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How to use movies to learn Chinese

We learn a lot from watching a movie, and we usually have fun learning it. 

A good story, good-looking actors and actresses or the not so good-looking ones, stunning special effects, mood swaying music, unexpected settings, props, even camera angles can be something to pay attention to. But none of these can be compared to dialogues between characters, or a monologue which gives us special insights to the story or to the characters. To a certain extent, even the “unspoken thing” needs languages to support.

From a Chinese learner point of view, movies are a good resource for learning Chinese. It is full of daily conversations, slangs, idioms, social languages, business languages, historical knowledge, formal speeches and different accents. For these same reasons, dialogues and monologues are hard to follow because they are full of slangs, idioms, formal expressions, different accents, and so on.

What are the best ways to use Chinese movies to learn Chinese? Below are some of my ideas.

Lower level students

Movies are generally tall orders for lower level students. It is the best to break down the activity watching a movie into several small tasks. It is an advantage if students are working with a Chinese teacher.

  • Brief introduction of the movie

Read some simple materials (in Chinese) about the movie, such as when it was made, who the director was, and who the actors and actress are. 

  • A few clips

Watch a few movie clips, some segments of the movie, which contain the targeted languages that are clearly enunciated and that students have a higher chance to understand. These few clips also help students get accustomed to characters in the movie, speaking styles, and the plot. Teachers can produce transcripts for students to study if necessary.  

  • Watch the entire movie

The next is to watch the entire movie. Students will see where those few movie segments are from and follow the plot better.

  • Role plays

Students work on role plays based on the movie. They are encouraged to write their own dialogues or monologues and to act their own versions of scripts out. 

Higher level students

As students is making progress in their Chinese study, movies become more and more accessible for them as a valuable learning resource. Watching Chinese movies help students achieve exceptional Chinese listening skills. It is also a wonderful source to understand the cultural differences. 

For higher level students, they can do everything that lower level students do, but with a greater depth. 

  • In-depth introduction of the movie

Students can read movie reviews, career paths of directors and actors, and the public responses to the movie. 

  • A few clips

Teachers can select a few segments of the movie to watch first. These segments are not limited by the level of the Chinese language, but more closely related to plots and character developments. Teachers can produce transcripts for students to study if necessary.  

  • Watch the entire movie

The next is to watch the entire movie. It’s time to enjoy the show.

  • Discussions

After watching the movie, it is good for students to talk about what they think about it. It is nice to hear different views. 

  • Role plays

Role plays that are more connected to the movie are now possible. Students either follow the original movie scripts or write out their own.

Choosing movies

There are some criteria which could help teachers make better choice of movies. 

  • Subtitles

It is better to start watching movies with Chinese subtitles, and gradually shift to the ones without subtitles. Subtitles are of great help, and enable students to read, listen and try to understand at the same time. 

  • Standard accent

It is also better to start with the movies where people speak standard Mandarin than the ones which feature local dialects. 

  • Contemporary movies

Contemporary Chinese movies are generally easier to watch than Dynastic ones. They are more relatable.

I’ve selected some classic movies here, Great classic Chinese movies. I had fun watching them and I hope you will enjoy them as well.