ryuuyasha - Dramas for Studying Chinese: General Notes

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One of the key factors for improving your listening comprehension in a language is how often you practice, and even more so, how much you are exposed to the language. Yes, I know - this is not what you want to hear. Many people want to magically get better at a language with only 15 minutes of practice a year. That's not going to cut it.

If you don't have native speakers to chat with regularly, and, well, most of you don't (unless you're learning the language in China!), I recommend getting ahold of the next best thing: TV programming in Chinese. This will get you acclimated to the way people actually use the language, which frequently has little to do with the dictionaries, or many traditionally structured learning environments. The problem with using news sites to study Chinese is that the news uses highly specialized vocabulary delivered at high speed. This is helpful if that's the direction you want to go, but if your aim is to learn how to communicate with actual people, it's not a good resource.

There's another bonus to using entertainment shows as study materials - they're entertaining. Learning and maintaining a language is difficult, and it doesn't help the student if you're sitting through a topic that makes water-torture seem preferable in comparison. Chinese TV shows can be as goofy as all hell and very fun to watch.

So, what kind of shows should you watch? In general, they should be the ones you're interested in. My particular focus is Mandarin Chinese, so that eliminates most of Hong Kong produced shows right off the bat (they use Cantonese). This means that I have two major production sources for my media in Mandarin: China and Taiwan.

The problem with Chinese-produced entertainment has a lot to do with governmental restrictions on anything that can possibly be interpreted as an attack on the government, or showing China in any kind of bad light. This makes it a little difficult for someone to add, say, drama or dramatic tension. Solution? The majority of China's exported TV is historical dramas with some wuxia thrown in. While this might be entertaining if that's the kind of show you like, this limits their usefulness as a study resource. The vocabulary is historical in nature and has little to do with the needs of the modern student.

Taiwan drama is the way to go for an entertaining way to improve your listening. The majority of their shows are known as "idol dramas," or shows that star the latest young pop craze. The acting is mostly hilariously bad, with some exceptions scattered here and there. A student using these dramas can get a good grounding in Mandarin as spoken with a Taiwanese accent, and will also gain some incidental exposure to the Taiwan dialect. Most of the dramas I will be reviewing and creating study guides will be from Taiwan, so keep a lookout on this site if you're interested.