5 Practical Tips to Improve Chinese Listening Skills
All language learners know that listening is one of the hardest skills to master. Sure, you can practice speaking, but how people speak, such as their speed, accent, sentence structure, etc, and how we comprehend what they are saying.
But no fears. We will review the challenges for Chinese learners and then review 5 practice tips to improve Chinese listening comprehension skills.
Let’s dive in.
What makes Chinese listening difficult?
Having a good understanding of what makes listening to Chinese difficult will help you improve your Chinese listening.
1. There are various non-standard Chinese accents.
Various of Chinese dialects | Babbel
If you did not know, the term 普通话 (Pǔtōnghuà) is known to be the standard language, Mandarin, used in mainland China in communication, such as in school and news media.
However, only ⅓ of Chinese people (about 400 million people) do not speak Pǔtōnghuà because there are many regional and local dialects, including Cantonese, Shanghainese, Beijing dialect, Hokkien, Hakka, Sichuanese, etc.An explanation of different Chinese accents | Grace Mandarin Chinese
So, it’s common to hear native speakers speak Mandarin with accents from other dialects, making it harder for Chinese learners to grasp.
Even though there are plenty of Chinese listening comprehension practices, listening to real-life speakers can throw you off. Thus, it’s always best to be aware of the multiple accents and tones that people can speak with and try to recognize the patterns that appear the most in spoken Chinese.
2. Chinese tones are challenging to master.
As a tonal language, many Chinese words have similar or the same pronunciation with different tones and meanings. Suppose your ears are not used to hearing the differences in the tones. In that case, it makes it difficult to know the sentence's meaning, which can cause miscommunication.
Not only do you have to pronounce each word correctly, but you also have to follow common tone rules to understand what Chinese people are saying.
3. Be careful of homonyms.
Once you know the tones, there are still homonyms (words with the same pronunciation but different meanings) to look out for. For example:
The key to solving this problem is to pay attention to tones and the context based on the conversation’s background and topic.
4. Chinese native speakers have a variety of synonyms.
Like many languages, there is no word to describe something, also known as synonyms. Therefore, the lack of Chinese vocabulary can create trouble when listening to spoken Chinese.
Synonyms are words or phrases that have the same meaning. For example, we have happy, cheerful, merry, and joy in English with similar meanings. The same logic applies in Chinese. So say happy in Chinese, you can have:
You might know how to say 快樂 (kuàilè) for happy, but what happens if the other person uses 欣喜 (xīnxǐ) or 歡樂 (huānlè) and you don’t have those in your vocabulary set.
Thus, one solution is to take the time to learn and use similar words to express your ideas.
5. The world is full of ambient noise and distractions.
In the real world, conversations don’t happen in silent rooms.
Outside, ambient noise and distractions can make listening to Chinese more difficult, such as background noise, the hustle and bustle sounds of rush hour, and other people around you.
While we can’t eliminate these distractions, we can learn and practice staying focused on the main topic.
5 practical tips to improve Chinese listening
Tip 1. Set your listening goal
Seeing your goals gives you a tangible and realistic aspiration to strive for. Knowing what you want to achieve will help you know what to focus on and the steps to reach it.
For example, an easy Chinese listening practice goal can be to listen to a podcast for 5 minutes or have a short conversation with a native Chinese speaker for a week.
Once you’ve reached that level, you can set a more difficult goal, such as listening to a podcast for 20 minutes or incorporating a more complex topic into your conversation.
These types of short-term goals will improve your Chinese listening skills.
Tip 2. Focus on Chinese listening content suitable to your level
While it’s important to focus on the material at your current skill level, it’s even better to have content that is slightly above your level to have you constantly try to challenge and push your listening abilities further.
This approach encourages active engagement and gradual improvement, helping you expand your language comprehension dynamically.
If you are a beginner, it is best to listen to Chinese audio or podcasts that are learning materials such as Chinese grammar or easy conversation dialogues might be best.
Tip 3. Choose appropriate listening topics
Another effective way to improve your Chinese listening skills is to listen to various topics.
While radio broadcasts are a good listening source, their topics are broad and can be advanced. Once you know what the host is discussing, they might change to another topic.
So instead, focus on the following:
Advanced topics. Please don’t waste your time figuring out what they are talking about
Have a basic understanding of Chinese vocabulary and grammar
Have the topic be appropriate and can be used in your studies
The last point is EXTREMELY important. For example, if you want to understand Chinese history talk shows, then visiting Chinese museums and exhibitions is a good idea.
Tip 4. Chinese listening resources to use
Chinese online learning platforms
Finding good learning Chinese resources is crucial, especially if you are self-studying.
One of the best Chinese online learning platforms is Pandanese. It is a web-based Mandarin learning platform that helps users master Chinese in a fun, relaxed, and effective way with SRS and mnemonics to build up your Chinese vocabulary.
There are 3 learning purposes: school, business, or travel. Each Pandanese lesson will give you a batch of flashcards with the relevant Chinese radicals, characters or vocabulary, audio of pronunciation, and the mnemonics to remember them.
After a lesson, you will review what you’ve just learned. Then after a set time, you will review older flashcards based on the spaced repetition system to use your active recall.
Unlike traditional Chinese lessons, you don’t need to sit down and study at a fixed time of the day. Instead, you can learn with Pandanese anytime, anywhere, with only a smartphone or laptop and a good internet connection.
Chinese podcasts are a great choice to improve your Chinese listening.
With a podcast, you can listen to a native speaker anytime, anywhere—exercising, on the bus, waiting for your train, and before bed.
However, it’s best to understand the podcast in Chinese, so this choice is more suitable for intermediate and advanced learners.
Some popular podcasts include:
Slow Chinese (link here)
ChinesePod (link here)
Talk Chineasy (link here)
Coffee Break Chinese (link here)
You can find more helpful Chinese podcasts on iTunes or Spotify.
Bonus: You can also listen to Chinese music to immerse yourself in the language's rhythm and melodies, further enhancing your listening skills.
Chinese TV shows
Chinese TV shows are a great option because of the context and visual clues of what is happening. So you can follow with action and plot of the show even if you don’t understand what they are saying.
There are plenty of Chinese TV channels on Roku and Chinese shows on Netflix. The genre ranges from fantasy shows dating shows, and game shows. Many sites have both the native language and English subtitles, allowing you to understand what is happening fully.
Tip 5. Attend Chinese seminars or talk shows of your specialty
If you are an advanced listener, you can check out any seminar that is in Chinese. These seminars are very specific on a topic or field of study that you might be interested in.
You can join any relevant seminar, webinar, talk show, or conference.
Since the topic interests you, you are more engaged and can enhance your listening ability. So, you can look for these events in Chinese communities, at your college, or in specialized Chinese classes.
Frequently asked questions
How do I prepare for Chinese listening comprehension?
First, know your current listening skill level so you can gradually progress to more challenging materials. With consistent practice and engaging topics, you improve your skills with podcasts, audiobooks, and newscasts. Even if it is for 5-20 minutes of your time, your listening skills will progressively improve.
Can you learn Chinese by listening?
Yes, you can. While it will improve your listening skills, it can also improve your Chinese pronunciation, vocabulary, and overall language comprehension. However, combining listening with other language learning methods like reading, speaking, and writing is recommended for a well-rounded Chinese learning experience.
The bottom line
Your Chinese listening skills aren’t something that you can improve overnight. It requires consistent practice and dedication.
However, remember the common challenges when to improve Chinese listening skills and apply our tips to your overall study.