Dan Poole
About Author
October 16, 2020

How to Improve your Listening in Chinese

Improving your listening in Chinese is the top skill you should focus on while learning Chinese. But improving your listening isn’t as simple as turning on Chinese radio and expecting your listening to magically get better.

Therefore, in this guide, I share 5 tips to help you take your listening to higher levels.

Note: Some of the links below are affiliate links, which means that at no extra cost to you, we may be compensated if you decide to use one of these services. We want to be completely transparent with you about our affiliation with these companies but also want to assure you that we personally use each of these resources and wouldn’t recommend them if we didn’t love them ourselves!

Tip #1: Do as many listening exercises as you can stomach

Listening exercises are the primary driver to improve your listening. As listening exercises generally pair up questions with a listening dialogue, actively listen for new content and process the information more than you normally would in a more passive listening activity like watching Chinese TV.

If you are enrolled in a Chinese course, it’s likely your textbook is filled with plenty of listening exercises or will be

assigned by your teacher. Try to do them over again throughout the semester to keep the material fresh in your mind and to pick up new content you previously could not understand.

If you are not currently enrolled in a course, you can find plenty of listening exercises within any HSK test prep textbook.

While living in China, I was also able to find many great listening exercises within test prep books for ethnic minorities learning Chinese (民族汉考). Should you be in China, visit your local Xinhua bookstore to purchase HSK or Minzu Hankao test books. You can also find HSK test prep books on Amazon as well.

Tip #2: Focus on listening content suitable to your level

If you are a beginning learner, you are not at all likely to improve your listening, let alone understand anything when watching a film in Chinese. All of this amounts to wasted time.

Therefore, prioritize content that is specific to your listening level. This way you are likely to understand most of the language you hear and the items you don’t are small in number and easier to pick out to learn.

Therefore you need to be really selective in choosing listening environments suitable to your level.

Tip #3: Be selective on listening topics

You should improve your listening topic by topic. When listening to something incredibly broad like a radio broadcast, it is incredibly difficult to discover the topic and the conversation can shift once you have some idea on what the hosts are talking about.

Instead, prioritize listening activities where:

  • You know the topic in advance and don’t need to waste time guessing about what the speakers are talking about
  • Have done prior study or have a basic understanding of vocabulary and grammar specific to the topic
  • The topic is relevant to you and can be used in your current studies

The last point above is EXTREMELY important. Should you want to learn how to order food, focus on listening exercises about visiting a restaurant. Don’t listen to a lecture on ancient Chinese diets as you will not use any of that information (assuming you can understand it) when ordering Chinese takeout.

Tip #4: Choose your listening environments in China wisely

For folks learning Mandarin in China, try frequenting areas where you are likely to listen to a topic that you want to learn.

Let’s imagine your goal is to improve your listening on shopping. The best way to do this in China is to visit busy shopping areas and listen to locals bargaining for goods or do the bargaining yourself.

Avoid the perception that just being in China and any conversation you have with a local will improve your listening in Chinese. Instead, find areas where you are likely to immerse yourself in a topic of use and interest to you.

Tip #5: Use tools like ChinesePod as a primary resource for listening content

Relying solely on your textbooks will only introduce you to a small sliver of content you should be learning. For exposure to a vast amount of listening content on relevant topics, try out ChinesePod.

ChinesePod has a library of over 3,500 practical audio and video lessons geared towards improving your Chinese.

The best part is ChinesePod is FUN and makes learning Chinese less of a chore and something you look forward to doing.

ChinesePod’s learning approach is also really effective in allowing you to choose what you want to learn at your own level and pace. It also mimics the way we learn our first language by focusing on listening rather than reading.

Another plus is you can try the product free for 2 weeks with their premium free-trial. What’s more is ChinesePod is offering a 25% off a premium subscription to readers of this blog. To take advantage of this offer, enter the promotion code “Learn Mandarin” when checking-out.

Final Thoughts

Lastly, it’s important to keep in mind that your listening isn’t something that is going to greatly improve overnight and requires consistent practice and dedication. If you do that along with applying the tips above to your studies, I guarantee it will pay off real soon!

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