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.


Chris said...

Hi Chris,

you wouldn't happen to know of any radio sites that provide transcripts, would you? I'm quite surprised at how difficult it is to find any.

Chris said...

Hi Chris, I haven't noticed any with transcripts, I will keep an eye out, I guess there may be the odd one around in archives for things like new years speeches etc.
Actually I would find transcripts pretty useful I guess there could be some for some programmes, I will have a hunt over the next week or so.

Matt Whyndham said...

It sounds like a lot of hassle. I'd love to do it the lazy way, just within itunes or via a browser.

This sounds like a case for a strong cup of tea and a free afternoon.

Chris said...

hi Matt it can be hassle, on a windows box with media player you can get lucky and just open a link and listen in a browser, try some links.

Network busyness, poor websites and some sites seemingly restricted to China add frustration to the mix. Once you a reliable one you like it is a good resource though.

Anonymous said...

Hey Chris, I am new to learning Chinese and I'm trying out the radio thing just to get an ear for the language and how native speakers are making the sounds. the link in the blog post is for the 'story' channel, and i'm finding it a bit hard to hear their pronounciations over all the other stuff. Any other recommendations of stations, specifically for a newbie? thanks!

Chris said...

No real recommendations, I like the story radio because it has lots of dialogue. The problem with Chinese radio is that it is aimed at Chinese speakers.

I know some times you can find slowly spoken news programs in some languages, I don't know of a Chinese one though.

language school valencia said...

You get a right medium. When i was learning English i prefered English movie, english songs, english commentary etc to improve my English. Really these multimedia things are great for learning something.

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Vincible said...

Hi Chris,
I'd be interested to know what stages you went through on your Mandarin-learning journey. I did all the Pimsleur Audio first, now I'm mainly using popup-chinese (elementary) I've also started messing around with Rhinospike and Lang-8 and a bit of chat via Skype, although its still extremely faltering. D'you think I should just concentrate on the popup for now?

Ya'ir said...

To find online radio (Media Player) just google the mms://... unupdated link that Chris mentioned and you'll have many other links for Media Player radio, most of them still working.

IAmCorbin said...


I just started learning Mandarin and found your post. I have found some music to listen (like this playlist on )
and I've started listening to but the link you posted above no longer works anymore and I was wondering if you had any other suggestions for any sort of audio. I've shared some of the resources I've found so far on if you wanted to check them out and suggest others.