Roku has become a real game-changer.
It lets you customize your TV options in a way traditional cable hasn’t.
It’s also a massively useful way to learn Mandarin.
For those who need to be brought into the loop, Roku (also known as Roku streaming player) is a streaming device, typically for hooking up to a television, that uses a Wi-Fi connection in order to stream video content.
Roku is unique in that it can adapt other streaming services like Netflix and YouTube, along with its own wide array of global channels, to create a sort of “ultimate” streaming experience with tons of options.
So what does all that have to do with learning Chinese?
Well, it may just be the best thing to happen to anyone who wants to watch Mandarin content for the purposes of practice and entertainment.
Since it’s a global service, there are some great Mandarin-language channels complete with subtitle options to help the beginner, intermediate or advanced learner practice Chinese listening and reading skills.
Let’s look at how Roku provides for the Chinese learner so well, and get you started learning Chinese with Roku today!
How Can Roku Help Me Improve My Chinese?
- There are Roku channels that boast Chinese television shows with 汉字 (hàn zì) — Chinese characters, and/or English subtitles. Being able to listen to spoken Chinese and read its translations or Chinese characters can help you with your listening and reading skills.
- Learning about Chinese culture (or Taiwanese culture) is an important part of learning the language. Most of the content you can access through these channels comes in the form of television shows or movies that showcase what modern or historical Chinese culture is like. As with any language, learning more about the culture that birthed it can only help you improve in fluency.
- Most of these channels are 100% free or low-cost. What’s better than learning a language and enjoying some entertainment for an affordable price? Not much!
- If you own a Roku device, setting up new channels is an easy and legal way to watch Chinese television. It’s tough to find a legit way to watch Chinese television with subtitles. Luckily, Roku’s Mandarin channels are all 100% legal.
6 Roku Chinese Channels to Up Your Mandarin Game
All of these awesome Mandarin channels can be found by searching their names in the Roku channel store via your Roku device.
大麦中文电视, or Damai Chinese TV, boasts further individual channels, television series and films from mainland China. It’s a special channel to note for its wide range of content available—everything from drama to history to food to music streaming is offered by this Roku channel. Some content is available in 4K for you HD junkies out there as well.
Damai costs $19.99 per month for full access, but you do get a free couple of months when you first subscribe. A majority of the content available features hanzi subtitles as well as English subtitles.
We recommend CCTV-1, a popular mainland Chinese news channel, and 炫动卡通 (Xuandong Cartoon TV), which has tons of childrens’ shows that beginners can get down with as well as animated series and films.
If you’re a sucker for Mandarin drama series and films, DramaFever is definitely worth trying out. This Roku channel features the best dramas from China and Taiwan as well as Korea and Japan. If you want a bit of variety, this channel also has documentaries. Most of DramaFever’s content has English subtitles.
To try DramaFever, you’ll need a Premium membership in order to download the Roku application. Premium includes full access to the Roku channel as well as website streaming elsewhere, offline viewing and ad-free entertainment. The membership is $4.99 per month (or $49.99 per year) and definitely worth it for all of the content you can access.
Try “琅琊榜之风起长林” (Nirvana in Fire II), a fifty-episode historical drama about a man out for vengeance, or “微微一笑很倾城” (Love O2O), an adorable story about a couple who falls in love through an online video game.
Unfortunately, DramaFever is no longer offered by Roku nor does it appear that it will return any time soon.
There is an alternative to DramaFever available on Roku, however: I suggest AsianCrush, which hosts dozens of Chinese drama movies and TV shows in Chinese with English subtitles.
Innovative Language Chinese
Innovative Language Chinese is a unique Roku channel because it’s actually like a virtual language course. While the other channels we’re covering are simply Chinese television channels, Innovative Language Chinese can provide the viewer with carefully crafted lessons.
Beginners will love the Innovative Language Chinese Roku channel for its direct simplicity, but intermediate and advanced learners may be able to benefit from it as well. This channel features individual lessons broken down into audio and video clips.
Innovative Language Chinese costs $0.99 per month to subscribe, which we think is quite reasonable given the quality of the video lessons. If you like this channel, you can also learn with more content while away from your Roku by subscribing to Innovative Language’s ChineseClass101 on their website.
For only $2.99 per month you can enjoy a ton of popular Chinese movies and series with Mandarin TV.
This channel has everything from dramas to history documentaries to popular Chinese and Taiwanese films. It’s an absolutely fantastic choice for beginner and intermediate learners as every piece of content on Mandarin TV boasts Chinese and English subtitles. Advanced learners can benefit from shutting off all subtitles and focusing on listening practice.
Mandarin TV is also special due to their very positive reviews and excellent customer service. If you decide Mandarin TV isn’t for you, cancellation is incredibly easy.
If you want an authentic Chinese television experience, the SinoVision channel on Roku may be the one for you. This Mandarin channel broadcasts local mainland Chinese television shows 24 hours a day, including everything from stock market updates to talk shows to news.
The only downside to SinoVision is that it’s just like any typical cable channel and you can’t pick and choose which show to watch. If you’re a fan of doing things old-school, though, this won’t be such a big issue.
Since SinoVision focuses so heavily on broadcasting news and unscripted content, learners can benefit from listening to spoken Mandarin in real time and with multiple people speaking. This is a fantastic choice for advanced learners out there or any learner who wants to master verbal fluency.
English and Chinese subtitles are available. Plus, it’s 100% free.
You can check out SinoVision’s programming schedule here.
Sling TV Mandarin
Sling TV is one of the most popular international television services in the U.S., and for good reason. Sling TV Mandarin definitely has the most massive collection of Chinese and Taiwanese channels, with an endless streaming schedule of television series, chat shows and films to watch.
There are music channels available as well.
This fantastic channel is free for your first week, and then it costs $15 per month to access Sling TV Mandarin’s 45+ channels. If you purchase an annual subscription up front, you can access even more Mandarin television.
Great content to watch includes “爱情闯进门” (When Love Walked In), a heartwarming drama about an estranged family available through the Anhui TV channel, and Baeble Music, an awesome channel featuring music news and videos.
These six Mandarin channels and the potentially endless stream of Chinese films and television series they offer will have you busy for a while.
Don’t forget to study hard and occasionally peel your eyes away from the screen for a bit to practice 写作 (xiě zuò) — writing!
Em Casalena is a published author, freelance writer and music columnist. They write about a lot of stuff, from music to films to language.