If you’re learning Mandarin, chances are you love Chinese culture.
It’s also likely that your love for Chinese culture came from being captivated by Mandarin-language movies and television shows.
It’s how we all get sucked in, isn’t it?
Art, especially digital art and cinema, captures minds and brings people together.
What better way to learn about a culture than through binge-watching films?
But unfortunately for beginner learners, watching Chinese films authentically usually isn’t possible.
Most Chinese films offer 汉字 (hàn zì — Chinese characters) subtitles or English subtitles.
But what about 拼音 (pīn yīn — Chinese romanization)?
If you want to improve your Chinese as a beginner while enjoying authentic Mandarin-language film and video, you’re in luck.
Because we’ve found some super helpful resources for watching Mandarin-language media with pinyin subtitles so you can work on your speaking and listening skills.
Why Watch Authentic Content with Pinyin Subtitles?
You need to learn to associate spoken Mandarin with pinyin to improve fluency. Pinyin isn’t just used to understand hanzi. It’s also a very important alphabet that allows learners to properly sound out spoken Chinese. Using pinyin subtitles with Chinese audio can absolutely aid in Mandarin listening skills. Tones are hard to master at first, so listening to people speak authentic Chinese while reading the proper pinyin will help you with tonal listening skills.
Few Chinese films offer subtitles other than hanzi and English, but video entertainment is an enjoyable way to practice pinyin. It makes sense that Chinese subtitles for Mandarin-language films would only include hanzi. For the beginner learner, though, this is quite a pain. With these handy resources for pinyin-subtitled films and videos, you can enjoy Chinese entertainment while learning pinyin at the same time.
4 Tools That Give You the Pinyin Subtitles You Want
YouTube is a great spot to find anything from how-to videos to skit comedy, and some of the Chinese content on there has already had pinyin subs added to it. The particular curated YouTube playlist linked above, for example, boasts a list of great songs with pinyin subtitles. To find more, simply search for the content or type of content you’re looking for along with “pinyin subtitles.”
A lot of the videos that have had pinyin added tend to be music videos, which is actually super handy. Listening to music is another great way to improve your Mandarin skills and adding pinyin subtitles on top of it only makes it better. Plus, most of these music videos also have simultaneous hanzi and English subtitles. If you want to learn more about Chinese culture through music while flexing your pinyin skills, YouTube is the place to go!
If you’re looking for the easiest of easy solutions, you can simply take advantage of our huge library of pinyin-subtitled videos. These are actually YouTube videos that we’ve added optional hanzi, pinyin and English subtitles to in order to give you a wider range of reliable learning content. FluentU takes real-world videos—like commercials, movie trailers, music videos, short films, interviews and more—and turns them into personalized language lessons.
If you’re learning any other language besides Mandarin Chinese, you can find tons of videos for other languages as well (at no extra cost once you subscribe).
Here’s how it works:
- Sign up for a free trial at the link above.
- Select your difficulty level. That’s right, any level of learner can use FluentU’s pinyin videos!
- Select a video to watch. Many of the videos we offer are situational conversation videos.
- Follow along with the video and read hanzi, pinyin and English subtitles all at once (any of these subtitle sets can be turned on or off at any time from the video player).
- Pause the video at different times to make sure you understood the pinyin translation of the video’s audio and take notes.
- If you’ve selected the Plus plan, follow up with a quiz (including optional questions in pinyin).
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 want to watch videos with pinyin subtitles that have more of a real-world context, FluentU is right for you. Especially if you want to learn important words or phrases for an upcoming trip abroad. You can even watch videos on the go with the FluentU app for Android and iTunes.
When all else fails, do it yourself.
Reddit is an incredibly useful website with tons of subreddits (forums) dedicated to everything from language learning to memes to learning how to build and fix things. The Pinyin Subtitles subreddit is an incredibly helpful forum for finding pinyin subtitles for popular films, shows, dramas and more. Not only can you search for posted pinyin subtitles, but you can request them within the forum as well.
This resource is uniquely handy because, like we mentioned, most films never offer pinyin subtitles, be they Chinese films or other films that have Chinese subtitles. This is a pain to deal with if you have a particular film in mind that you’d love to watch with pinyin subtitles.
To use the subtitles from the Pinyin Subtitles subreddit, you must have the film or show in question downloaded onto your computer. Once you open your video application, there should be an option (for most video software) to upload a subtitle file.
Locate the subtitle file on your computer after downloading it and unzipping it from the subreddit, restart the video and ta-da! You’ve got pinyin subtitles for free.
Any level of learner can benefit from this subreddit. Either post a pinyin subtitle request for a particular movie you’d like to watch with pinyin subtitles, or browse through the subtitles that have already been posted to the forum. There’s also some video content with pinyin that you can watch right in the forum.
Yet again, here’s another prime example of doing it yourself. But for this resource, we’re going to get a little more in-depth and talk about how you, dear reader, can install your own pinyin subtitles for media you enjoy all on your own without having to download subtitle files over and over. If you mostly watch streaming content and are looking for pinyin subtitles, then stay tuned for the instructions below!
First, let’s take a closer look at the Chinese Subtitles Translator application available through Microsoft from Autonomous Technology.
This free app automatically recognizes hanzi characters in subtitles and translates them into both pinyin and English so you can enjoy simultaneous subtitles. If you love Chinese movies that almost always come with hanzi subtitles, this app is perfect for you to use. Plus, it’s free. Did we mention that?
The only downfall is that a particular video must have standalone subtitles in hanzi for the application to work. That means the hanzi subtitles can’t be “hardsubbed” into the video and must have a separate file for it to work.
For example: Go to a YouTube video in Chinese. If there’s no subtitle (CC) button on the bottom right side of the video, then there are no subtitle files embedded into the video. Because of this, the video cannot be translated into pinyin.
Here’s how to get pinyin subtitles from videos that do have standalone hanzi subtitles:
- Download the application and install. Unfortunately, this application will only work on Windows devices.
- Open the CST app and go to YouTube, Netflix or any other streaming website that has a film or show you’d like to watch. Keep in mind that CST is still in the early phases and YouTube is the only source that works perfectly.
- Select a video with Chinese subtitles.
- Press the “Translate!” button. The pinyin will generate at the bottom of the screen.
Not too difficult, right? If you can’t be bothered to download SRT or other subtitle files or you’re worried about viruses, this application is perfect. There’s no downloading necessary except for the initial app. Now you’re a pinyin translating pro!
Bet you weren’t expecting a whole how-to guide in this list of pinyin subtitles resources, were you?
Now you have the option to create your own pinyin subtitles for your favorite Mandarin-language films.
And even if you’re not into that, you’re bound to find some great already-subtitled content from this list.
Now get out there and veg while learning Chinese with a good movie or video (or two!).
Em Casalena is a published author, freelance writer and music columnist. They write 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.