Keep It Real: 14 Authentic Chinese Resources to Learn Real-life Mandarin
Chinese educational materials can help you learn valuable skills but nothing can pave your road to fluency quite like authentic Chinese resources.
Authentic Chinese materials are intended for native speakers, making them powerful learning tools for students. Using authentic Chinese resources can help give you real, useful skills.
Here’s what you need to know to use authentic Chinese materials to learn Mandarin.
- What Makes Authentic Chinese Resources Different from Other Resources?
- How to Get the Most Out of Authentic Chinese Resources
- Authentic Chinese TV and Movies
- Chinese Music Made for Natives
- Real-world Chinese Books and News
- YouTube Channels Run by Chinese People
What Makes Authentic Chinese Resources Different from Other Resources?
One thing that sets authentic Chinese resources apart is that they can help you transition from classroom Chinese to real Chinese. Classroom Chinese is useful, but it’s usually more formal, so you might not be prepared for casual interactions, colloquialisms or slang. Authentic resources usually reflect real Chinese more accurately, so you can use them as a tool to improve your real-world skills.
Using authentic resources can also help you see a broader variety of the Mandarin language. Academic Chinese may not reflect Chinese as it’s spoken in different regions or contexts. Authentic resources can help you detect regional variations and contextual differences.
Finally, using authentic Chinese materials is fun and motivating. Fun materials are actually very useful for learning! Authentic materials are usually designed to be entertaining, so you may thoroughly enjoy them. And if you enjoy using a resource, you’re more likely to use it often, which could continue to improve your Chinese skills.
Plus, if you find yourself enjoying authentic resources, you’ll have added motivation to keep learning because you’ll want to be able to understand your favorite material on a deeper level.
How to Get the Most Out of Authentic Chinese Resources
Select level-appropriate materials.
If you want to use authentic materials, it’s important to pay careful attention to level. Authentic materials come in a wide range of levels, which can prove challenging for non-native speakers. For instance, news and movies with rapid dialogue are more advanced, while books and shows geared toward children are appropriate for beginners.
Choosing the right level of material will help you learn without being overwhelmed. If you choose content way beyond your current proficiency level, you’ll likely feel demotivated and quit. If you choose content below your level, though, you might be bored or not progress as quickly as you’d like.
Don’t be afraid to use outside resources.
Using supportive content, like translators and dictionaries, can make it easier to approach authentic content. Inevitably, you’ll encounter some words you don’t know and can’t figure out even with help of context. Using outside resources can help you learn the meaning of these words, thereby improving your vocabulary and enabling you to better enjoy the authentic content.
Use multiple resources.
Using one resource is good, but using multiple resources is even better!
Just like English-language content, Chinese content can vary in style and vocabulary used. Incorporating multiple resources can help you develop more balanced Mandarin language skills and prevent you from picking up any unrealistic phrases that are specific to one source of content. After all, you might not even recognize a character’s catchphrase if you haven’t consumed enough other content to know that it isn’t standard.
For instance, non-native English speakers who watch only “Friends” could easily assume that “How YOU doin’?” is the standard English greeting.
Focus on multiple skills.
Balanced Chinese proficiency requires reading, writing, speaking and listening skills. While you can use authentic materials to help you with all your skills, you’ll need to pay careful attention to do so.
For instance, don’t just watch TV—speak along with the characters. Don’t just read a book—write a summary of it when you’re done. Keeping your skills balanced will help prevent any major weak points in your abilities.
Engage with the resource as much as possible.
Whatever resource you’re using, try to engage with it as much and as fully as possible. Give it your whole focus, and try to milk it for all it’s worth.
For instance, to get more out of Chinese music, study the lyrics and consider memorizing the song. To get more out of YouTube videos, engage with other viewers in the comments section. Regardless of what type of content you’re using, try to think of innovative ways to get more out of it.
Authentic Chinese TV and Movies
Available: iTunes and Android
Netflix can be any Chinese student’s best friend! If you already have a subscription, using it as a learning tool can give you added value for your money. If you don’t have a subscription, now you finally have an excuse to get one.
Netflix has some terrific authentic content, and all of it has optional English subtitles. This allows you to decide whether you want a little extra help and makes Netflix appropriate for any level of Chinese student.
Chinese language learners can dive into some intense movies, like “臥虎藏龍：青冥寶劍” (“Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny”). There are also some stellar TV show options, like “天盛长歌” (“The Rise of the Phoenixes”).
Plus, “天盛长歌” offers some terrific subtitling options. Not only can you use English subtitles, you could also select traditional Chinese or simplified Chinese if you prefer to read along as you watch.
You can find Netflix’s Chinese offerings by searching “Chinese movies” or “Chinese TV.” However, be careful when looking through the results. Options tagged “Hong Kong” are in Cantonese, though many offer Mandarin subtitles.
Available: iTunes and Android
FluentU uses Chinese videos made by and for native speakers, like movie trailers, cartoons, music videos and more, to immerse you in the Chinese language.
Each video is equipped with interactive captions that allow you to tap on or hover over any word to see its in-context translation, hear an audio pronunciation and see text and video examples. A quiz follows each video to test how well you understood the language in the video.
If you encounter a word you don’t know as you’re watching and want to study it more, you can add it to your vocabulary list. These multimedia flashcards can be studied using personalized quizzes that adapt to your level of comfort with each word, and let you choose, type or speak your answer to various types of questions.
Available: iTunes and Android
AsianCrush is a major online hub of Asian movies, so it should come as no surprise that it has a hearty selection of Chinese movies. In fact, there are nearly 100 options to choose from!
Chinese students might enjoy a crime drama, like “龙虾刑警” (“Lobster Cop”). Viewers seeking lighter fare might prefer a romantic comedy, like “咱们结婚吧” (“Let’s Get Married”).
You choose whether or not you want to include English subtitles, so you can adjust your settings to meet your needs and ability level.
Plus, AsianCrush is free to use, and you can even download its app to your favorite device (including your Roku or Amazon Fire) to watch however it’s convenient for you.
Chinese Music Made for Natives
Available: iTunes and Android
TuneIn is an online radio streaming service that gives you access to livestreams from radio stations around the world. There are a number of great Chinese stations among the offerings, including “Guangdong Music FM Radio.”
There’s also a huge selection of stations from outside of China that broadcast in Mandarin, so you might be able to notice some regional variations. For instance, “Yes 93.3 FM” is based in Singapore.
If you’d rather pick programs that target your specific interests, TuneIn also lists a number of podcast resources and live shows you can enjoy.
Online Radio Box
Available: iTunes and Android
You never have to be without listening options again! Online Radio Box throws even more Chinese radio stations into the mix.
When you select your station, pay attention to the tags. A number of stations that focus on K-pop are tagged as Chinese but focus predominantly on Korean music.
However, as long as you select carefully, there’s some great listening material available. For instance, Singapore-based “UFM100.3” plays Mandarin pop music.
If you’re just looking for some background music, try “Chinese Music World.” While this station focuses on traditional instrumental music, it might be good to have in the background to create atmosphere during your next study session.
Available: iTunes and Android
Spotify doesn’t have a ton of Chinese content that’s actually tagged as Chinese, and what it does have is largely traditional instrumental numbers. However, listening to traditional Chinese music can help improve your cultural education.
If you want to find more current Chinese music, you can also search for specific performers and then click “Related Artists” to see similar recommendations. With a little extra effort, you can find songs by 布衣乐队 (Buyi Band), 苏阳 (Su Yang) and more.
音悦台 is a popular Chinese site for music videos. It offers both Chinese and international content, so pay attention to make sure the videos you watch really are in Chinese—you don’t want to accidentally stumble onto a Korean or English listening activity!
However, there are plenty of beautiful and useful Chinese songs you can listen to, like “花开凋落 电视剧《半生缘》顾曼璐人物主题曲” (“Blossom and fall, the TV drama ‘Half-Life’ Gu Manzhen character theme song”) and “阴天 官方版” (“Cloudy Official Version”).
All the text on the website is in Chinese, so you’ll also work in some reading practice. Plus, there’s a comments section under each video, so you could also get some writing practice by interacting with other fans.
Real-world Chinese Books and News
Chinese manga can be a great transitional reading tool. While the language may still be too advanced for some learners, the images help make the meaning clearer, so even beginning students can get a little reading practice. Plus, manga is just plain fun!
And with ManHuaGui, you don’t have to jet off to China to enjoy terrific manga. You can access it for free from the comfort of your computer! You can enjoy options like “百炼成神” (“Apotheosis”) or more familiar stories, like “神奇蜘蛛侠：神秘客的宣言” (“Amazing Spider-Man: Mystery’s Declaration”).
Project Gutenberg is a terrific free option for anyone wanting to read classic works. Thankfully, there are plenty of free classic works in Chinese!
One option is “明夷待訪錄” (“Ming Yi Waiting”) by Zongxi Huang, which is a philosophical piece. Readers can also enjoy “三國志演義” (“Romance of the Three Kingdoms”) by Guanzhong Luo, which is a classic and beloved novel.
Given the historical nature of most of the works on Project Gutenberg, they’re most appropriate for advanced Chinese students.
If you want to practice your reading skills while staying abreast of the latest news in China and around the world, BBC News is a great choice.
Stories cover current events, so you’ll be able to pick up some relevant new vocabulary by reading stories like “美容新潮流 你不可不知的五大美妆高科技产品” (“The new trend of beauty, you must know the five beautiful high-tech products”).
While the reading level is advanced, using a tool like Google Translate or Readlang can make it approachable for even beginning speakers.
YouTube Channels Run by Chinese People
滴妹 (Drop Sister) is a fun, energetic YouTube channel that features music videos, DIY projects and more.
For instance, Chinese students might enjoy “親手做貓咪的生日蛋糕! 珍珠奶茶一歲生日啦! ♥ 滴妹 feat. 好味小姐” (“Make a cat’s birthday cake by yourself! Pearl milk tea is one year old! ♥ Drop sister feat. Missy Taste”).
For Chinese students, one of the best things about the videos is that they’re captioned, so you can read along. This makes the videos approachable for beginning through intermediate students.
腾讯视频 (Tencent Video) provides entertaining videos, like music videos, clips from TV shows and more.
All the channel’s videos could be valuable for Chinese students. But one of the big highlights is that 腾讯视频 offers playlists of shows with English subtitles, so even beginning students can start watching authentic Chinese content. You can watch the “致我们暖暖的小时光” (“Put Your Head on My Shoulder”) playlist and several others while being able to fall back on the subtitles for extra assistance.
Plus, videos with English subtitles are clearly labeled. Just look for options that begin “ENG SUB.”
寶寶巴士 – 兒歌童謠 – 卡通動畫 – 幼兒教育遊戲
If you’re just starting out but still want to use authentic material, 寶寶巴士 – 兒歌童謠 – 卡通動畫 – 幼兒教育遊戲 (Baby Bus) is a YouTube channel that won’t be too daunting for beginners.
The videos are intended for children between the ages of two and five, so the vocabulary isn’t overly advanced, and the fun animations can help you figure out the meaning of words you might miss. A lot of videos also offer the words at the bottom of the screen, making it easy to read along.
Some videos even feature songs, which can be a fun way to change up your learning routine. Songs are often easier to remember, so they could help you memorize some key vocabulary.
Some of the videos are quite long, so you may want to break them into shorter chunks for easier viewing. However, there’s lots of great material out there. For instance, “王老先生有塊地 + 更多 | 經典國語兒歌合輯 | 幼兒童謠串燒 | 寶寶巴士” (“Mr. Wang Lao has a piece of land + more | Classic Mandarin Children’s Songs Collection | Young Children’s Skewers | Baby Bus”) features a number of wonderful songs, including “Happy Birthday.”
But if you’re going to watch this channel, be warned: Some videos are in English. If you’re understanding more of the video than you thought you would, you might want to try another video.
小高姐的 Magic Ingredients
Get ready for your stomach to growl! If you love food as much as you love learning Chinese, then this channel is for you. These great cooking tutorials can teach you how to make delicious dishes while improving your Chinese.
Chinese students can enjoy videos like “枣馍 几种简单的造型 最适合家庭制作” (“Jujube, several simple shapes, best for home making”).
These videos are approachable for even beginning Chinese students. While the audio is Chinese, ingredients are shown as they are named. Additionally, some videos feature English-language subtitles. Certain videos also label each ingredient in the recipe in both English and Chinese for extra language support.
These authentic Chinese materials could be your ticket to learning real Chinese skills. Which resource will be your first pick to learn Mandarin?