They say it takes 10,000 hours of practice to truly master something. For those of us who struggle with an attention span degraded by too many nights on Youtube, this is truly a tall order. And if that “something” is your Chinese listening, the idea of spending the equivalent of over 416 days listening to canned dialogue is probably enough to make you reconsider your life choices. But never fear! Once again the cause of all your problems, namely the internet, is also the solution (at least to some of them).
Not only are these podcasts a great way to hone your listening comprehension skills, they also let you pick up vocabulary in context, see grammar in action, improve your pronunciation and learn about Chinese culture and society. And best of all, they’re entertaining and can be enjoyed whenever and wherever you have a few minutes, even while doing something else!
Here are our picks for 5 podcasts to supercharge your Chinese listening:
With hundreds of episodes separated into four levels from absolute beginner to advanced, Popup Chinese focuses on authentic, contemporary Chinese as it’s spoken on the streets of Beijing. All episodes (with the exception of some at the advanced level) feature bilingual commentary and explanation. Best of all, their dialogues are creative, outrageous and funny, featuring memorable voice acting from native Mandarin speakers and chock-full of unexpected references. All episodes can all be streamed for free on their website.
One of the longest-running Chinese learning podcasts, ChinesePod features thousands of episodes at 6 different levels. To gain full access to their catalog of podcasts and videos you’ll need to buy a subscription, but a number of their podcasts are available here for free.
This podcast features a wide range of situational dialogues organized by difficulty and by topic, and all available for free! Their website also provides vocabulary lists, bilingual transcripts of all dialogues and even additional example sentences using each lesson’s keywords. Strong focus on topics related to contemporary Chinese society and workplace Chinese.
Written and recorded by native Chinese speakers, this unique, weekly podcast features short (~5 minutes) narratives about personal experiences, social issues, and current trends. As the name suggests, the reading speed is slow but the vocabulary and content are at the upper intermediate to advanced level. A full transcript is posted along with each episode. This is a great podcast for intermediate learners looking to push their Chinese listening to the advanced level while adding new vocabulary and gaining exposure to Chinese perspectives.
This nicely produced podcast out of Kunming features “Bear” the well-read and well-spoken host of the show. This is a longer podcast featuring in-depth discussions of a variety of topics at a native level; indeed this is not a learning tool but in fact a full-fledged Chinese language podcast. Nevertheless, the host’s clear, standard Mandarin, informative and current explorations of various topics and relatively moderate speaking speed have gained this podcast many fans among the Chinese learning community. If your Chinese is at an intermediate level or higher, this is a great introduction to native level content.
Chinese learners at all levels often struggle to improve their listening; it has one of the steepest learning curves of all the four skills. Fortunately, your listening skills are highly responsive to focused practice, so press play and start chipping away towards that 10,000!
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Mark Lore is a freelance writer and educator, a student of Mandarin and a keen observer of Chinese culture and society. A resident of China since 2014, he is most at home scouring the streets of Shanghai for scallion pancakes and other local treats.