Video is an especially powerful medium for language immersion given the clear visual context, interesting plot lines, and the inclusion of both listening and reading input for videos with subtitles. As Katie Harris of Joy of Languages puts it:
“Languages are about people. If you don’t have real people, films and TV are the next best thing.”
Okay, without further ado, here are my five favorite sites and tools for watching Mandarin Chinese videos online:
Words fail to express how much I like FluentU. It is exactly the product I would have created if I built a video-based language learning site/app from scratch. Their amazing interactive subtitles allow learners of all levels to work their way through authentic content intended for native speakers (FluentU uses real music videos, movie trailers, short films, talks, commercials, etc. from China and Taiwan). As you go through the subtitles, you can save new words on the fly and review them later in context using short video clips, fill in the blank exercises, etc. Highly recommended.
Literally meaning “Potato Net” in Mandarin Chinese, Tǔdòu Wǎng (土豆網・土豆网), or just Tudou for short, is a massive video hosting/sharing site based out of Shanghai, China. Interestingly, Tudou serves up even more minutes of video each day than YouTube; 15 billion minutes versus YouTube’s 3 billion! The site is a great place to find Mandarin language videos, movies, cartoons, music videos, and more.
Despite still being a separate website, Youku (優酷・优酷, pronounced yōukù) actually acquired Tudou in 2012. In the beginning, Youku differentiated itself by focusing on user generated content, but now includes a wide range of professionally created content. One of the advantages over other similar sites is Youku’s lack of video length restrictions, meaning that you can watch many full-length films, tv shows, etc. on the site.
TED Talks with Chinese Subtitles
While the talks themselves are in English, hundreds of TED Talks can be viewed with Chinese subtitles! You can then re-watch amazing talks like Sir Ken Robinson’s “Do Schools Kill Creativity” (肯尼•羅賓森問，學校扼殺了創意嗎?) while building your vocabulary and reinforcing your Chinese character knowledge.
If you use wifi at coffee shops, airports, hotels, etc., I highly, HIGHLY recommend using a VPN (Virtual Private Network) for your computer, phone, etc. (it is far easier for people to spy and hack via unsecured internet traffic than you might think). But beyond just making your web traffic more secure, a VPN provides the added bonus of letting you change your IP address to another country, meaning you can access U.S. only services while abroad (e.g. Netflix) or access Chinese language content usually only available in Taiwan, Hong Kong, etc. I’ve tried quite a few VPNs in the past few years, and GoldenFrog is my favorite so far. I especially like their slick apps for Mac, Windows, iOS, and Android that let you quickly change your server location with just a few clicks/taps.