern Chinese music is a helpful way to understand how sentences and phrases are paced.
- They offer valuable insight into modern Chinese culture. You really can’t learn a language without learning about the culture it comes from. Where’s the fun in that?
- They’re entertaining to watch. There’s nothing better than being entertained while learning! Watching Chinese music videos (and even Chinese dramas) is fun and educational.
- Many use English or Chinese character subtitles, aka 汉字 (hàn zì). Beginners and advanced learners can both benefit from watching Chinese videos with subtitles, as this helps reinforce learning.
Following along with subtitles as you watch is a great way to study Chinese. There are plenty of subtitled Chinese music videos and tons of other content at FluentU.
How to Use Chinese Music Videos to Learn Mandarin
Using Chinese music videos to learn Mandarin is a simple process:
- Watch each video several times. Not all of these songs will be your cup of 茶 (chá)—tea. That’s totally okay. Pick your favorites and watch them as often as possible. When you run into a word you don’t understand, make a note of it and look it up. This is how you build up your vocabulary.
- Memorize lyrics. Memorizing lyrics and how they’re sung can help you build muscle memory for speed, mouth shape and tone. Just be sure to memorize the lyrics as close to how they actually sound as possible. Sing along with the videos and try to keep up. No mumbling!
- Research Chinese culture. If you notice a particular imagery or slang word in the videos that you don’t really get, look it up. This will help you learn things about Chinese culture and slang that you won’t find in textbooks.
10 Mandarin Chinese Music Videos for Learning the Language and Culture
This beautiful pop track from aMEI is romantic and dark. If you could compare aMEI to anyone, especially in terms of her music videos, Adele comes to mind.
Recommended level: The hanzi subtitles that accompany this video are helpful, but aMEI sings very clearly and slowly for this ballad. Beginners, check this one out!
Along with hanzi subtitles, there’s an additional English subtitle track to help newbies with word association. This is especially helpful as Joker Xue bounces back and forth between singing slowly and almost rapping.
Recommended level: Thanks to the subtitles, this hip-hop track is perfect for beginners and intermediate learners.
This Jay Chou track is an oldie but goodie. There’s some classic storytelling going on in this video and viewers get to see some seriously beautiful Taiwanese scenery.
Recommended level: The hanzi subtitles are pretty helpful, but Chou sings in his typical slow, soulful style that beginners may be able to keep up with.
This music video was made as a promotion for the clothing company Cotton USA, but it’s certainly still very entertaining without being too pushy with the advertisements.
Recommended level: This groovy pop hit uses hanzi in a handwritten style, which can help intermediate learners practice reading non-type characters.
There are quite a few Jay Chou music videos on this post and for good reason. He’s a massively popular performer who makes some pretty entertaining music videos. “Love Confession” is one of his more relaxed, R&B-style songs.
Recommended level: This video features hanzi subtitles, but the pace at which Chou sings this song is fairly slow. Beginners should be able to understand and memorize the lyrics accordingly.
Hip-hop acts and rappers have been springing up in China and Taiwan lately, putting a different twist on a music style typically found in the United States and the United Kingdom.
Recommended level: This hip-hop hit featuring Miss Ko doesn’t have any subtitles. Intermediate and advanced learners can benefit from listening to spoken Mandarin, while beginners will appreciate the look into Chinese culture provided by the music video.
“Little Big Us” is a lovely pop song with a heart-wrenching music video and some beautiful cinematography.
Recommended level: This song provides hanzi subtitles in a more traditional vertical style that may be hard for beginners to get used to. However, like “Love Confession” this track is sung pretty slowly and is easy to keep up with.
This awesomely dramatic song was part of the soundtrack for Jet Li’s 2006 action movie “Fearless.” Much of the music video features various scenes from the film intertwined with Chou singing and performing choreography.
Recommended level: Chou raps for most of the song, so it may be hard for beginners to keep up. Luckily, the hanzi subtitles help a little and are timed well.
Alright, we admit it. A lot of the music videos on this list are pretty fluffy and romantic. This harder R&B rock track from Da Zhuang breaks up the fluff a little bit.
Recommended level: Following a clear trend, the hanzi subtitles of this music video are in a handwritten style. A perfect video choice for advanced learners.
This classic from 2009 is definitely dated, but the music video and song are entertaining nonetheless. If anything, it shows how closely Chinese and Taiwanese music followed trends similar to that in the West. There’s a definite Backstreet Boys vibe to this R&B track.
Recommended level: Unfortunately, there are no subtitles available for this music video. Advanced learners would benefit the most from listening and watching.
How awesome and helpful are these music videos? Learning Chinese really has never been more entertaining.
Don’t forget to rewatch your favorites and memorize their lyrics. Entertainment is great, but you’re on a language-learning journey. 保持！(bǎo chí!)—Keep it up!
Em Casalena is a published author, freelance writer and music columnist. They write about a lot of stuff, from music to films to language.
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