Want to hear something cool?
Before I taught Chinese, I studied Spanish for nearly a decade. And there’s one lesson that’s stuck with me through all these years…
Our unit on “Corazón salvaje” (“Wild Heart”), a Mexican soap opera, will forever be seared in my mind. I’ve kept in touch with my instructor and a few classmates from that course, and it only takes one of us humming the first few notes of the television drama’s theme song for everyone to burst into laughter.
The show exposed me to elements of culture in the Spanish-speaking world that I wouldn’t have otherwise known, turned me into a casual telenovela (Spanish-language soap opera) fan and became a shared learning experience that my former classmates and I can fondly look back upon. How excited we were to be able to understand a television program in another language!
But what does all this have to do with teaching Mandarin?
Watching this melodramatic 1990’s soap opera convinced me of the importance of videos in the language-learning classroom. Learning a new language can be frustrating and time-consuming, and even the best teachers may not be able to fully illustrate to their students the countless benefits they can gain if they stick with it. But we all know that students love the audio-visual support that videos provide: I’ve seen a chaotic classroom go quiet in anticipation as the teacher loads YouTube; I’ve watched students struggle to master the colors in Chinese, only to have it all click into place after singing along to a music video about the rainbow.
Whether our students know it or not, videos have the ability to capture their attention in a way that few other teaching materials can. By carefully selecting Chinese videos for students, teachers can harness the engaging nature of videos to introduce key concepts, reinforce recent lessons or even provide the context for a discussion on Chinese culture.
Why Teach Chinese with Videos?
Videos are one of the best resources teachers have in their arsenal, whether you use videos for native speakers made without a specific educational purpose, incorporate videos into a lesson plan about teaching numbers or characters, or simply want to enliven your classroom. Here are three ways using videos in your curriculum will benefit your students:
- Linguistic variety: Videos allow your students to hear a variety of native speakers from different genders, age groups and regional backgrounds. Use videos to help students discover the differences between an elderly grandfather from Beijing and a young woman from Chongqing and everyone in between!
- Listening comprehension: From simple songs with on-screen lyrics to full-blown animated series with multiple episodes, the videos shared below will challenge students to improve their listening comprehension skills.
- Cultural knowledge: Cross-cultural understanding is a crucial bridge between the classroom and the rest of the world. Videos illustrate the stories behind traditions and holidays; share scenes from everyday life in China, Hong Kong and Taiwan; and catch students up on what’s popular among their peers in the Chinese-speaking world.
6 Awesome Resources for Teaching with Chinese Videos for Students
Chinese video streaming sites, such as Youku and Tencent Video, offer everything from full seasons of the latest dramas to live-streams of sports games. However, it can be tricky to sift through such a wide variety of content to find student-appropriate videos.
For fewer obstacles and more teacher-friendly materials, it’s not necessary to look further than YouTube.
Below are five channels catering to different levels and age groups. Use these channels to find the perfect video for your next lesson!
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Okay, FluentU isn’t YouTube but it’s far too good to leave off this list!
One of the most engaging ways to teach Chinese, FluentU combines authentic real-world videos with Mandarin lessons to teach grammar, vocabulary, conversational skills and other elements of Chinese naturally and more effectively.
With FluentU, students get firsthand exposure to Chinese culture through Chinese documentaries, news, clips from popular Chinese movies and TV shows, commercials and other material made for Chinese people, by Chinese people. As such, FluentU offers a fully immersive language-learning experience that allows students to actually navigate Chinese culture while learning the language.
Sounds great, right? Register for the free trial and bring FluentU into the classroom today!
Little Fox Chinese offers original animated stories for young learners, as well as simple songs, nursery rhymes and lullabies.
Stories are separated into five levels under the “Playlist” tab, making it easy to select a series that is appropriate for your class. Songs include on-screen lyrics in simplified Chinese and pinyin with karaoke-style tracking, encouraging beginning students to sing along.
Little Fox Chinese stands out for its unique pinyin learning songs, which teach students to identify and pronounce tones, initial and final sounds, and even tonal changes! These are an excellent resource not only for new learners but for any student in need of pronunciation support.
Recommended video: The “i, u, ü” song is great for teaching pronunciation of these vowels, which can be tricky for native English speakers to master.
These videos, produced by the children’s education company Pinkfong, feature friendly animal characters who embark on small adventures. Like other children’s channels, Pinkfong has songs about feelings, colors and some pinyin sounds; unlike other channels, Pinkfong also offers content that is well-suited for use with heritage learners or in an immersion environment. The “牙齿朋友们 (yá chǐ péng yǒu men)—Teeth Buddies” song, for instance, would fit right into an elementary science unit.
Recommended video: The “我的身体 (wǒ de shēn tǐ)—My Body” song pairs body parts with their corresponding action verbs. After practicing the song with your students, engage them in a game of Simon Says to help them practice these essential vocabulary words!
Looking for a song to teach your students how to tell time, explain the history behind the Dragon Boat festival or even help them remember the order of the Chinese dynasties? ChineseBuddy has you covered! Their Chinese song channel contextualizes simple, easy-to-remember sentences within a short narrative. They are especially useful for reinforcing simple grammar and helping students apply their language to cultural topics.
ChineseBuddy includes not only a range of beginner topics (numbers, colors), but also more involved songs teaching history, geography and culture, making this channel useful in elementary, middle, and even high school classes.
Recommended video: Introduce your students to 成语 (chéng yǔ)—Chinese idioms with the Mamahuhu Story and Song. This would be a great starting point for a lesson about idioms, or just a fun way to take a break during a grammar lesson.
Older students give this channel rave reviews for its accessible retellings of Chinese and Western fairy tales. Videos range from 6 to 16 minutes long and include classics such as “Sleeping Beauty,” “The Princess and the Frog” and “The Three Little Pigs.” The English captions make stories accessible to mixed-level classes, too.
Recommended video: Have your students heard the story of 花木兰 (huā mù lán)—Mulan? Teachers can generate a discussion about the differences between this video and the popular Disney movie, encouraging students to use compare-and-contrast language, express likes and dislikes, and practice agreeing or disagreeing with classmates.
While not technically a channel, this playlist of Disney songs makes a great supplement to any class. Students can learn new vocabulary by memorizing lyrics to their favorite songs, or understand a grammar structure in context by analyzing a chorus or verse. Instructors can even use these popular songs to engage advanced students in a discussion about textual translation or cross-cultural media.
Most videos include on-screen lyrics, but for printable versions, try searching the name of the film or song followed by “中文歌词” (zhōng wén gē cí)—”Chinese lyrics.” If you are seeking pinyin lyrics for your lesson, free online converters will come in handy, too.
Recommended video: Moana‘s 不客气 (bú kè qi)—“You’re Welcome” demonstrates the utility of popular songs in the classroom. In “You’re Welcome,” the character Maui sings humorous and simple lyrics that will be accessible to beginning and intermediate students. Plus, “这很简单很容易, 不客气” (zhè hěn jiǎn dān hěn róng yì, bù kè qi)—”This is easy, this is simple. You’re welcome!” makes for a great tagline at the end of a lesson!
Bonus: Kevin in Shanghai
Students just reaching an advanced mastery of Chinese can be frustrated by the dearth of resources tailored to their needs. Native-level media, such as non-fiction essays, newspaper articles or films, may still be too difficult. Student-friendly resources, on the other hand, may seem too easy. For these students, look beyond television dramas and music videos and try the Kevin in Shanghai YouTube channel. On this channel, the Wenzhou-native host, Kevin, produces short Buzzfeed-style videos on topics popular among Chinese-speaking young adults.
Recommended video: Kevin in Shanghai’s best videos elucidate linguistic variety in the Chinese-speaking world. Advanced students, especially those with experience traveling to or living in Chinese-speaking countries, will be eager to discuss topics such as “Can Mainland Chinese Read Traditional Chinese Characters?” or “Taiwan Mandarin Accent VS Northeastern Mandarin Accent.”
No matter what age, level or language background your students represent, there is sure to be a video appropriate for their needs. And who knows—a video you share today may be the building block of a language-learning memory that sticks with your students for years to come!
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to teach Chinese with real-world videos.