Chinese listening practice is essential for anyone who wants to master the language. Listening is a skill that takes time and practice to develop, but it is worth the effort. Being a competent listener unlocks the door to communication with native speakers and enjoyment of a wide range of Chinese media such as movies and TV shows. In this article, we present tips on how to improve Chinese listening, along with a selection of recommended listening practice resources which can be beneficial for learners of different levels. Even if you only have 5 spare minutes a day, you can do this!
How to improve Chinese listening
Chinese listening isn’t easy. But the good news is, it will get easier with more time and practice. The more you practice listening in Chinese, the faster you will improve, and the sooner you’ll be able to enjoy more advanced, more interesting content – and have more in-depth conversations without getting totally lost!
Tips on how to improve Chinese listening while maintaining motivation
Use reading as a foundation for listening
Why mention reading in an article about listening practice? Because it is a good idea to develop both skills in tandem, as they help to reinforce one another. These days, many of the digital tools we recommend to study Chinese (such as digital graded readers) incorporate native-speaker audio and text in one package. As well as taking advantage of such tools, it is recommended to actively push yourself to improve your reading and listening comprehension. Cultivate a daily reading habit and try to increase your reading speed, little by little. Faster reading comprehension supports faster listening comprehension.
Stop translating in your head
A significant barrier to effective listening in Chinese is attempting to translate what you hear into English before formulating a response. This is not only highly inefficient, it will also significantly impair your communication in real-life settings. Instead, you have to train yourself to think in Chinese. Though difficult at first, it will prove worthwhile and become more natural in the long term.
Get used to Chinese sentence patterns
English and Chinese sentences are structured differently. While in English you may hear the crucial information at the beginning or end of a sentence, in Chinese it may appear elsewhere in the sentence, contrary to your expectations. This is another compelling reason to stop thinking in English and train yourself to think in Chinese instead. The more you practice listening in Chinese, the easier and more effortless it becomes.
Listen at your own pace and take note of new vocabulary
Chinese vocabulary has very little overlap with English vocabulary. Whereas an English native speaker might understand the gist of, say, Spanish audio even with a very low level of Spanish, the same is not true of Chinese; as Chinese learners we need to work much harder on growing our vocabulary and getting used to a large number of homophones (shi 是, shi 试, shi 事, shi 室, etc). That’s why we should opt for audio aimed at Chinese learners, spoken at a pace that is natural yet comfortable to listen to.
It is recommended to spend at least some of your time on active listening, paying attention to what you hear, and identifying new words. When you hear a word you don’t understand, take a note of the pronunciation (write it down in pinyin if it helps), and look up the meaning. Pleco Chinese dictionary is an excellent tool for this purpose. Then, you can save new words to your preferred vocabulary or flashcard app for later review.
Being busy, as most of us are, can be a barrier to making rapid progress in a language – especially if you don’t live in a Chinese-speaking environment. However, it’s possible to recreate an immersive environment, wherever you are in the world. Whenever you have some free time (e.g. while commuting, doing housework, or going for a walk), take the opportunity to listen to a Chinese podcast or audiobook. Even if it’s just five or ten minutes here and there, it all adds up, and you are maximizing the time that you DO have instead of sacrificing other activities. Read on for some Chinese podcast recommendations.
For advanced learners
For advanced learners wondering how to improve Chinese listening skills, a higher level of challenge is needed, so some of the recommendations in this article may not apply to you. Fortunately, you are more equipped to handle authentic content aimed at native speakers: that opens up a world of Chinese movies, TV shows, online vlogs, and podcasts. Check out The Chairman’s Bao material for HSK level 6 and above, and read on to discover some podcasts that provide advanced content.
Top 11 resources for Chinese listening practice
The Chairman’s Bao
Suitable for: All levels
With 1000s of Chinese articles to study, The Chairman’s Bao is a go-to source of Chinese reading material for HSK levels 1 to 6+… but more than that, it is also an excellent resource to learn Chinese listening skills. Firstly, every article comes with native-speaker audio. Listen along as you read the text, or download the audio file to do Chinese listening practice on-the-go.
Additionally, The Chairman’s Bao articles have interactive reading and listening activities. You can opt to do both at the same time, or just do the listening part, if you want to focus on Chinese listening practice. Each quiz should take around 10-20 minutes to complete, and you receive an instant grade on completion.
Besides taking the quiz, here are some further ways to extend your Mandarin listening practice with The Chairman’s Bao:
- Listen to the audio before reading the text. This way, you have to rely on your listening skills, and try to guess the meaning of unknown words based on context (a useful skill to develop).
- Use the audio to train your ear to Mandarin. For a change, try paying attention to the form, instead of the meaning; for example, you can identify where one sentence ends and a new sentence begins.
- As you listen, identify 3-5 new words and look them up in a dictionary (Pleco is one of the best). Note the meanings, then listen again now that you are familiar with the words.
- Train your ear for specific information. Again, without reading the text, listen for key words like numbers or dates (which occur frequently in The Chairman’s Bao news stories). Write down any numbers that you hear and then check your accuracy with the text.
- After listening, write a summary of the article’s key points, either in English (easier) or in Mandarin (harder!).
Suitable for: All levels
Dong Chinese is a comprehensive learning platform where videos are your lessons. You can search for your favorite content creators or filter by HSK level. Every video is accompanied by an interactive transcript, so the user can click on words/characters to see the pinyin and an English translation. This can be expanded to reveal additional (and very useful) information, such as word frequency statistics and example sentences. Dong Chinese provides an immersive listening experience that makes authentic content more accessible for learners.
Suitable for: Upper-Beginner to Advanced
Maayot is a Chinese listening and reading platform offering weekly (free) or daily (paid) content. Subscribe to the free podcast and you’ll get one new episode a week, available for three different levels: beginner, intermediate and advanced. Beginner recordings are based on short dialogues, while higher-level content is oriented around Chinese news and current affairs. The paid service includes a daily email with audio and interactive text. One benefit of Maayot is consistency and repetition for enhanced memorization; the daily stories recycle vocabulary often, so that newly-learned words are more likely to stick.
Suitable for: All levels
Mandarin Monkey offers a whole package of tools to help improve your Chinese listening. There is a free podcast in “Chinglish”, where you’ll hear the husband-and-wife duo having interesting discussions in both English and Chinese (for lower-level learners it is much less arduous for your brain to process Chinglish, compared with 100% Chinese content). Downloading the Mandarin Monkey app unlocks additional content, and a paid subscription includes RuHe “how to” guides, 100% Mandarin podcast episodes, and calming ASMR-style Chinese recordings to help you sleep.
Chinese with DaPeng
Suitable for: Intermediate learners
Podcast host DaPeng offers weekly authentic Chinese audio where he breaks down Chinese expressions and idioms, role-plays simple dialogues in everyday Chinese, and interviews Chinese learners from around the world who share their stories and tips. DaPeng and his guests speak at a natural pace, that is accessible enough for the intermediate learner to pick up new vocabulary while searching for unknown words in a dictionary (another recommendation for the Pleco app!).
Learn Chinese Through Stories
Suitable for: Intermediate to Advanced
This is another free podcast recorded by two engaging hosts who are Chinese native speakers. On Learn Chinese Through Stories, you’ll find hours and hours of material to help you learn Chinese listening skills. The hosts speak at a natural pace in everyday conversational Chinese, and they provide helpful explanations of new vocabulary and unfamiliar concepts. The podcast is in 100% Mandarin, but they offer supplementary English materials and transcripts via their Patreon page.
Suitable for: All levels
Ninchanese is a great way to get into Chinese as a beginner, and it caters to more advanced learners too. It is excellent for learning to read characters and memorize vocabulary. It also has a listening component, which is different to anything I’ve seen elsewhere: you have to listen to a dialogue, sentence by sentence, and type exactly what you hear (type in pinyin and choose the correct characters). The system gives you instant feedback, and if you made a mistake, you get the opportunity to listen again and correct your answer. Since Ninchanese is a structured course, the listening exercises are helpfully aligned to the vocabulary and grammar you’ve just learned.
One Chinese Word A Day
Suitable for: All levels
In this bitesize daily podcast, EverydayEasyChinese presents a new character along with its basic meaning, plus three examples of words which contain the character: e.g. 票 (ticket), 发票 (receipt), 门票 (admission ticket), 选票 (ballot). The teacher also gives example sentences for each new word. This podcast is therefore a fantastic free resource for getting daily exposure to Chinese listening, as well as improving your vocabulary!
Suitable for: All levels
LingQ is a popular platform for accessing listening and reading material in multiple world languages, including Chinese. LingQ lessons come with audio and an interactive transcript, where each word or phrase can be clicked and saved to your vocabulary bank. The LingQ library is vast, and may be a little overwhelming for beginner learners (if that is you, consider The Chairman’s Bao or Ninchanese instead, which are more beginner-friendly and easier to navigate). There is a LingQ Chinese podcast, most suitable for advanced learners, where you’ll hear speakers of various accents and walks of life being interviewed about their experiences.
Suitable for: Intermediate
This is another fantastic podcast for busy Chinese learners, with most episodes clocking in at under 10 minutes. The host, Molly, speaks clearly and at a suitable pace for learners. She provides authentic insights into modern life in China, which you would be unlikely to hear from official sources – for example, recent topics include emerging social trends, Chinese celebrities, and experiences of LGBTQ+ people in China. Best of all, every MaoMi Chinese episode has a transcript and English translation available on the website.
GoEast Mandarin Chinese Listening Practice
Suitable for: Beginner to Intermediate
GoEast Mandarin share a series of video-based lessons for Chinese listening practice on their website. Each lesson features a short story read by a native speaker, with a sentence-by-sentence breakdown, including Chinese, pinyin, and English. Story themes are based on everyday life, Chinese culture, and common grammatical structures.
As we have seen, there is no shortage of Chinese listening practice material available online for learners of all levels – and much of it can be enjoyed for free. If we have focused more heavily on beginner to intermediate learners in this article, it’s because that category of learners may have more difficulty finding suitable listening material in Chinese, whereas advanced learners have easier access to native Chinese content.
So, whatever your language level, however busy you are, and wherever you are in the world, take advantage of these excellent resources to create an immersive experience and practice listening in Chinese on-the-go. Your communication skills, cultural understanding, enjoyment and mastery of the language are sure to improve as a result of your efforts.
Daisy Ward is an experienced online English teacher, writer and content creator with a passion for foreign languages and cultures. Her expertise in effective language-learning strategies is derived from many years in language classrooms, both as a teacher and as a student. Fluent in French and competent in Mandarin Chinese, she attributes much of her success in learning languages to the use of apps and other online tools.