7 Keys to Improving Your Chinese Listening Skills Fast — #1: Choose Appropriate Materials

In How to by Angel HuangLeave a Comment

Having trouble understanding spoken Mandarin? Not sure how to improve your comprehension? In this series I walk you through some of the most important do’s and don’ts of practising listening on your own so that you can understand Chinese speakers and have confident conversations sooner.   Let’s dive in! 

#1:  A Quick Guide to Choosing Appropriate Listening Materials

If you’re looking to improve your listening ability significantly  in a short amount of time, just listening to anything you come by is NOT your best bet. The audio/video materials you use should be:

<img class=” src=”https://s.w.org/images/core/emoji/2.4/svg/2714.svg”>︎  Suitably Challenging

“Ok, does this mean I should listen to things that I can understand fairly easily or should I challenge myself with something a bit harder?” 

The answer is… YES!

Yes, you should listen to things you find easy. Not only does this help boost your confidence, it’s also the best way to get to a point where you can instantly recognise and understand words you know as they’re spoken to you in real time.

Yes, you should definitely challenge yourself with something a bit harder. In the real world you’ll frequently NOT understand everything you hear. By practicing listening to more challenging materials you can learn to cope with this reality and get better at guessing what things mean. But…

… this doesn’t mean that listening to recordings where you understand next to nothing is ideal — far from it! Instead, you should understand most of what you hear to be able to effectively “fill in the gaps” and figure out the meaning of unfamiliar bits where necessary.

Aright, now try this… Play the video below and listen to a woman talking about what she usually does with her family. Is this a “fairly easy”, “a bit more challenging” or an “understand next to nothing” clip for you?


<img class=” src=”https://s.w.org/images/core/emoji/2.4/svg/2714.svg”>︎  Interesting and Relevant

Stay motivated and focused by listening to short clips on topics you’re genuinely interested in! If you’re also familiar with the topic and it’s relevant to your learning goals (i.e. directly related to the type of situations and conversations you want to be able to understand and use the language in), you’ll get a lot more out of it.

<img class=” src=”https://s.w.org/images/core/emoji/2.4/svg/2714.svg”>︎  As “Real” As Possible

If you want to understand Mandarin as it’s really spoken by regular people across China, the recordings you find in most study materials made for learners (textbooks, podcasts, software etc) will only get you so far… Why!?

Simply because real spoken Mandarin sounds VERY different from scripted and rehearsed speech recorded by actors at slower than normal speed and perfectly “standard” pronunciation To get used to and prepare yourself for the real thing, listen to (recordings of) real people speaking naturally and spontaneously.

<img class=” src=”https://s.w.org/images/core/emoji/2.4/svg/2714.svg”>︎  Transcribed (in pinyin and/or characters)

As often as possible, listen to clips that come with a transcript so that you can compare what you think you heard to what was actually said!

Summary #1: “Choose Appropriate Listening Materials”
  • Listen to fairly easy AND slightly more challenging content. 
  • Stay motivated & focused by listening to short clips on interesting & relevant topics.
  • Prepare for real world situations by listening to naturally spoken Mandarin.
  • Try to find clips that come with a transcript so you can check your understanding.