Just like many other people, when I started to study Chinese, I had to face a lot of difficulties. I asked myself things like: Will I ever be able to produce those sounds and tones correctly? Or: How would I be able to learn all of those characters? Of course studying is a lot of hard work and if you want to study a language you will never stop learning. But then I found my ways to have some fun while studying.
This is basically about the spoken language, because there is no other way but to study the characters a lot, if you want to be able to memorize them.
No.1 Listen to music
Do you like music? Then find some good Chinese songs from your favourite music genre and start listening. Maybe you can find the lyrics in Chinese and pinyin, sometimes they have translations too. It also helps a lot to sing along, because you can practice your pronunciation and in music, as it’s all about the melody, the tones aren’t that important. Also remember going to Karaoke, or as the Chinese call it, KTV. This is one of Chinese people’s most favourite past-times, where you can make friends and have a lot of fun.
No. 2 Watch movies or TV
I started getting interested in China after my first Jackie Chan movie and I have always liked to watch movies. Then I also found my love for Asian television drama. When you watch Chinese movies you can put on subtitles first so you know what’s going on. Chinese movies and TV usually have Chinese subtitles, too, so if you’re already good, try to read along. Whilst watching you can practice your listening comprehension and also learn about Chinese culture. As Chinese love to make their own history into movies, you can learn about the main events in a faster way than reading a book. And if you meet Chinese people you will have something fun to talk about.
No. 3 Learn tongue twisters
I know it can be a little hard and maybe people will laugh at you first, but it’s still fun. It will help you with your pronunciation and studying the tones, because Chinese tongue twisters are also mainly about the tones. If you listen to the song 中国话Zhōngguóhuà by Taiwanese girlgroup S.H.E. you can hear some famous tongue twisters. You can also teach Chinese people your country’s tongue twister and laugh at them. 😉 Here is a really simple one for the first try:
sì shì sì, shí shì shí, shí sì shì shí sì, sì shí shì sì shí.
Four is four, Ten is Ten, Fourteen is Fourteen, Forty is Forty.
No. 4 Learn how to say and read your favourite dishes
As food is an important thing here in China and there are so many different dishes, you will have to find out which food you like and how to order it. In the meantime you can also study a lot of useful vocabulary that has to do with food, such as different types of vegetables or meat. You can combine studying and enjoying a delicious meal. Every city or region has their own special dish. The city I’ve studied in is famous for 扬州炒饭 Yángzhōuchǎofàn, which you can get in Chinese restaurants all over the world, but it still tastes the best in Yangzhou. 😉
No. 5 Find a language partner
Of course the best way to learn a language is to speak it and with a native speaker it’s the most efficient. So if you are still in University you should find out if there is a program to find a language partner or you can try to make Chinese friends via the internet. You can do all the fun things you do with your other friends and improve your Chinese at the same time. The easiest way to learn is if you come to China, because you will quickly find friends whom you can practice Chinese with.
This movie is following the life of China’s last emperor PuYi of the Qing Dynasty. The film covers almost 60 years of his life, starting with him ascending the throne as a two year old child in 1908. Being forced to live a life in the Forbidden City and undertaking responsibilities which are too much for his young age. Growing up, PuYi becomes a person who is not able to sustain himself, fancying a “western playboy lifestyle” and then being exploited by the Japanese as the king of Manchukuo… In the end PuYi becomes just another peasant among thousands
Why watch this movie:
The movie got several Oscars and is not only recommendable because of its aesthetics and the original shooting location ‘Forbidden City’ in Beijing, but also because it will teach you a lot about Chinese history in the beginning 21st century! Being around 160 minutes long and first published in 1987, Bernardo Bertoluccis’s film is really worth watching!
Shaolin Soccer (2001) is a movie about a guy called Sing, who is a former Shaolin Kung Fu Master. One day he meets Fung, who was a famous soccer star, but was betrayed by his friend Hung who also broke Fungs knee, thus ending his career.
The ex-soccer player helps Sing reconcile with his five brothers, who also became Kung Fu Masters, and teaches them soccer, adding Shaolin Kung Fu. Sing’s specialty is the “Leg of Steel” and the whole team is using their martial arts skills to their advantage.
Together they enter a big soccer competition and appear to be unbeatable, until they meet Fung’s arch-enemy and his team: Team Evil…
Why watch this movie:
As I write this, I have watched Stephen Chow’s Shaolin Soccer for the amount of times relative to my age (Editor’s note: Xavier is 22). And I still enjoy every single minute of it. Also after you watch this film you will know the funny side of Chinese. Also, this film was the first movie which used the Chinese Kung Fu & Western sports mixed together. There’s something about this movie that attracts me to watch it every single time it is playing on TV, and I’m still trying to figure out what exactly it is. In my opinion, what makes Shaolin Soccer the best film ever made in the history of films, is simply the cast and the variety of characters. No one else is able to step into the role of “Golden Steel Leg” so effortlessly like how Stephen Chow did. Put in “Golden Hammer Head”, a guy who breakdances while juggling a ball, a flying fat man…and you will get the best movie there ever was. So basically, why you should watch it is because it is a great way to learn something about Chinese humor, the movie is a genre-mix and making fun of all the old Wuxia movies (that’s the old martial arts movies) and it is about one of the world’s most favorite sports!
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Red Cliff is an epic war film based on the Battle of Red Cliffs in 208-9 AD and the events surrounding the end of the Han dynasty. Southern warlords (Sun Quan and Liu Bei) join forces against the Prime Minister Cao Cao and begin a war that cumulates at the Red Cliffs. It is a sensational war film: the outnumbered good guys attempt to defeat the evil ruler.
Why watch this movie:
Directed by the famous John Woo, this was the most expensive financed Asian film to date, with a budget of over US$80 million. In China it was released in two parts, in total over four hours of film. In the UK they released a two and a half hour version of the film which is often shown on Channel 4! It is a good watch, although I would definitely suggest watching the shorterned version (unless you have a lot of time on your hands, or want a 4 hour Chinese lesson!). It is similar to any other exciting war film, providing you a chance to get a feel for how a war may have come about in ancient China. Although only said to be 50% factual, you can still learn about this battle, which is said to be like China’ s very own Battle of Hastings.
Read more about Chinese movies in “Movie Time Part 1“
Today I want to start a new mini-series about movies.We already introduced some books to you to prepare for China, but we know that there are lots of people who would rather watch a movie and there are some great Chinese movies out there, which can definitely teach you a lot about Chinese culture, history, humor and so on.
Farewell my Concubine (Chin.: 霸王别姬)
This is one of my most favorite movies and a must-see when you want to come to China! Director Chen Kaige (陈凯歌) did a really great job on this one (which you couldn’t say about his more recent movies).
The movie follows the life of Dieyi (Douzi) and Xiaolou (Shitou), who are both put into a Beijing opera school when they are still young. Douzi is supposed to train to play female roles (Dan), while Shitou practices male roles. The movie covers around 50 years of Chinese history starting in 1924 and displaying the cruel methods of the Peking opera education as well as changes in Chinese history. Both protagonists become famous Beijing opera stars. In the end Shitou falls in love with a woman, which is unbearable for Douzi…
Why watch this movie:
In my opinion, this is Chen Kaige’s masterpiece. Many historical and political changes are happening throughout the film. Topics like the Japanese Occupation, the Guomindang Administration, Communist Revolution and also the Communist Rule appear. Chen even displays the fights of the People’s Liberation Army and the Cultural Revolution’s attack on old, feudal traditions like Beijing opera. At first, the portrayal of these events led to the banning of this movie in China.
You can learn a lot about Chinese history and life in 20th century China – especially about the transition from a dynastic country to a Commmunist country.
Also, this is the first Chinese movie which won the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival.
You can buy this movie here.