Improving Listening Skills In Chinese


“Didn’t you understand or are you being disobedient?”

When I was an elementary level Chinese learner I felt that listening was perhaps the most difficult skill in Chinese. I could write a few hundred characters already, the grammar wasn’t that hard yet and I thought I was ready for conversations with the locals. But then I noticed how hard it was to understand what everyone was saying around me!

Recently I received an email from a reader asking for help on how to improve his listening skills in Chinese. That gave me an idea to go over what different methods and tools I’ve used during the years that have resulted listening being my best skill of all four (listening, speaking, reading and writing).


How I improved my listening skills on different levels


One of the first Chinese learning tools I discovered back in the day was ChinesePod (affiliate link). Funny and super useful podcasts on all the possible topics imaginable. I downloaded a bunch of podcasts to my mp3 player and listened to them whenever I had extra time. These days there are lots of podcasts available besides ChinesePod, like ChineseClass101. (affiliate link)

I’ve always taken Chinese classes, starting from 2008, but with listening skills you need to do a lot of work outside the formal classes in order to improve. My next discovery in Summer 2011 was Happy Chinese TV show that features an American Susan living in China, aiming to teach Chinese to beginners and elementary learners. I watched tens of episodes during those months.


I also wanted to try some real Chinese TV, shows that are meant for the natives and locals. I found out, that dating shows are usually on the easy side when it comes to vocabulary and topics. After all, it all revolves around love, marriage, daily life and dating. Shows that I watched weekly include the most famous 非诚勿扰.

Later when I got my two feet steadily into the intermediate phase, I started to watch even more TV shows. Recommended drama series include 夫妻那些事, 裸婚时代 and 爱的蜜方. Unfortunately I find it hard to find Chinese shows that I enjoy, but at the same time it’s been very crucial when improving my listening skills in an entertaining and easy way. I never took notes or stopped the video for checking my dictionary, even though that of course would speed up my learning. For recommendations on specific TV series, check out Chinese-Forums’ topic.


Now on the advanced level I can watch Chinese drama without headaches, it’s not necessary to understand 100% to enjoy a show. If you live in China, Youku is your best friend in finding both easy and advanced videos in Chinese. This year I’ve found 飞碟说 (also on Youtube!) short videos, that offer a huge challenge in form of vocabulary and super fast speech.

Another thing that I’ve tried recently is listen to podcasts in Chinese on different topics. With my iPhone I can easily find listening material, like CRI 成长你我他 which features podcasts about education. By clicking the name of the show you can find these podcasts online with transcripts.


One piece of advice on how to improve listening skills in Chinese

How I have learned my listening skills in Chinese is probably far from perfect and far from the ideal route. I can’t concentrate on hours on something that doesn’t interest me and I can’t make my self to check the dictionary during the plot twists of a TV drama.

We all have to find out best way to learn. If you are a diligent student, perhaps you enjoy checking unfamiliar words and characters more often than I. Maybe you even make notes of the podcasts you listen and input the new words to a flash card software. You can find lots of amazing articles on how to learn listening on Hacking Chinese, the best blog out there to tell you how to learn Chinese.

In order not to overwhelm you, I give you only one tip and that’s the most important of them all.

Listen as much as you can.

Listen material that is one level above you, that you can follow but also offers you a challenge. Listen to podcasts, radio shows, TV and movies you love and enjoy. Notice how you can understand words and phrases you have learned from your textbooks or from your formal classes. Fill your smart phone or mp3 player with Chinese listening material to be listened when commuting, exercising or cooking.


This is how I have improved my listening over the years. Now I would like to hear what tools and methods you are using. Please leave a comment with your story!

If you have any questions about learning Chinese, I’m more than happy to answer those in the comments as well.


Good Chinese Wife – A Love Affair With China Gone Wrong

Good Chinese Wife Cover

Good Chinese Wife by Susan Blumberg-Kason is the must read book this year about China and international relationships. In this memoir Susan describes how she moves to Hong Kong for her master’s degree and by chance meets a handsome Chinese guy from Mainland China. On nightly tutoring sessions Susan and Cai fall in love, getting into a totally new adventure for Susan.

Unfortunately after getting married in Hong Kong, things slowly start to change and Susan finds herself making excuses behalf of her new husband. But whether it’s just about cultural differences or if it goes to fundamental differences between two people, that’s often hard to know at first.

“I wanted to respect Cai’s culture and show his parents that I enjoyed their cooking and appreciated their hospitality, but at the same time, I feared I’d grow resentful if I didn’t start standing up for myself.”

I don’t remember when I heard about Good Chinese Wife first, but I was thrilled when Jocelyn from Speaking of China contacted me and gave me the opportunity to review the memoir. And even be part of the official book tour! I finished the whole book in two days! Just couldn’t let it out of my hands once I started reading it. As I got married with my Chinese guy this year, I could in some regards relate to Susan’s story of how it’s like to fall in love with someone from a totally different culture.

I could relate to the excitement Susan had when she first sees Cai and how eagerly she waited for their every meeting. In some regard I also related to their visits to Cai’s parents, where she was first very polite and made sure to give a good impression. But soon she also learned an important thing, you have to be true to yourself if you want to be happy in your new family. According to her beliefs she didn’t eat pork and often politely declined cheering with alcohol.

“Until now I thought the strains we’d had in our marriage stemmed from cultural differences. But now I was beginning to consider whether the problems might be due to character, not to culture.”

Throughout the book you can feel how deeply Susan loves Cai and does everything she can to save their marriage. Her touching words and stories got me into tears the further read. With her book Susan is being so amazingly brave to let us all in to her life, openly sharing even the most bitter twists and turns in their love story.

Good Chinese Wife – A Love Affair With China Gone Wrong is a remarkable honest account of what happens when you fall head over your heels into love, without actually knowing the real person standing next to you. It’s the pain that comes when you start learning the ugly little truths about your loved one, when your heart still wants to make excuses for that person, thinking there might still be a good explanation for all the strange incidents.

I wholeheartedly recommend Susan Blumberg-Kason’s Good Chinese Wife to all of my readers. By reading the book you get an insider’s view of being a member of a Chinese family, how hard it can be to accept the truth that your international marriage isn’t what you bargained for and how brave you can be when it’s time to protect you and your child.

Susan Blumberg-Kason author photoSusan Blumberg-Kason is a freelance journalist in Chicago. As a child growing up in suburban Chicago, she dreamed of the neon street signs and double-decker buses of Hong Kong. In her late teens, she left for a year abroad in Hong Kong and ended up spending most of the twenties there. She studied Mandarin and completed a master’s degree in political science at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Susan is now back in the Chicago area, where she lives with her family. Her work has appeared in many newspapers and magazines. You can find her online at www.susanbkason.com.

Good Chinese Wife is now available for pre-orders on Amazon, click here to order your own copy of my favorite book of the year. If you decide to purchase the book through affiliate links in this post, you will also help to support my blog, thank you!


What it’s like to be on a Chinese TV quiz show


My first appearance on Chinese TV came this July when I participated in the quiz show called Hello中国 (Hello China). Guangdong TV Station started the show in May 2014, so it’s a relatively new show in television. Every week they broadcast one show, where four foreign contestants answer questions about Chinese language and culture.

People who work in the show business probably know, that what you see on TV is very far from what is happening behind the scenes. That’s what I learned as well when I jumped right into the world of making a Chinese TV show.

After the interview in June we were given dates to shoot our introduction videos to be shown on TV. My video was shot at our home, showing how well my mother-in-law cares for me, albeit sometimes a bit too much. Shooting this very short video clip took three hours and multiple takes from different angles. The two guys shooting the video were very nice and in the end did a nice job!

Then it was time to shoot the actual quiz show. Me and the three other foreigners arrived to the TV station on Saturday morning. We started with make-up and hair, all to make us look pretty and handsome in front of the cameras. The staff had asked me to wear my wedding qipao to the show and I felt amazing wearing it again with proper make-up and a nice hair-do.

Hello中国 isn’t a live show, but in order for everything to go smoothly we practiced the show a little bit before lunch. Where we needed to stand, how should we react to the host asking us questions and what to do when the winner is finally revealed in the end. I started to get a bit excited, but also a lot nervous.

Luckily we had gotten a rough written outline of the show beforehand, with some lines to remembers, central themes of the topics and even hints to the questions that would be asked. I knew that we couldn’t go without preparing, as the TV show needs to be entertaining to the viewers.


After a take-away lunch we started the four-hour shooting. It really takes a long time to create a show that on TV lasts one hour, and still most of the situations were shot only once. I could see that the staff was professional and the two hosts, one Chinese and one foreign, fit the job perfectly.

When we had shorts breaks in shooting, the TV station staff would come to us and remind us to be more active, make more funny comments and just be more entertaining. I was happy to hear that they seemed to be pleased with my performance and I did my best to forget my previous nervousness and help everyone to make a good show. And it was a lot of fun!

Things didn’t go without problems of course. I accidentally called my husband (he and his mother were in the audience) kaifang (often understood as unconstrained in one’s sexuality) instead of kailang (easy-going and open-minded). Oops!

I also ended up walking straight into this huge gap between the stage and the audience, I really didn’t see there was no ground under my steps before I fell half into that hole. I got a bruises and scratches to my arms and legs. Everyone came to me asking if I was okay, but as the pain was manageable, I told them the show much go on. I’m pretty sure it looked very interesting on video!

Soon it was time for the one final question. Me and an American guy had 3000 points both, the two other girls a bit less. The final question was worth another 3000 points and no matter who could answer it correctly, would be the winner of the night. With good luck and good preparation I was the first one to get the change to answer and the answer was correct!

I was taken into the center of the stage and felt amazing! Wow, I never could have guessed! The Chinese host had just told the audience that I had won 6000RMB and an electric scooter from a sponsor.

That night my husband decided we should celebrate by going to the delicious and expensive Italian buffet nearby, after a great and interesting day, I of course agreed!

The episode where I’m in will come out in August.

p.s. As I learned the day after, the prizes and awards were only for show. We all four contestants received a flat pay of 1000RMB for our “acting”.


My Crazy Chinese Mother-In-Law

my crazy chinese mother-in-lawBehind every couple, there’s the crazy Chinese mother-in-law

Recently Timo at Crazy Chinese Family once again shared a story of his mother-in-law and My Hong Kong Husband shared how her first week with the Momzilla went. I even left a comment saying how my MIL is very reasonable and there haven’t been that many disagreements between us. But today it’s time to share a story of my very own crazy Chinese mother-in-law!

First just to be clear, I know Chinese mothers use cooking/cleaning/washing clothes for showing their love, instead of just saying I love you. But that doesn’t mean I sometimes just so hope she would rather say those words.

Since we have been living in our own at the old family house, my husband’s parents occasionally bring us soup, fruits or even meat. Once the fridge has been moved from one place to another and yesterday one of our cats was accidentally closed inside our bedroom for hours. Bringing food and (in their opinion) improving our livelihoods is their way of taking care of us and as we still have our own space, I didn’t think twice about it.

Today was something completely different! I came home, opened the fridge and saw paprikas, tomatoes and cucumber inside. I checked the freezer and there was both beef and pork. I though, ok, if this is how Chinese parents tell their kids they love them, I should just be grateful and say thank you.

But then my mother-in-law comes in with our bedding! When did she took those out and washed them? I took the bedding from her hands and tell her I will put them on later today, as I had other things to do at the moment. In reality I just wanted to do that alone by my self, not while she was watching me. She refused and pretty much kicked me out of my own bedroom!

Then I noticed the curtains she had made for the bedroom! I had told her, that I have a certain taste in decoration and will buy curtains when I find suitable ones. Now she went ahead and did those her self from old curtain fabrics.

When she left, she told me not to tell my husband that she has been at our home. She knows her son doesn’t appreciate all of this. But how could Alan ever think those curtains were my idea!

I don’t know if this all sounds like a loving mother to more traditional Chinese kids, but me and my husband value our privacy and our own space dearly. We are the ones that should decide when to wash our bedding, what curtains to buy and if we let our cats sleep in the bed or not.

From my mother-in-law’s point of view she is probably just being the mother of the year, but from my point of view this all tells that I’m not capable of taking care of my own household! As a contrast when my own mother was staying here in May, she came in and said to me “Sara, just tell me if there is something I can help with, I don’t want to intrude in your own home”. Guess which kind of parenting I feel more comfortable with?

What do you think? Is it too much to ask that our home would look the same when I leave the house and when I come back? I don’t really like these surprises when you never know what you’re going to see in your own home after a long day of work or school.

You might ask what my husband recommends us to do, well, he said we should change the locks!