Can you learn to speak Mandarin Chinese from movies? At first the spoken Mandarin in Chinese films can be intimidating. They speak fast. Sometimes they speak with a dialect or an accent.
But, in fact, if you work this problem the right way, you can find learning Chinese through movies can be fun and, just as you might expect, can really help better your Chinese.
But zeroing in on the right kind of Chinese film to use for this exercise may not be so easy with all that's out there. Fret not. I'm going to save you hours in that department by revealing my radical and controversial secret for how to learn Mandarin with movies and which are best.
The Best Kind of Chinese Film for Learning Mandarin
You need to find the right Chinese movies. Some genres aren't ideal. I find that the newer kinds of romantic comedies that you will see can be great learning material. For example, the popular film “Fei Chang Wu Rao” and it's sequels are good. If you are a guy, this is definite chick flick territory, so beware.
But if you can bear the chick-flicki-ness, then these kinds of movies have some real advantages to helping you learn to speak Mandarin Chinese:
- Lots of dialogue – Other more classic dramatic films may be more appealing as good cinema, but they move slow and pictures do a lot of the talking.
- Standard Mandarin – The romantic-comedy genre has mass appeal, and so the actors will be speaking standard Mandarin. By contrast, some of the very artful films created in China that reflect rural life may take advantage of rural accents for the purpose of realism. Good movies, but not good Mandarin - another reason I prefer the shallow comedies for improving my Chinese.
- Non-technical language – Action films, historical fiction films, even Chinese gangster films will throw language at you that is quite specialized. But the popular Chinese movies I'm suggesting you use to learn to speak Mandarin Chinese are all about relationships. The language is everyday Chinese. The vocabulary certainly will challenge you, but you won't be left hopeless. And any time spent grappling with the Mandarin contained in these films will be a good investment.
Interestingly, the romantic-comedy is a relatively new genre in Chinese film, probably borrowed from Europe and the USA. In the past, romantic Chinese movies traditionally were -and many still are- tragic: love lost, lovers dying of all imaginable diseases and so on. While those can be quite moving if done tactfully (and often they are not, in my opinion), they can be heavy on the emotions.
The newer Chinese romantic comedies, on the other hand, spare you all that heaviness on the emotions and let you focus on your goal: learning to speak Chinese. You may agree here that light is right.
My Controversial Way to Learn Chinese with Movies
Chinese romantic comedies are great for learning. But there's another option - and this is my controversial secret about how to learn Chinese with movies...
Use American movies on DVD's that give you the option to view them with dubbed voices speaking Mandarin.
That's right. Use dubbed American movies. I can already hear the purists raising their voices in anger, but pay no mind. Here are the advantages:
- Better selection – If you feel exhausted because you would like to learn with Chinese movies or television shows but you just can't turn up much that you like, I assure you, you are not alone. Now it's time to expand your selection.
- Predictable context – Yes, the downside is that you miss out on Chinese culture. And that is where others will say my way to learn to speak Mandarin Chinese is misguided. But there's another side to consider: Because you know the culture of American movies, you understand the context, it makes comprehension much easier. You can predict more. Remember, you are a learner here. It's nice to have training wheels.
- Clear audio, perfect Mandarin – No worry of dialects here. The actors who do the dubbing do it in a pristine studio setting with standard Mandarin.
The following is the process that I use to learn Mandarin with Chinese films - and this will work with either of the film types I've recommended, though I particularly like it with the American films that have been dubbed.
You can apply it to watching an entire movie, but that's rather time consuming. I find it's great just to watch a quarter, or even less, of the movie at a time.
Here's the process:
Choose a movie you liked a lot but you haven't seen for a long time and wouldn't mind seeing again. Make yourself comfortable and follow this formula...
- First view: turn on Chinese subtitles; let them speak Chinese
- Second view: turn on English titles; let them speak Chinese
- Third view: turn the Chinese subtitles back on; let them speak Chinese (just as first view)
See how your Chinese listening comprehension of the movie improves with this process.
Yes, the purists will be banging on my door and cursing me for suggesting this. But the advantages are real for me. I've re-watched movies I really enjoy, and heard Matt Damon, Tom Hanks, Angela Jolie, Harrsion Ford, Nic Cage and others spout perfect Mandarin.
And improved my Chinese in the process.
You can do it too.