Sick of combing the web for authentic materials for your Chinese class?
You could just go through the textbook.
The problem is, most textbook courses were created for non-native speakers.
Such courses can provide great baby steps when students are first starting out.
They may even feature a smattering of authentic materials.
Eventually, though, your students are going to need to wrestle with language that was crafted by native speakers for native speakers, and you are going to need to know where to find that kind of language.
In this post, we’ll show you exactly where to find the best authentic materials in Mandarin Chinese. But first, let’s look at why these kinds of materials are so important.
Why Use Authentic Materials for Chinese Class?
When it comes to language learning, just as with nutrition, one truth prevails: You are what you eat!
There is only one way to truly learn the Chinese language, and that is to consume authentic Chinese-language material.
By using authentic materials for your Chinese class, you give students the opportunity to see from a truly Chinese perspective.
Authentic materials will help students learn to:
- Use expressions that are actually used by native Chinese speakers.
- Think and behave like native Chinese speakers.
- Care about the things native speakers care about.
For example, most textbooks first teach students to greet others using the phrase “Ni hao” (“Hello”).
However, in China, it’s more common to greet someone by asking them where they’re going, or by commenting on what they’re doing. “Going to class?” might be one way to greet a fellow student.
Greeting in such a way puts the greeter much deeper into the business of the other person than a neutral “Hello” might have. Certain personal boundaries can be much more relaxed in Chinese culture.
Students are more likely to learn such a greeting from a Chinese soap opera than from a textbook. However, the idea of locating that soap opera can seem daunting and time-consuming.
The key is to narrow your search to places where these materials have already been gathered, organized and sometimes even predigested for you.
Search no further! The five resources listed below are the best out there, and they’re right at your fingertips.
5 Stellar Sources of Authentic Materials for Chinese Class
China Central Television is programming produced by the Chinese government for the Chinese people. How much more authentic can you get than that?
The advantages of CCTV are many. For one thing, it’s a free resource with a comprehensive selection of videos.
Simply go to the website, mouse over “频道大全” (pín dào dà quán — “All Channels”) in the menu bar at the top; then click on and browse the offerings of a channel that matches student interests.
Some of your best bets are the Documentary Channel (CCTV 9) and the Children’s Channel (CCTV 14), which can be great for learning basic vocabulary or focusing on a particular topic.
Other channels will cover business and news topics, which is great for keeping up with current events, and there is plenty of popular entertainment to be watched.
One of the best parts about this resource is that the speech tends to be in very clear Mandarin and thoroughly subtitled with Chinese characters.
Gloss words to help your students follow videos on their favorite topics; then lead discussions or create assignments to help process the clips.
Better yet, make teaching other students using a video from CCTV into a student-led group project!
FluentU, like CCTV, is a video resource. But here, you’ll find handpicked, interesting and entertaining videos from a huge variety of sources. FluentU takes real-world videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons.
The riveting videos on this site come with features like glossed terminology, grammar and vocabulary exercises. Optional subtitles are provided so students can read along with the videos if necessary.
The site is easy to navigate. Just filter content by level of difficulty and subject matter, and you’ll find hundreds of authentic Chinese video lessons to suit your needs.
Even better, as a teacher, you can use FluentU to track the personalized progress of each of your students individually. FluentU is perfect for use in the classroom as well as giving homework assignments for students to work on outside of class. There are even app versions for iOS or Android devices, so they can learn on the fly!
The Marco Polo Project is a brilliant tool for practicing reading comprehension using authentic resources.
One of its salient features is that it’s a collection of some of the newest Chinese writing in various genres. The materials on this site will keep students current with Chinese thought and literature.
Another unique feature is that students are encouraged to engage in the language by becoming part of the Marco Polo translation project.
Students can choose texts based on difficulty and interests and see if they really understand what they’re reading by translating it into their own language. Rough translations will be polished by more advanced translators in the Marco Polo community. Students can even aspire to become one of those advanced translators themselves!
As a professional, freelance translator and Chinese language teacher myself, I can testify that this type of translation work is a great way to test and improve reading comprehension. I learn something new every day this way.
Better yet, once translated, these texts become available to be read by people who don’t know Chinese. Chinese literature that otherwise might never have been translated is thus made available to be more widely read.
The easiest way to get started is to go to the website and just start reading! To join a translation project, anyone can create a profile and then find some writing to translate. There is plenty of untranslated material provided by the site.
To find a suitable piece of literature, students can either click on the topic cloud in the lower right or filter articles by topic, difficulty level and the degree to which they have been translated already.
An article such as this romantic predicament is perfect for sucking students in. They will want to finish the translation just to find out the fate of this young woman’s relationship! The article was found by filtering for easy, almost-translated pieces about relationships. As you can see, the status bar at the top displays how complete the translation is.
Once translated, pieces like this make for excellent topics for practicing Chinese. Students can even leave comments to discuss the piece once they understand what they’re reading.
This translation work makes for incredibly engaging individual and group projects. Students are left with a sense of accomplishment when they have a final product they crafted themselves that contributes to the Chinese learning community.
And who knows? If a student builds up enough pieces for their portfolio in this manner, they might be able to earn money like me as a freelance translator!
TuneIn serves as a straightforward listening resource that provides easy access to good old-fashioned radio for people interested in China and in learning the Chinese language.
While going through the website or the phone app, just click on the country of China, then the province and city, to find local radio stations throughout. The station summaries will tell you the topics and languages of the stations.
Your students can listen to the news, music, talk shows and advertisements that Chinese people actually listen to while washing the dishes or driving their cars.
Besides sheer variety, the most amazing feature of TuneIn is that, due to the local nature of the radio stations, you’ll hear all kinds of different accents, dialects, languages and slang.
This resource is great for offering more of a challenge for students, since there are no subtitles or glossed terms. People aren’t trying to speak with the standard accent, and they don’t care if you don’t understand their slang.
It’s also a great place to sample the huge differences between Mandarin, Shanghainese, Cantonese and Uighur. This can be a mind opener for students, who often believe that China is full of only people who speak Chinese and who all speak it the same way.
Want to listen to the traffic situation in Beijing in standard Mandarin? News in the Kangba dialect of the Tibetan language? Have a hankering for hearing what passes for pop music in Suzhou? It’s all here.
TuneIn streams live, so it’s best used for a few minutes of listening comprehension and discussion in the classroom, or for general listening practice outside the classroom.
5. Sina Weibo
Sina Weibo is akin to Twitter or Facebook. Due to its short form and focus on topics of interest, microblogging is an excellent tool for language practice.
Students can follow people or topics that they care about personally, be it an athlete, pop star or politician; or one or more topics can be followed by the entire class.
Music lovers can stay current on Jay Chou’s whereabouts; NBA fans can see what Yao Ming is up to these days; movie buffs might want to follow the career trajectory of “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” star Zhang Ziyi.
Weibo posts make excellent in-class reading exercises and great resources for researching topics outside of class for reports.
The participatory nature of microblogging is also particularly useful for language learning.
First of all, conversation is engaging in and of itself! Your students will forget they’re even reading and writing Chinese once they get sucked in.
They will simply be communicating!
Secondly, all kinds of people chime in with their two cents on Sina Weibo. This is what the Chinese people really say and think.
Finally, it’s a great opportunity for students to practice their writing skills. After they have caught up with the conversation, they can join in themselves. All it takes is constructing a sentence or two and posting it to Weibo.
Be sure to warn students to steer clear of politically sensitive terms and topics. Their social media lives on Weibo won’t last long if their profiles get censored by the Chinese government.
To get started, they can create a profile, and then start browsing or searching for topics of interest using the search bar.
From there, they can either start following interesting people or topics, or start talking about something on their own microblogs!
These five tools provide enough authentic resources to fuel every Chinese classroom of the past, present and future.
Just take a survey of your students’ interests and needs, and one of these sites will give you the perfect materials.
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to teach Chinese with real-world videos.