The Benefits of Watching Chinese TV and Movies

Learn from Chinese TV

Watching TV or movies in Chinese is a great way to improve your Chinese, as it teaches you skills you may not normally pick up from traditional books and CDs. If original Chinese shows and movies are too difficult for you, you can start off with Western shows / movies that are dubbed into Chinese, and work your way up from there. DVDs are a great choice for this activity, since they give you the option to control what subtitles you see.

Most Chinese TV / movies are shown with Chinese subtitles. This is obviously a great way to practice your reading since you can try and follow along with the speakers as the subtitles roll by. Don’t worry if you can’t pick out every character – you’ll get better with practice. Your brain will also learn to speed up over time, and you’ll be surprised with what you can read in the future, if you do this regularly.

Once you get really good, you’ll find yourself reading the subtitles faster than the speaker, than using the speaker to check if you got it right. Another option would be to watch the movie with a pause button – giving you time to read as much of the subtitles first, before unpausing it to see if you got it right.

For a different challenge, you can try watching Chinese content with English subtitles. This way your focus can be on the translation of what the speaker is saying. Don’t worry if the content goes by faster than you can process it. You can always repeat it later, to enhance your comprehension.

The trick is to find material that is slightly ahead of what your brain can normally comprehend. If it’s too complicated, your brain will tune out completely, whereas if it’s too easy then there’s no learning involved.

Apart from reading and listening comprehension, there are other benefits that also come from watching this type of content:

  1. Learning interjection particles and when to use them – basically the Chinese versions of “Ooh, wow, huh, ugh” etc. Watch enough content and you’ll find yourself subconsciously spouting out the same particles. That’s when you’ll know that you’ve crossed to the next level!
  2. Learning about Chinese culture – the shows and movies will showcase a variety of contexts such as parties, weddings, funerals and festivities where you’ll get to see how people participate and what types of things go on.
  3. Learning emotions – how do Chinese people react when they are angry, sad, excited, confused etc. What kinds of words and phrases do they use in these contexts?

The beauty of learning from this format is that many of the above points will be taught to you passively, so you can focus on enjoying the content, even though you’re learning so much on the side!

Chinese Exclamation Particles


One way to tell if you are mastering fluency in a language is how well you know the various exclamation particles used in the language, and more importantly whether you can reproduce them when the context is right.

The CLO podcast uses a lot of the particles you’ll see below in the various dialogues throughout the course. Here is a list of the more common ones – some sound and behave very similarly to their English counterparts. Others have similar behavior but with a different sound. Take a look below.

哈哈 / hāhā – Haha

哇 / wā – Wow

啊 / ā – Ah

嘿 / hēi – Hey

哦 / ó – Oh?

嗯 / ēn – Mmn (indicating acknowledgement).

唉 / āi – Indicates surprise

咦 / yí – Also indicates surprise

Since a lot of communication these days takes place on forums and social networking sites like Facebook, it’s common to see these characters sprinkled throughout. You can identify them by the 口 radical they all share.

Business Meetings

Business Meetings

Arranging and having meetings with Chinese counterparts can be a different process than you might see out West. The process is smoother if you already have a relationship with the people beforehand. If they aren’t familiar with you or your company, it is best to provide as much background information as possible. This allows them to decide whether to have the meeting as well as who should take part.

This is important, since it means the proper decision makers can attend. Unlike Western meetings, it is in your interest to bring up the subject of the meeting and all issues to be discussed beforehand, so that no surprises are brought up during the meeting. Once again, this allows the other party to prepare their own views in advance of the meeting itself. Not following this protocol may result in your proposals being received with silence, as time would then be needed to consider them in private.

You may find that Chinese meetings are often scheduled at the last minute. Even where a meeting is proposed by either side well in advance of a particular date, the details are still not usually confirmed until just before the meeting. This is done to avoid last minute changes or cancellations.

Once the meeting begins, it is best to arrive on time – not too early and certainly not too late. If you do end up late, be sure to apologize profusely to avoid the impression that there was any intent in your tardiness.

When entering a meeting room, it is common for Chinese delegates to follow a rank order with the highest ranking official entering first (especially for meetings involving government officials). Since one on one meetings are usually rare, there may be an entourage of participants. Assume that those not introduced are not part of the decision process, but just present as witnesses or assistants.

Like in Western meetings, it is wise to engage in some small talk in the beginning to build up trust, especially when the parties don’t know each other well. The Chinese prefer to do business with those they know, so it is worthwhile to cultivate this aspect first. You may notice that a few key individuals have been assigned to participate in the meeting, while the rest usually remain silent for the majority of the meeting.

After the initial small talk, the host of the meeting will usually welcome the invitees and either present the topic at hand or invite the proposer of the meeting to do so.

The Chinese usually prefer to be on the defensive or receiving side of matters. This allows them to combine their preparation of the meeting beforehand, with time to react to the proposals brought forward by the other party.

During the meeting, it is common for Chinese to use grunts or nods as signs of acknowledgment of what is being said during the meeting. Don’t mistake this for acceptance, as it is just a tacid acknowledgment and doesn’t necessarily suggest agreement.

Unlike normal conversations, the dialogs in meetings tend to be more structured with each side taking turns. As a result, it is common to let the other party do the talking without interrupting until it is your turn, at which point you can go through their points one by one. During this portion, expect them to take detailed notes that may be referred to on later dates or shared with other parties who may have not attended the meeting.

Like in all interactions with Chinese people, it is of crucial importance never to put them on the spot or allow them to lose face.

Towards the end of the meeting, it is best to summarize your understanding of the situation to make sure both parties are clear where things stand. At this point, you can set up a future meeting. The Chinese party’s response here, will let you gauge their interest in continuing things.

Note: For more detailed descriptions of the points in this article, read “Chinese Business Etiquette” by Scott D. Seligman.

Differences Between Chinese and Western Thinking

Differences Between Chinese and Western Thinking

When it comes to etiquette and ways of doing things, there are some key differences between how the Chinese operate versus how Westerners do so. In the latter world, being polite makes you stand out from the crowd. In the Chinese world, politeness is part of a basic set of principles that has to be followed by all. Any deviation from these principles makes you stand out in a negative way. You can see this when you are offered a choice of drink before a meeting or when visiting someone’s house. Even if you politely decline, you will still be offered tea as the default. As the guest, you are allowed to sit through the entire visit without even touching the cup, since the host was just doing his duty by offering it to you, despite your personal preference to decline.

During group meetings, a Westerner is more likely to bring up arguments or disagree with the topic at hand. Chinese values would require the person to keep his opinions to himself in such an environments. Any disagreements he may have with a speaker could be brought up later in a more private forum, giving the speaker face in the process. Understanding this nature within Chinese people is important, since it is easy to otherwise assume that their silence indicates agreement. In some cases, a third party may be used to convey negative news from one side to another, in order to avoid confrontations.

This same situation can also be observed in personal relationships between a Westerner and a Chinese, where the latter’s silence on matters and propensity to not confront, could erroneously suggest to the former that all is well in the relationship, when that might not be the case. (Personal note: I have experienced this first hand, when a former girlfriend broke up with me out of the blue, when I thought all was well. When I asked for more details, she came up with a list of issues that she had never mentioned during the relationship, all out of a desire to not induce confrontation). Not being up front with your opinions and ideas might be considered rude in Western culture, whereas in Chinese culture it is considered polite, since by doing so they are allowing you to save face.

Another big difference in thinking between Chinese and Western societies is the difference between “friends” and “strangers.” Assistance between Chinese parties is only given to those in the “inner circle” which is why the concept of guanxi is so important. This is also why it is so important to keep making contacts in order to enter the circles of others. The flip side of this, is that help is rarely given to strangers or people without any relationship. You rarely see beggars on the streets in Chinese communities, and those you do see are usually seen approaching foreigners, whome they are more likely to get assistance from. It is also common for people to not stop and help others during vehicle accidents, so as not to get involved with people they don’t know.

Where a Chinese person does assist one of his friends (whether directly or indirectly), this assistance is noted by both sides. An equivalent payback of some sorts is then expected in the future. During weddings and occasions where red envelopes are exchanged, the amounts of money given and the donors are duly noted since the same amount would be expected to be paid back at future events. Chinese New Year (which is coming up soon) is useful for clearing “debts” among friends in this manner.

The conclusion from all of this, when comparing Chinese versus their Western counterparts, is that the former are more likely to go out of their way to help friends and people in their circle of influence, whereas the latter are more likely to go out and help strangers. Understanding this culture is very valuable in determining where assistance should be given to others, as well as what is expected of you if you receive it. When rejecting others’ offers or requests of help, it is best to do so with a polite excuse rather than a flat out refusal, in order to maintain the dignity of the relationship.

Learning Chinese through Setting Goals

Navigating the long road ahead

When I first came to Taiwan, I assumed I would pick up Chinese without much effort. After all, I was constantly exposed to it everywhere I went, so even if I didn’t want to, I would automatically learn, right?

A year later, feeling like I hadn’t learned much, I realized that things didn’t quite work this way. I actually had to put in effort to learn the language. To make things easier on myself, I decided to focus on listening and speaking only. Learning to read and write characters just seemed like too much for me.

Three years later, while I don’t consider myself fluent by any means, I have learned a lot about the learning process, especially through creating the CLO course and communicating with listeners.

Through this process, I have tried to create the tools that would have helped me the most, were I to start learning again from the start. Like anything else you want to accomplish in life, it can be highly beneficial to set goals for yourself when you have a long, arduous task in front of you.

When you begin, it may look like a long road ahead from the start to the day you consider yourself fluent. However, with some due diligence you can find that the goal isn’t as far off as you think.

Many people “want” to learn Chinese, but give up early when they realize how many characters they would have to learn to be literate. Constantly being bombarded with new vocabulary, while easily forgetting old words can also make it easy to give up. What I have found is that having a system of learning greatly reduces the complexity of this process. This system can be broken down into 4 steps.

  1. Determine where you are
  2. Determine where you want to be
  3. Set a time frame to reach your goals
  4. Allocate the time necessary to reach your goals

So for example, if your goal is to be able to write characters, set a goal of how many characters you want to know.

Looking at our course, you need to know about 500 characters to get through level 1 and level 2. A moderate pace would take you a year to finish two levels (you can adjust this pace for yourself). This means you would need to learn 1.36 characters a day to achieve your goal. All of a sudden that doesn’t sound so hard, does it?

Learning to write characters usually involves writing it over and over again. You can practice using the worksheets we’ve created for you here along with our new character introductions. For me personally, I have a habit of writing 50 characters (half the worksheet) each day. This is a combination of new characters and reviewing old characters.

It is important to note that this process is MUCH harder up front. Of those 500 characters, over a hundred are introduced in the first ten lessons. This means a lot of time will be spent up front where it seems like you aren’t making progress. However, once you’ve made it past those ten lessons, all of a sudden things become much easier.

New characters will be easier to learn since they will mostly be based on characters or elements you already know. Plus you will find yourself spending less time on stroke order since it will now be more natural to you.

A similar process can be used for learning new words with the new memorization mode on our flashcard program. Choose a range of lessons and learn the vocabulary associated with them by logging in once a day.

By dividing up the chore of learning into daily, manageable steps, you will find the process much easier, as you will actually be learning something new each day. The above steps add about 30 minutes to my daily routine, but the results have been much better than the haphazard, plan-less program I was using previously. The way I look at it, another year will pass whether I put in daily effort or not. This way though, I know exactly where I will be a year from now, rather than just hoping I have improved.