My written Mandarin Chinese is likely B2 while speaking and listening are practically useless, likely A1 on CEFR scale. I'm now trying to improve the listening and speaking fluency, but for me it is practically impossible to improve it. Specifically because,

  • Most people recommend to watch movies or news to improve listening (with subtitiles)

  • But watching them is extremely difficult and practically impossible to catch up with unless you already reach enough level to understand them

In other words, watching movies or news requires quite a high hurdle (B2) while there is no enough resource to progress from practically useless level (A1) to the level you understand movies or news (B2).

This is quite different from reading, as there are enough steps to progress from A1. Reading a user's comment on a news if the news is too long, or creating a Twitter account to tweet if writing an article is too daunting, etc... And you can gradually transite to more difficult, longer, complex sentences.

But this sounds unfeasible for speaking and listening. And many people suggest that you should have realistic goals to be consistently motivated, but since the level is too apart, I find I soon get bored, irritated or even depressed once I start to watch movies, as I don't understand them at all.

So how can I progress to the level that you can use movies or news?

The question is about Mandarin Chinese but this happened all languages I have ever learned.

4 Answers 4


I found myself in a similar predicament early on in my language learning endeavors. Many people fall into the fallacy of "when I am watching TV or listening to it, I am only learning if I understand what they are saying." Our brains are designed to learn languages. Babies don't need flash cards. Trust that your mind is making connections and becoming more acclimated to this new language.

You should be listening to spoken mandarin with every opportunity you have. Download audio books in mandarin, stream news broadcasts, watch TV, and listen to music in mandarin. Shoot for at least an hour of listening time everyday. The more you do the faster you'll progress but consistency is more important than quantity. Audio books are my personal favorite way to practice listening these days. Listen as often as you can and listen closely, try to hear every syllable, tone and bit of inflection. Over time you'll start to notice more and more words that you know and it will sound as though they are speaking more slowly as you adapt. Eventually, you'll begin to learn new words as you hear them repeatedly in similarly structured sentences.

Obviously you need to continue studying vocabulary and grammar, but the best way for you to get from A1 to B2 is to just listen and speak as much as possible.


I assume you already considered and used listening for the same podcast multiple times. If you can get an audio with a transcript, listening comprehension should be easier.

When I was learning English listening comprehension, what helped me immensely was CNN news. They repeat same stuff almost exactly after hour, so next time around I picked a bit more. So consider similar 24 hour news in Chinese. Get good noise cancelling headphones.


I'd go back to a technique we last used in grade school, "oral reading."

If you can write at a B2 level, you know a lot of characters. You can probably read (silently) at this level (or higher).

Start by reading aloud. Both others' writing, and what you yourself have written. That will train you to "speak" what you can write, and bring that skill closer to B2, Your listening skill will probably lag your oral reading skill, but at least be pulled up along with it.


Since you can already read Chinese at B2, you can improve your listening comprehension in Mandarin by watching Mandarin-language tv dramas or news shows with Chinese subtitles. The spoken language you hear will probably be a lot simpler than what you are used to reading. Avoid the ancient dramas, though, because it's like trying to learn English through Shakespeare. Simply pause the video whenever the subtitles change. Take the time to read aloud and understand the subtitles before moving on. Every minute or so, rewind, watch, listen and read the subtitles again. Re-watch the video a few times until you are able to just listen and ignore the subtitles. Once your listening improves, you can even try to dub the characters' voices and imitate their accents!

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