Photo by Andrea Piacquadio:

3 Methods to Learn Chinese with Subtitles (Plus Resources)

Subtitles translate words from a different language into the language you understand. They clarify words you may not have heard due to fast-paced dialogue and they allow you to pay attention to how words are written as they’re being spoken.

Here are some great resources and tips to help you get started on using subtitles as a way to learn Chinese.


1. Put the Subtitles in Only One Language

If your favorite streaming platform only has subtitles available in one language, think about your level and what you want to gain from your movie-watching experience.

Do you want to become more familiar with phonemes, expand your vocabulary or practice reading? Subtitled movies can help you master any of these objectives.

Here are a few subtitle settings to figure out which one is the best for you.

Chinese movies with English (or native language) subtitles

This is great for beginners. Native language subtitles allow viewers to understand what’s happening in the movie while being exposed to the cadences of a new language. And its simple phrases and mannerisms.

Keep a notebook handy to write down common phrases you encounter as you watch.

I suggest using pinyin because this is often easier than writing out the characters, especially since you don’t want to miss too much while you’re watching. Then after the movie is over, you can go back and write out the characters.

Chinese movies with Chinese subtitles

This is perfect for intermediate to advanced learners.

If you already have a decent vocabulary base and are able to understand day-to-day conversations, Chinese subtitles allow you to expand your vocabulary, practice reading and improve your writing skills.

Keep a dictionary nearby while you’re watching so you can look up any unfamiliar words and take note of them.

English (or native language) movies with Chinese subtitles

This is an option suitable for learners at any level. Chinese subtitles on a native language movie or TV show provide a more targeted outlet for learning new Chinese vocabulary and reading Chinese characters.

However, it’s imperative to focus on the subtitles and purposefully search out any unfamiliar words. Since the dialogue is in your native language, you’ll already have an idea of what those words mean just from watching the movie.

2. Mix It Up and Flip-flop Between Subtitles

Some streaming platforms offer subtitles in multiple languages but you can only select one at a time. However, with a selection of multiple languages, you have the additional capacity to switch between them any time you like.

Challenge yourself to watch one scene entirely in Chinese

You’re not ready to see an entire film with Chinese subtitles because you don’t want to be completely lost. I get it. So take it slow and watch the next scene with Chinese audio and subtitles and see how much you understand.

Or you can rewind the movie and watch that killer action scene again and try to say the lines along with the characters (fight moves are optional). Do this as often as you like throughout the movie until you’re ready to go without subtitles.

Another option is watching a scene and translating the words at the same time. Then go back to see how your translations fared against the given subtitles. Sometimes you’ll be right on the mark, sometimes you’ll be way off. But all that matters is the practice you’re getting.

Switch the subtitles within a scene

If you’re watching Chinese movies with native language subtitles, you can switch to Chinese subtitles to see how a specific word is written. In Chinese, there are a lot of characters whose pronunciation is exactly the same but are actually completely different words.

Therefore, switching to Chinese subtitles can help you clarify very quickly which character the sound of a word corresponds to. This is really nice for beginner to intermediate learners because you automatically have a translation into your native language as you watch.

Also, you still have an easy way to augment your vocabulary and distinguish between similar-sounding characters in Chinese.

If you’re using this method, you can switch to your native language when you’re uncertain about a word or phrase. This is useful for intermediate to advanced learners because it forces you to listen and read in Chinese. But instead of looking up unknown words in a dictionary, switching the subtitles will give you a quick translation.

3. Use Double Subtitles

Dual subtitles are a format that displays both Chinese subtitles and subtitles in your native language at the bottom of the screen.

This is the most useful format for learning a new language. Dual subtitles allow you to understand the meaning of what’s being said while introducing both oral and written Chinese. It’s suitable for learners at all levels but is especially helpful for beginners.

Pause frequently to focus on new or interesting vocabulary

Taking note of words you don’t recognize is much easier since you have both the words (Mandarin characters) and native language translation on the screen. Therefore, you can simply pause to jot down the unknown word or phrase, its definition in your own language and the context in which it was used. This will be very useful in helping you understand how to use those words yourself in daily conversation.

Resources for Finding Media with Chinese Subtitles

  • Netflix — Netflix has a selection of Mandarin Chinese movies and TV dramas with English, Japanese, Korean, simplified Chinese and traditional Chinese subtitles. If you’re located in a country that primarily speaks Chinese, most content on Netflix will have the option of Chinese audio and subtitles. This means you can watch English movies with Chinese audio and Chinese subtitles.
  • FluentU — This program uses bite-sized clips of native content to teach Mandarin Chinese. You can watch scenes from Chinese TV shows, movie trailers, music videos and more complete with effective learning tools such as interactive subtitles, downloadable transcripts, flashcards and personalized vocabulary quizzes.
  • Amazon Video — Amazon provides Mandarin Chinese movies and TV shows with English subtitles. Just typing in “Chinese movies with English subtitles” brings up about 35 different titles from horror to comedy to sci-fi.
  • Hulu — This service allows you to stream all those Chinese films and TV shows with English subtitles directly on any device.
  • YouTube — YouTube has Chinese movies and TV shows with dual subtitles as well as single-language subtitles. You can search for the show you want to watch with “English sub,” “traditional Chinese sub,” “Malay sub” or subtitles in whatever language you desire. To start you off, you might consider a drama that’s pretty popular in China right now, “Eternal Love,” a fantasy romance replete with gods and demons.


Watching movies or TV shows with subtitles turned on is a less tedious way of learning a language.

Sometimes, you may not even feel like you’re actively learning! However, by constantly reading and listening in Chinese, you’re instinctively absorbing the subtleties of the language—all while being entertained!

And One More Thing...

If you want to continue learning Chinese with interactive and authentic Chinese content, then you'll love FluentU.

FluentU naturally eases you into learning Chinese language. Native Chinese content comes within reach, and you'll learn Chinese as it's spoken in real life.

FluentU has a wide range of contemporary videos—like dramas, TV shows, commercials and music videos.

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 a word is used. Tap to add words you'd like to review to a vocab list.

FluentU's Learn 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 customizes quizzes to focus on areas that need attention and reminds you when it’s time to review what you’ve learned. You have a 100% personalized experience.

Start using the FluentU website on your computer or tablet or, better yet, download the FluentU app from the iTunes or Google Play store. Click here to take advantage of our current sale! (Expires at the end of this month.)

Enter your e-mail address to get your free PDF!

We hate SPAM and promise to keep your email address safe