If you’re learning Mandarin, you might also be interested in Chinese culture.
And if you’re interested in Chinese culture, you might have gotten into it through 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), or Chinese characters subtitles or English subtitles.
But what about 拼音 (pīn yīn), or Chinese romanization?
If you want to improve your Chinese as a beginner while enjoying authentic Mandarin-language film and video, you’re in luck.
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?
Think of pinyin as the middle ground between beginner and advanced Chinese reading. It acts as a stepping stone to help you along as you study Chinese reading and pronunciation.
By learning to associate spoken Mandarin with pinyin, you’ll improve your fluency. Pinyin isn’t just used to understand hanzi. It’s also a very important pronunciation system that allows learners to properly sound out verbal 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.
Unfortunately, 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 the following seven handy resources for pinyin-subtitled films and videos, you can enjoy Chinese entertainment with the support of pinyin subtitles!
7 Handy 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 already has 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 on YouTube with pinyin subtitles 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 Chinese videos optimized for learners, take advantage of the huge FluentU library of pinyin-subtitled videos.
FluentU’s language experts take authentic YouTube videos and add optional hanzi, pinyin and English subtitles that give you a wider range of reliable learning content. FluentU videos include many music videos, movie clips and trailers and so much more!
But FluentU offers way more than pinyin-subbed content.
You'll find a wide range of contemporary videos that cover all different interests and levels, 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 a word is 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.
The best part is that FluentU always keeps track of your learning. It customizes quizzes to focus on areas that need attention and reminds you when it’s time to review what you’ve learned. In other words, you get a 100% personalized experience.
Try FluentU in your browser or, better yet, download the FluentU iOS or Android app today!
Are you struggling to find a specific subtitled video? When all else fails, you can always 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.
Although this subreddit is not active anymore, it still has a treasure trove of subtitle resources for learners. Simply search the forum—chances are, you’ll find what you’re looking for! There’s also some video content with pinyin that you can watch right in the forum.
If you can’t find what you’re looking over here, you can see what’s available or ask for help on the more lively /ChineseLanguage, instead.
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.
Chinese Subtitles Translator
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 it. 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!
If you’re looking specifically for a streaming service that offers full-length movies with pinyin subtitles, LCFM (Learn Chinese from Movies) might be just what you need.
While may not have all the latest movies you’ll find on Netflix or Amazon Prime, this website frequently adds new selections to their already substantial library, with films from Mainland China, Hong Kong and Taiwan. The collection also includes Mandarin-dubbed Hollywood features, which is extremely helpful for complete novices who need to watch something familiar before progressing into Chinese media.
Like FluentU, each video is complete with Chinese, pinyin and English subtitles. You can also choose to learn Simplified or Traditional Chinese, depending on your learning goals. I highly suggest that you watch one scene at a time to give yourself time to note down any new terms and grammar structures and review the PDF transcripts.
The PDFs are also incredibly useful for reading the content beforehand for additional practice and support. Do note that these transcripts are only available online unless you sign up for a premium lifetime membership that allows you to download as many PDFs as you please.
The downloadable transcripts are a nice perk, but it’s good practice to pause the movie to physically write down characters, pinyin and definitions.
According to LCFM, each movie contains over 2000 unique characters. That means if you mastered every Chinese character in one film, you potentially have enough in your vocabulary bank to read a variety of texts. You might even be able to read a newspaper, considering you only need 2-3000 characters to do so.
Although there isn’t an app, the LCFM website is designed to be accessible across all devices so you can watch on the big screen with your smart TV or something smaller like your phone.
However, there’s very little information on how the LCFM program actually works on their website.
If you like the idea of a program like LCFM, remember that FluentU has a free trial available. Plus, you can see the program in action on the FluentU Chinese YouTube channel. For example, check out “Learn Chinese with Movies: You Are the Apple of My Eye” to see how the program looks in action (demo starts at around three minutes):
The channel also shares tips, tricks and mini-lessons for learning Mandarin Chinese. Subscribe to never miss a video!
Yes, we’ve got another DIY pinyin subtitle tool on the list.
If you’re wondering how this is any different from Chinese Subtitles Translator or the files on Reddit, Subtitle Tools a website-based subtitle generator that allows you to convert subtitle files you already have.
The pinyin generated on Subtitle Tools is completely spelled out with the tones marked on the right letters, unlike on Chinese Subtitles Translator, which numbers the tone after each pinyin syllable. Some people don’t mind seeing the tones numbered like that, but you might have an easier time following along with the video when the pinyin is properly written out.
You have three options for conversion with Subtitle Tools:
- Generate pinyin under the hanzi subtitles while the English or other non-Chinese text remains untouched.
- Generate pinyin under the hanzi subtitles while deleting any English or other non-Chinese text.
- Replace hanzi text with pinyin subtitles while the English or other non-Chinese text remains untouched.
Each option is suited for different proficiency levels and language skills.
The first option is ideal for reading and translation practice. If you’re a beginner or even an intermediate learner, stick with the first option. If you’re an intermediate or advanced learner, go with the second option to allow you to see the hanzi without having the English subtitles to fall back on.
Although it might seem counterintuitive to remove hanzi subtitles, the third option is actually perfect for Chinese speaking practice, particularly working on your accent, tones and doing language shadowing exercises.
If you don’t have dual language subtitle files for your movies, you can always download Chinese and English files separately and then use the website’s merging tool. Once you have those merged into one file, you can put it through the pinyin generator if the original hanzi is missing pinyin subtitles.
This website is completely free to use, but you can upgrade to a premium account if you want your files to be prioritized.
And lastly, we have Easy Pronunciation, which is another subtitle converter.
You have three options for pinyin subtitles. You can opt for pinyin subtitles showing:
- Tone marks → pīnyīn
- Tone numbers → pin1yin1
- IPA with tone numbers → pʰin1jin1
Unless you’re a linguist, you probably want to stick with the first two choices.
You can also choose to have pinyin as an additional transcription or replace the hanzi subtitles completely.
Note that there’s also an option to correct tones for the characters 一 (yī) for “one” and 不 (bù) for “no.”
Although annotated with the first and fourth tones respectively, these two words can sometimes be said with the second tone if they’re followed by a fourth tone character. Thus, this option ensures that the pinyin matches natural speech, but you can leave it unchecked if you prefer to follow textbook tones.
You can also use the merging tool if you only have single-language subtitle files.
Be aware that Easy Pronunciation can only generate 50 lines of a 300 KB file as an unregistered user. You’ll need to sign up for an account for more lines per file.
- The free plan gives you 100 subtitle lines per file.
- The basic plan gives you 3000 subtitle lines per file.
- The premium plan gives you 3000 subtitle lines per file, plus other benefits.
Even though there’s a limit to how much you can get without signing up, the website does have a ton of other functions if you need additional pronunciation practice. You can check out the Pronunciation Trainer if you want to convert text into native speaker audio. If you want to see which characters in a text belong in each HSK level, have a look at the Chinese Word Frequency Counter.
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.
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