We get it.
It’s tough making time for anything new.
Be that going to the gym regularly, picking up a new hobby, learning an instrument or learning a brand new language.
It’s quite easy to make excuses for not even trying. However, if you really want to learn how to speak and understand Mandarin Chinese, you don’t have to dedicate hours every day to practicing the notoriously difficult language.
A 15-minute commute can become an intentional period of learning a language, rather than a boring or road rage-filled routine that starts off your day.
Ready to learn more? There are even more benefits to learning Chinese in the car.
Why Should I Bother Trying to Learn Chinese in the Car?
- It saves time and allows even the busiest person to practice. For some Chinese language admirers with crazy schedules, it can be hard to fit in even 15 minutes every day. By learning Chinese in the car, you don’t even have to make time. You just need to use the time you already have more efficiently.
- It can add some intention to your morning commute, rather than boredom. What exactly are we doing when we’re sitting in traffic? Most of us just sort of zone out to music or listen to the news on the radio. While there isn’t anything really all that wrong with that, it’s time spent doing nothing when you could be fitting in time to learn that language on your bucket list. You may even find that by exercising your brain instead of just doing nothing while you’re on the road, you arrive at work or school with a more alert mind and in a better mood. What do you have to lose?
- Daily habitual lessons can aid in fluency. How else can one form a habit, if by not doing the same thing every day? Language is no exception. Is your commute only about 15 minutes? That’s a perfectly fine amount of time to fit in some practice. A half hour? Maybe a whole hour? Even better!
- If you opt for some song-based learning, you’ll even improve your singing skills! Impress your friends by covering a Chinese Mandopop song next time you head out to karaoke.
Let’s check out the different ways you can learn Chinese in the car.
How to Get the Most Out of Your Mobile Mandarin Learning
- Invest in the best audio language learning programs. Audio language learning is definitely the best way to learn a new language in the car. Many audio programs can be played via CDs, MP3s or streaming. Below, we’ll cover some of the top resources for programs, podcasts, videos and audio language learning courses so you can take the guesswork out of finding the best of the best.
- Broaden your musical taste with Mandarin Chinese music as you drive. Ask anybody who learned English as a second language how they did it. They’ll probably tell you that on top of watching English-language television shows and taking English lessons, they belted out an English-language song or two to get some practice in. Luckily, Mandopop is an awesome genre with a ton of catchy songs that you’re sure to get addicted to as you combine it with regular audio lessons. We recommend music by 徐若瑄 (xú ruò xuān — Vivian Hsu), 杨丞琳 (yáng chéng lín — Rainie Yang) and 张艺兴 (zhāng yì xīng — Lay) to start.
- Get some Mandarin Chinese audiobooks. If you’re a bit of a bookworm, then there’s a good chance Mandarin Chinese audiobooks can help you learn Chinese in the car, too. If you’re a sucker for a good story and are at least somewhat intermediate in Mandarin, listening to audiobooks can help you become more fluent by improving your listening skills.
Chinese To Go! 6 Resources for Learning Mandarin in Your Car
Slow Chinese is exactly what it sounds like. This series of podcasts contains a ton of conversational Chinese, but everything is spoken very slowly. This can be really helpful when it comes to mastering intonation, as Mandarin Chinese is spoken very fast—at least from the perspective of non-native speakers.
By listening to Mandarin conversational exchanges at a slow and steady pace, you can easily pick up words and figure out pronunciation. This podcast is great for intermediate speakers and up.
If streaming isn’t possible, each podcast on their website has an option to download the audio file in the form of an MP3.
FluentU and the FluentU YouTube Channel
We simply can’t have a list of audio programs and podcasts for learning Chinese without including FluentU’s own Chinese YouTube channel! Our channel features simple word and phrase pronunciation, plus realistic conversations in Chinese that can help you grasp the flow and tempo of how Chinese is spoken.
If you’re unable to listen to streaming video through your phone while in your car, you can download the audio files of each video by using a YouTube video to MP3 converter. Simply copy the URL of each video into the converter, then download the MP3 files and move them to your smartphone or other device. You can either set a video on repeat so you can practice the words and phrases over and over or make up a playlist of audio that you want to learn.
The convenient thing about FluentU, however, is that the audio for all of our content is available on YouTube.
That’s because we take real-world content for all learning levels—like movie trailers, music videos, news and inspiring talks—and turn them into personalized language lessons. This means that your time spent in the car can enhance the more focused time you get with FluentU later on: Listen to the audio from videos you’re learning during your commute—then follow up with interactive captions, PDF transcripts and quizzes when you get home from work!
Melnyks Chinese is a simple, theme-based Mandarin audio lesson series. If you want to practice a bit outside of learning Chinese in the car, each audio lesson from this podcast comes with a PDF transcript, worksheets and other goodies. Their mobile application makes it easy to access lessons whenever you’re on the go.
There are hundreds of lessons from the podcast, and each one is easy to download if you don’t want to waste data in the car. This one is great for beginners and up.
One thing that can be not so great about audio lessons is how robotic the speakers tend to sound. Unless you’re in the business of engineering Chinese robots, chances are that you’ll never encounter a Chinese speaker who sounds like that.
That’s why Chinese Class 101 is so great—all of the hosts for this series of audio and video lessons are peppy, energetic and, best of all, knowledgeable. This course boasts hundreds of audio lessons, flashcards and a great community.
Use the audio lessons in your car, enjoy the other perks when you have time. All audio lessons are easy to download once you sign up. From beginner to intermediate to advanced, Chinese Class 101 is a great choice.
There’s nothing quite as effective as having a real 老师 (lǎo shī — teacher) walk you through Chinese lessons. Litao Chinese is a free YouTube channel that provides dozens of lessons for beginner and intermediate Mandarin learners. As with FluentU’s YouTube lessons and anything else on YouTube, you can easily download audio for each video as an MP3 file with a converter.
This Mandarin podcast is ideal for intermediate and advanced learners, as much of their website is in 汉字 (hàn zì — Chinese characters) and many of their lessons are aimed towards this demographic. Each lesson is around 15 to 20 minutes and very easy to download as an MP3.
The iMandarinPod website also features free downloadable worksheets, transcripts and much more.
Learning any language can be tough.
But by using your time in the car wisely and intentionally, plus a little bit of perseverance, you’ll be fluent in Chinese in no time!
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.