Sunday, May 03, 2009

Using Chinese Radio to help learn Mandarin

More reflection back to early days (and present) of my learning Mandarin experience. I very quickly discovered that the Internet is packed full of opportunities to listen to Chinese media, if anything the modern learner is spoilt compared to language learners of the past. In the early stages listening to Chinese radio can help to acclimatise your ears to the sounds of mandarin, later on you can use it to practice your listening understanding and learn new language.

One huge resource is Chinese radio, like radio stations in other countries many are available to listen to online, with the right software you can even record for later reference, there are some difficulties though. Many Chinese websites still insist on writing pages that only work in Internet Explorer, utilise Windows media player for streaming, have intricate security scripts that break systems that would otherwise work or just load their pages with so much guff that downloads from some countries are almost impossible due to poor bandwidth. Then there is the problem of reading the Chinese to find a station that may be of interest or to find the page that actually has the audio stream (sometimes deviously hidden).

There is some effort involved, step one for all Chinese media online is to master the use of the excellent Videolan (vlc) media player, which will cope with a wide range of audio and video formats and can be used to save streams also (any other suggestions for media players this versatile gratefully received). You are probably going to have to look quite hard to find stations that you like but a good starting point is this Chinese page that has links to a large number of stations (both radio and television), if you are lucky and have the right plugins etc. many will play in your web-page.

I prefer stations that have chat shows or health programmes/phone ins, there is a lot more accessible language than news stations and music stations, I quickly learnt to try stations that have 生活 life) in the title first and usually avoid stations with 新闻 (news) in their title. If a page doesn't play the station (or even if it does) then you can try to view source in your browser to get to the media link. For example one station I like at the moment is a Shanghai story station, the media link is mms:// you should be able to paste this into Windows media player or use it to open a network link in Videolan and listen away.

It can be a lottery, sometimes poor network connectivity can mess up all your attempts, but audio is far more resilient to poor bandwidth than video. How you use these resources is up to you. I invested in some wireless headphones a while ago, so right now I can go outside and do some gardening whilst listening to Chinese radio.