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Good Chinese subtitles to learn Chinese with movies

Whatever your Chinese level, watching a Chinese movie in Chinese with subtitles is a great idea to learn some Chinese a little differently. It’s a cool way to take a break from your relentless studying while enjoyably practicing your Chinese listening and reading comprehension, strengthening your grasp of the language’s rhythm and syntax and learning more about Chinese culture!

Trouble is, watching a movie in Chinese while reading the Chinese subtitles – and understanding what you’re seeing and reading – is sometimes easier said than done! So the real question is: what type of subtitle should you use to get the most out of your movie watching? Should the subtitles be in Chinese, in English, in pinyin? We’ve ranked each type of subtitle by level of difficulty, so you can choose which to first attempt!


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Full Immersion (Chinese subtitles) – Level: Hard

What: Movie in Chinese – subtitles in Chinese

For: Intermediate to advanced Chinese learners

Watching a movie in Chinese while reading the subtitles in Chinese is great to reinforce your reading/ listening comprehension. A lot of movies in China have Chinese subtitles built in, to ensure everyone mainland understands what’s being said even if they speak a dialect rather than 普通话. So you shouldn’t have any trouble finding things to watch online or in Dvd Stores if you’re in China!

Having trouble getting your hands on the goods? Here’s a guide to finding subtitles for Chinese movie

I’m not ready for full immersion. What now?

For others, though, a full immersion like that might be a bit much to start with. Rather, you might feel like you’re getting lost in a maze of Chinese subtitles.

That’s because unlike when you’re watching a movie in English or Spanish and can easily read the English or Spanish subtitles…in Chinese, it can be hard trying to follow the subtitles in Chinese characters; especially when you’re still at a point where your Chinese listening comprehension still needs a little work!

See, if you’re still struggling with your Chinese listening; you have to rely more on the subtitles than on the sound for comprehension, while trying to follow along with the sounds as you watch. Problem is the subtitles are so fast that you have trouble keeping up with them.

Seriously, trying to read Chinese subtitles as you go along, without pressing pause on the movie can make you feel like you’re the slowest reader on earth. So, in the end, you’re not really following along. Thus making the whole experience rather tough!


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What solution then, to easily practice Chinese through movies?

We have a few solutions, based on the level of difficulty you want to attempt. Admittedly, most of them require a little more work than just picking up a Dvd from the store. But it’s worth getting a little crafty to improve your Chinese learning, right?

Movie in Chinese + subtitles in both English & Chinese.

Level: medium. Best for: Listening/ meaning association

The Chinese subs are to work on your reading and listening comprehension. The English subs provide the meaning.

How to watch:

  • First, try both at the same time.

The idea here is to watch subtitles in both English and Chinese characters. It’s important, here, to try to assess if you’re still listening and reading the Chinese, or if the English trumps the rest.

  • Otherwise, revert to watching each kind of subtitles, separately, which makes things a little harder:

– once in Chinese for listening;

– once in English for meaning;

– and then once in Chinese again, for improved listening comprehension.

This requires finding a movie you can stand to watch several times in a row!

Where: These kind of subtitles aren’t particularly common and will require a little work to create – or good googling for already made subtitles.

Subtitles in both English and Chinese Here’s a method to create both English & Chinese subtitles

Movie in Chinese + subtitles in both Chinese characters and pinyin

Level: Medium

Helps most with: listening comprehension; word/sound association

For: beginners to intermediates; especially if your written Chinese comprehension isn’t what you’d like it to be yet.

Just to be clear: Just pinyin would be a bad idea. Pinyin is not a real language. Mandarin Chinese is. Still, it’s a great learning tool.

Watching a movie with both pinyin and Chinese subtitles gives you a chance to listen to what they’re are saying, read the corresponding characters and look up the pronunciation at the same time.

Definitely worth a shot, at least until you feel your listening comprehension has improved enough to be able to do away with the pinyin.

Interested in trying out pinyin subtitles? There’s a fairly new group dedicated to that:

http://www.reddit.com/r/pinyinsubtitles/

These are all handmade so you might want to check their quality… but still, props for creating the subreddit and a place to download pinyin + Chinese subtitles!

Rather create your own? Here’s how: http://www.reddit.com/r/pinyinsubtitles/wiki/index

You can also try out this online tool (haven’t tried it) to do so.

Meaning-wise, you will still need to look up all the words you don’t know, which is why this method didn’t get ranked as easy.


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Movie in Chinese + subtitles in English, Chinese and pinyin

Level: easiest – or the worst ?

What you can also do is add English subtitles to the mix, to display the meaning as well as the pinyin and the Chinese characters….Like this:

Screenshot from 2013 Chinese Movie Finding Mr Right/ 北京遇上西雅图

Screenshot from 北京遇上西雅图 (Finding M. Right – 2013) , a real Chinese chick-flick!

Two things to check here:

1/ Do make sure it’s not complicating things too much for you – eg: are you still finding time to read everything and follow the story? We don’t want information overload. That’s kind of useless.

2/ Are you only reading the English? The goal here is to improve your Chinese listening and reading comprehension. Also kind of useless, if that’s the case.

How do I add English to this subtitle soup? See the links for the pinyin subtitles. Some of them have all three subtitles and the wiki explains how to add English to the mix.

Subtitles in your native language only

Level: Too easy – it’s almost cheating.

Watching subtitles only in your native language isn’t a great idea. You may think you’re getting a lot out of it, but your brain is naturally drawn to what it knows best first. ie. English (if that’s your native language) and is pretty much tuning out the rest. So, while culturally, you’re probably learning loads, language-wise, you’re not.

Wondering what movies to start with?

Time Out Shanghai recently released their Top 100 Mainland Chinese films. Check it out, you should find something to get you started!

And if you try the pinyin subtitle method, let us know what you think of it? Any other methods we missed? Let us know!

Happy Movie Watching in Chinese!

The Nincha Team

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  • Jeff

    What are suggestions for movies at each level? I can find all sorts of Chinese movies with english subtitles. The ones that I find with Chinese subs are too hard to stay caught up with…

    • Hi! Good question! Here are a few suggestions; and we’ll work on a more complete list! I’ve found romantic comedies to be a good resource; sure there’s some banter and you have to like that genre, but it’s a lot of useful, every day stuff so you’ll recognize a bunch of the words used pretty quickly. Kungfu movies can also be good choices, as dialogue is fairly limited. Short films, like TV ads, or whatnot are a good idea too as you can watch them a few times over and over until you pick out what they’re saying. Movies or shows made for kids tend to “talk cute” and repeat a lot of words, so they’re not necessarily the best to start with. Hope this helps!

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