Here are some reasons why watching movies in Chinese can help you learn the language. 1. You always get to pick the movie that interests you most. 2. Lively daily conversation instead of rigid textbook dialogue. 3. Fully immersed with cultural background and slang. 4. Watching a movie is quite fun itself, but it is important to know which ones are suitable for Chinese learning material and the right approach to be a smart learner.
The movies I recommend are both easy to pick up the lines in everyday life and rich in cultural and historical background to help you better understand the country. They are a great combination of learning language and culture.
1. Eat Drink, Man Woman 饮食男女(1994): One among Ang Lee’s classic family trilogy, this is my all-time favorite. It’s a touching story about a dad and his three unmarried daughters, each of whom defies tradition in their own way. I also recommend the other two of the trilogy: Pushing Hand 推手 and The Wedding Banquet 喜宴, from which you will have a full understanding of the difference between Chinese culture and Western culture.
2. Shower 洗澡 (1999): This is a story about a dad, who owns a bathhouse, and his two sons. The movie manages to capture a family drama inside a big community (the bathhouse) while a bigger social change is taking place in China (destruction of the traditional hutongs in Beijing to pave the way for larger real estate development projects).
3. If You Are the One 非诚勿扰 (2008): A romantic love story about a man and a woman finding true love after a series of hilarious blind dates. You may find blind dating very cliched, but the kind of blind dates in the movie will make you laugh so much and glue you to your seat in front of the screen, as well as provide a bunch of funny and practical expressions to show off in front of your Chinese friends.
4. Finding Mr. Right 北京遇上西雅图 (2013): Don’t be fooled by the ‘stupid’ English name of the movie. Actually, the literal translation should be, ”When Beijing meets Seattle.” It is a story about a woman who goes to the US to give birth to an illegitimate child. It isn't a classic, but the film is a milestone in the development of Chinese film production. All elements that should appear in a romantic movie are included in this film, and they are not just rote, but experienced and mature.
Here’s my advice when you are choosing a film:
- Choose a new movie with an interesting title, but don’t forget to ask either your Chinese teacher or Chinese friends to know if it is worth watching as learning material since a lot Chinese actors are speaking dialect.
- Choose a movie you have already watched but you haven’t watched for a long time and wouldn’t mind watching again. The reason to watch an old movie is to avoid being too distracted by the plot instead of focusing on the language.
1. First view: turn on Chinese subtitles; open your ears and try to understand words and sentences/expressions as listening comprehension. You can always test your assumption by watching it over again.
2. Second view: turn on English subtitles, and this time you can focus on the vocabulary and pay attention to how the words are used in context. Make some notes, so next time when you are in a similar situation, you can just use the words and phrases you learned from the dialogue.
3. Third view: turn the Chinese subtitles back on and continue as in the first view.
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