Streaming television is all the rage now, isn’t it?
Who even has a cable account anymore?
With websites like Netflix and Hulu around, people can tune in to their favorite shows with nothing more than a laptop and a WiFi connection.
Whenever they want.
It’s pretty revolutionary if you think about it, and it gives language learners some awesome authentic content to work with.
But the truth is, while you can find a ton of great Mandarin film and TV content on streaming sites like Amazon Prime, that’s only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to what you can watch online to help your Chinese studies.
In this post, we’ll be covering the live-streaming television side of things more, as opposed to streaming content sites like those mentioned above.
It’s still convenient to be able to pick and choose what you want to watch sometimes, so we’ll look at how you can curate your viewing experience beyond live television, but with a focus on opening up the world of broadcast television for your learning.
There are some great resources for this, and what’s even better is that some of them are totally free to enjoy.
On the fence about whether lying around watching a literally endless stream of TV can actually help you learn Mandarin?
Let’s look at what enjoying regular Chinese television programming can do for your language learning journey.
How Does Streaming Chinese TV Help Me Learn Mandarin?
- Listening to different types of Chinese-language shows will help you with your fluency. By listening to scripted or unscripted Chinese speech through all different kinds of television shows (rather than just the fictional movies and series you find on some streaming sites), you can get the hang of how Mandarin sounds and the speed at which it’s spoken.
- Chinese television can provide ample examples of Mandarin spoken with different accents and dialects, which may prove helpful for advanced learners. Mastering listening skills and speaking skills in Chinese doesn’t just involve mastering speech speed. It requires mastering context clues, tones and the ability to listen to Mandarin speakers who may have varying accents. Watching Chinese television can definitely help with this.
- It’s an entertaining and “lazy” way to practice Mandarin listening skills in one’s free time. Who doesn’t love veg-out television with some takeout? You can get the benefit of practicing Chinese while also getting some leisure time in through watching Chinese television. And when it comes to watching live Chinese TV, you don’t even need to decide what to watch.
- It’s great for alternating with FluentU. Like broadcast TV, FluentU brings you bottomless content, only it’s more like a buffet than a multiple-course meal. In short, you get to choose the material you learn with, and it adds a healthy active element to balance out your immersive couch-potato learning. FluentU takes real-world videos—like movie trailers, music videos, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language lessons.
Learner’s Night Live: 5 Ways to Stream Chinese TV Now
Hey, newbies! Keep in mind that a lot of these resources are on Chinese websites and exclusively use 汉字 (hàn zì — Chinese characters) in their navigation. If you’re not quite the best at reading Chinese characters yet, using Google Translate could help with navigating the websites.
Yes, we have to include one of the biggest video websites around, don’t we? A simple search on YouTube for “Chinese TV” or “中国电视” (zhōng guó diàn shì — Chinese television) can bring up a ton of fantastic content.
From quick video clips to full episodes of Chinese dramas (the ones there legally, of course) to Chinese YouTubers doing their thing, there’s a ton of great Mandarin-language content on YouTube. There’s also quite a bit of content available in the form of video lesson plans, Chinese-learning tips and tricks, videos about Chinese culture and much, much more.
Maybe you already knew all that, but did you know that many China-based news channels live stream their own broadcasts on YouTube using the site’s “live” feature? And it’s all free. Everything’s better when it’s free.
It’s important to keep in mind that while YouTube is free and convenient, there’s no guarantee that Mandarin content will include English or even Chinese subtitles. With a little bit of searching, though, you’re sure to find the ideal content for your learning level.
The official CCTV channel — One of the biggest public broadcasters in China and Taiwan.
“The Jinxing Show” — China’s biggest talk show, often compared to “The Oprah Winfrey Show.”
Ah, good old Damai. This streaming website might as well be called the Roku of China. And for good reason.
This streaming site is packed with over a hundred channels and thousands of television shows, ranging from news to chat shows to dramas to films of every genre imaginable from China, Hong Kong and Taiwan. Most of their content boasts English and Chinese subtitles as well, making this a great selection for beginners and intermediate users.
Damai does cost around $88 for a year’s subscription. But considering it’s for a whole year, that really isn’t too bad compared to other streaming or satellite services out there.
You’ll also have to order the video-on-demand box and wait for that to arrive. If you already own a Roku, however, you can access Damai Chinese TV through your device for free! Different content on the Roku channel will cost money to access.
炫动卡通 (Xuàn Dòng Kǎ Tōng — “Toonmax”) — A diverse channel of cartoons, including Japanese anime.
辽宁卫视 (Liáo Níng Wèi Shì — “Liaoning Satellite TV”) — Another huge broadcast channel in China with news, chat shows and much more.
Sling Television, aptly nicknamed “a la carte TV,” is a streaming service that, like Damai Television, is available as a streaming box setup or as a Roku channel.
Their Mandarin television section boasts over 50 different channels.
Sling also offers 8-day replay, so you can catch your favorite Mandarin television shows on your time. Most of their channels offer Chinese and English subtitles as well. This streaming resource is great because you can enjoy non-Chinese channels and films as well, making this a sort of “all-in-one” selection that’s great for learning Chinese and also for watching other types of media.
Sling TV offers a free 7-day trial so you can decide whether the service is right for you. After the trial, Sling TV costs $15 a month at its most basic level.
凤凰卫视美洲台 (Fèng Huáng Wèi Shì Měi Zhōu Tái — Phoenix North America Channel) — One of the biggest Chinese-American channels in the United States. You can find tons of great Chinese and American content on this channel.
湖南卫视 (Hú Nán Wèi Shì — Hunan TV) — Tons of dramas as well as breaking news, so you can mix or choose between politics and pleasure.
优酷 (Yōu Kù — Youku) is a video hosting service from Beijing. Not only is it one of China’s biggest online video and streaming service platforms, but it could be considered the YouTube of China. In addition to awesome dramas, news and chat shows, Youku also has a user platform similar to YouTube through which members can upload their own vlogs and individual content. They even have a Virtual Reality (VR) section.
Many of the videos on Youku are short clips, making them great for binge-watching without wasting a whole day. Unless that’s your thing. We won’t judge you.
Youku is free to use and the website is entirely in Chinese, so make sure you have a good grip on hanzi or a translator ready so you can navigate the site. Many of the videos on Youku, including short clips, feature Chinese subtitles.
Again, Youku is definitely more on the video clip YouTube-ish side of live broadcasting, but you can still use it to find extremely varied content. Finding full chat shows and film broadcasts is fairly easy. Just search through the 剧集 (jù jí — “Film),” 电影 (diàn yǐng — “Drama”) and “综艺” (zōng yì — “Variety Show”) sections underneath the header.
“如果爱” (Rú Guǒ Ai — “Love Won’t Wait”) — A self-made man struggles to help his eldest abused and grieving daughter while also navigating his own tumultuous personal life.
“二龙湖爱情故事” (Èr Lóng Hú Ai Qíng Gù Shì — “Erlong Lake Love Story”) — A simple peasant loses his job in the city. When he returns home, things become complicated as he encounters his estranged family’s debts and gang involvement. When he decides enough is enough, everyone’s lives are changed forever.
鳳凰衛視控 (Fèng Huáng Wèi Shì Kòng — Phoenix Satellite TV) is the last streaming service on our list, but it’s certainly not the least. This Hong Kong-based broadcaster is one of the biggest television channels in China, Hong Kong and Taiwan. They produce both Cantonese- and Mandarin-language content.
Phoenix Satellite TV provides a very rich and diverse mix of programs, including news, talk shows, films, music videos and mini-series. They’re also the main Chinese broadcaster of United Nations affairs in China.
You can enjoy most of Phoenix Satellite TV’s content through their browser for a true streaming experience, all for free. This channel also offers Chinese subtitles for most of their content.
“共同家园” (Gòng Tóng Jiā Yuán — “Common Home”) — A quick computer-animated video showcasing unique and interesting digital artwork.
“袁隆平：做完这两件事就能退休了” (Yuán Lóng Píng: Zuò Wán Zhè Liǎng Jiàn Shì Jiù Néng Tuì Xiū Le — “Yuan Longping: I will be able to retire after these two things”) — An elderly man talks about the political atmosphere in China and the future of retirement for Chinese citizens in this brief documentary.
This is quite the selection of resources for Mandarin streaming television!
Don’t feel too overwhelmed: Simply pick your preferred resource or channel from this list, jump on the couch and start watching a new show in Chinese.
You may find your new fave right here!
Em Casalena is a published author, freelance writer and music columnist. They write about a lot of stuff, from music to films to language.
And One More Thing…
Since you’ve made it this far, you’re obviously serious about learning Chinese.
And maybe you wouldn’t exactly mind doing it with fun authentic media like the resources above.
FluentU can help.
FluentU lets you learn real Chinese from dramas, TV shows, commercials, music videos and more. It naturally eases you into learning Chinese language, and you’ll learn Chinese as it’s spoken in real life.
FluentU has a wide range of contemporary videos, 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 they’re 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 Quiz Mode turns every video into a language learning lesson. You can always swipe left or right to see more examples for the word you’re learning.
The best part is that FluentU always keeps track of your vocabulary. It suggests content and examples based on the words you’re learning. You have a 100% personalized experience.
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn Chinese with real-world videos.