It’s no secret that learning a new language takes time.
It’s also no secret that most of us don’t have a whole lot of time to spare.
It’s not even the actual coursework that takes so much time—it’s the practice. For every hour you spend in class or learning online, you should spend another hour studying.
Luckily, there’s a way to slide in some vital practice time.
You can use these television apps to improve your Mandarin listening and reading skills on the bus, during your break from work, while at the gym and pretty much every situation where you have a bit of spare time and can pop in some headphones.
We found the best Chinese TV apps for Android so you don’t have to waste more precious time scouring the Google Play store. Check these out!
Why Should I Use Chinese TV Apps to Learn Mandarin?
- Watching television shows in Mandarin can help you improve your listening skills. Because Chinese dramas, sitcoms and other shows are scripted, you can focus on your Chinese-to-English translation skills in real-time. If you watch variety shows that are unscripted, you’ll be able to practice listening to Mandarin as it’s spoken in everyday conversation.
- If you want to watch at your own pace, TV apps make it easy. If you have to dedicate a full half-hour to sitting down in front of your television, it’s easy to put off watching Chinese shows. However, with an app, you can watch whenever you have a few minutes to spare! Using apps specifically for watching Mandarin television makes improving your language skills easier than ever.
- You can learn a lot about Chinese culture through television. Reading books and consuming other types of Chinese media can certainly help you improve your language skills and cultural knowledge. But when it comes to TV shows, you’ll be surprised by how much real-world cultural knowledge you’ll pick up.
Watch and Learn: The 5 Best Chinese TV Apps for Android
If you already spend a bit of time enjoying Chinese television, there’s a good chance you’ve heard of or even used Youku before.
Youku is China’s top-rated video streaming provider… and with good reason. This service is bursting at the seams with pretty much every type of video you’d ever want to watch in Mandarin. From series to films to variety shows to documentaries, there’s bound to be something you’ll love on this app.
Youko is free to download with paid premium options available. The navigation is fairly easy to work with if you have a solid knowledge of Chinese characters, but if you’re more of a newbie, this may be a bit hard to figure out.
Because the vast majority of Youku’s content is in Mandarin with Chinese subtitles, intermediate and advanced users would benefit the most from using Youku.
With Youku, we suggest checking out:
- 武动乾坤之冰心在玉壶 (wǔ dòng qián kūn zhī bīng xīn zài yù hú) — “Martial Universe.” Lin Dong’s life is changed forever when he becomes a martial arts master who must lead an army to fight an ancient evil.
- 回到明朝当王爷之杨凌传 (huí dào míng cháo dāng wáng yé zhī yáng líng chuán) — “Back to the Ming Dynasty as the Lord of Yang Ling” aka “Royal Highness.” A fantastic and dramatic adaptation of the traditional Chinese play.
- 我不是药神 (wǒ bù shì yào shén) — “I Am Not a Drug Lord” aka “Dying to Survive.” A man with cancer smuggles drugs to help chemotherapy patients in his home city.
China TV is a channel-based television app. Most of the channels available for free are CCTV channels, which host primarily news and documentaries. Some of these channels have Chinese subtitles while others don’t have subtitles at all, so advanced learners would probably benefit the most from this app.
China TV is a handy Chinese television app to have on hand because it’s fairly fast and the ads are minimal. If you feel like just casually watching a channel as you would with cable TV, this one’s worth checking out.
Here are a few channels to try out on China TV:
- 24/7 anime. This channel features Chinese-language animated shows with Chinese subtitles, as well as Japanese anime dubbed and subbed in Chinese.
- CCTV-1. News, documentaries and variety shows.
- SinoVision. Fashion and lifestyle news, variety shows, documentaries and cooking shows.
The Viki app from Rakuten is another popular streaming site that you’ve likely come across if you enjoy watching Chinese TV. In addition to providing Mandarin-language dramas and films, you can also find Korean, English and Japanese content.
This app is unique in that it’s super easy to navigate if you’re not that great at Chinese reading yet, as most of the interface is in English. Plus, just about every video has a handful of subtitle options that almost always include both English and Chinese.
You can download Viki for free and access exclusive content by signing up for their Viki Exclusives membership. You can even try a Viki Pass for a week risk-free.
When browsing Viki, we suggest watching:
- 稍息立正我愛你 (shāo xí lì zhèng wǒ ài nǐ) — “Attention, Love!” A young man and woman were destined for love since they were born.
- 我的極品男友 (wǒ de jí pǐn nán yǒu) — “Better Man.” Three talented but ultimately romantically uninterested brothers grapple with their emotions when they meet the perfect girl.
- 愛上哥們 (ài shàng gē men) — “Bromance.” A young woman has been raised as a boy in a gang since she was young, but now another young woman has fallen for her.
芒果TV國際 (máng guǒ TV guó jì) — Mango TV International
Mango TV International is a television app with a few extra bells and whistles, perfect for those who want a bit more of a decadent Chinese television experience. These include:
- A user-friendly interface
- Simultaneous English and Chinese subtitles on almost all of the app’s video content
- Featured and recommended channels
- Premium content through a membership
- Decent technical support for both Chinese and English speakers
- Short, YouTube-style video programs
- A wide variety of films, shows, clips and short videos
If you don’t live in Mainland China, you can’t download shows so you’ll have to watch them in-app. However, the consistent HD videos, quick loading time and simultaneous subtitles make this a great TV app for any level of learner. But keep in mind that beginners may have a bit of difficulty with the navigation as it’s all in 汉字 (hàn zì) — Chinese characters.
With the Mango TV International Android app, we suggest looking up:
- 凉生，我们可不可以不忧伤 (liáng shēng, wǒ men kě bù kě yǐ bù yōu shāng) — “Liang Sheng, Can We Not Be Sad?” A woman with a sad history deals with the sudden onslaught of suitors as an adult.
- 如若巴黎不快乐 (rú ruò bā lí bù kuài lè) — “If Paris Isn’t Happy.” A young woman is wronged by a romantic partner and a mysterious man helps her recover.
- 我们的四十年 (wǒ men de sì shí nián) — “Our Forty Years.” The story of a man who grew up loving television and cinema who achieves his dreams as a producer.
鳳凰秀 (fèng huáng xiù) — Phoenix Shows
The goal of Phoenix Shows (also known as Phoenix TV or Phoenix Television) is to spread Chinese news, entertainment and sports around the world. It seems to work—this Hong Kong-based broadcasting company is one of the largest Cantonese- and Mandarin-language television stations in the world with an average of 360 million viewers. If you want the best resource for finding Mandarin-language news shows and broadcasts, Phoenix Shows is worth checking out for their sheer volume of coverage alone.
Their app doesn’t disappoint, either. You can enjoy a ton of content without purchasing their premium membership, making this a great choice for learners on a budget who want some serious variety. Advanced learners will probably get the most out of this app as it’s entirely in Chinese, with English subtitles few and far between.
From Phoenix Shows, we suggest watching:
- 鲁豫有约 (lǔ yù yǒu yuē) — “A Date with Lu Yu.” A classic and consistently entertaining variety show from mainland China.
- 火力无限 (huǒ lì wú xiàn) — “Unlimited Firepower.” Described as “China’s first military-civilian integration equipment experience star reality show.”
- 燃新闻 (rán xīn wén) — “Burning News.” A news shows about culture, economics and world news.
These Chinese TV apps for Android are useful for brushing up on your Mandarin reading and listening skills. Better yet, you can enjoy them just about anywhere!
Em Casalena is a published author, freelance writer and music columnist who writes about a lot of stuff, from music to films to language.