When I began learning Chinese in 2003, my access to media resources was very limited.
Television and radio is an excellent readily available source when you’re in China, but as a beginner, these will be far too difficult to rely on as a primary study method.
The main media sources I used in the early days were a TV show called ‘Communicating in Chinese交际汉语,’ and VCDs of pop songs.
Communicating in Chinese was a TV show hosted by a well known Canadian in China called Mark Roswell. I used to watch his show regularly late in the evening, and over half an hour or so, he would introduce and talk about a particular theme for that day. Then, the audience is shown an acted scene, followed by a breakdown of key words, pronunciation and grammatical structures.
As a beginner, the level was a little difficult to keep up with, but I persevered by focusing on the vocabulary and grammar, and did gain benefit from it.
The VCDs were a great method for learning Chinese quickly and impressing local friends and colleagues.
These were the days when video piracy was still extremely blatant. Local stalls would display copied DVDs of the latest Hollywood films for around six Yuan, and whole VCD albums of pop songs were available for a similar price.
Incidentally, the pirated films and music went more and more underground over the years. For a while, they would be available in a back room upon request, but along with the advent of online media platforms, they are virtually non existent nowadays.
The video CDs had the advantage of having karaoke style subtitles at the bottom of the screen as the lyrics were being sung. This meant that you could pause the video of a song you liked, and use a dictionary or write the characters into mobile phone dictionary. The task was a lot more laborious than what would be necessary today, but it did play an important role in improving my Chinese early days.
The most important breakthrough in media based Mandarin learning is Eileen’s Youtube channel ‘ Mandarin Corner.’
She has a wide range of videos suited to different levels of Chinese, from beginner to advanced, and covers an extensive range of subjects from basic communication, social phenomena and trends, travel, culture, and interviews with the Chinese public on issues of interest to a worldwide audience, such as their views on dating foreign men and women.
Her videos all come across as very natural and professional. Eileen has a great presentation style, and you’ll find she possesses a great charm that will make you enjoy watching. There is none of that stiffness and cheesy effect you get with acted and choreographed scenes.
For me, and I expect for most others, nothing would make me reach for the off button more quickly than falling behind and becoming discouraged. However, Eileen succeeds where almost all others have failed.
Not only does she speak clearly at an understandable pace, she saves you masses of effort by displaying up to three sets of subtitles simultaneously, original Chinese, the romanised version of ‘Pinyin,’ and sometimes also in English.
In this way, you will always keep up as long as you have chosen the level best suited to you, and can take advantage of the free materials she makes available, like PDF transcripts and flashcards, to help you consolidate and revise what you have learnt.
I just wish I had Mandarin Corner available when I first started learning Chinese.
You can find the links to her channel and website in the menu.