Cinematic Language Learning: 10 Tips to Learn Chinese From Movies

As we all know, learning foreign languages through multimedia platforms can greatly improve our learning effect and efficiency, and make the learning process more interesting. Among them, watching foreign language movies is a very good channel for people to learn a new language. Today, we are going to discuss the advantages of learning a foreign language by watching movies and how to make the most of it.

1. The benefits of learning a foreign language by watching movies

(1) Understand the mentality and culture of a foreign country.

Watching a movie could enable us to understand a lot of local cultural elements. The foreign movie can teach us what kind of words and sentence patterns should be used in different situations.

(2) Practice listening and learn native pronunciation

Learn authentic pronunciation, also to exercise listening.

(3) Create a native language environment for in a short period of time

Creating a native language environment is a very valuable condition. When we are in the room, we can turn on the computer and connect the earphones, so that we can quickly immerse ourselves in the foreign language environment.

(4) Relax and have greater learning efficiency

When we come home from work or school, we probably feel very tired and don’t want to do any of the studying. Watch a movie while have some popcorn could make us relaxed quickly, while learning a foreign language, why not!

2. 10 Tips to learn Chinese from movies

Watching movies can be an excellent way to learn Chinese. However, the vast majority of people learn foreign language by watching movies is not ideal, why? This is because there are many details that need to be paid attention to. Here we are going to introduce 10 tips to learn Chinese from movies.

(1) Select the right movie according to your needs

Choose movies that are suitable for you according to your Chinese proficiency or learning goals. For example, if you want to learn daily expressions, you can go for a comedy or a lifestyle movie. To understand traditional Chinese culture, you can choose some classic films, such as “Wedding Banquet”, “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” etc. In addition, you should also choose subjects that you are interested in, so as to ensure that you will not feel bored in the process of learning, and will not give up halfway because the difficulty level is not matching.

For people in a basic level of Chinese, it is recommended to start with cartoons. The advantage of cartoons is that the words and sentence patterns are very simple, so it is easy to understand and cope with daily communication. Animation is the best introduction to learning materials. The average number of words in a cartoon is about 1,000-1,200, and the number of sentences is generally about 1,000-1,200. The key is that the pronunciation of cartoons is clear, the difficulty is moderate, and the pronunciation and intonation are exaggerated, so it is easy to leave a deep impression. Some Hollywood animated films, such as Kung Fu Panda and Mulan, have Chinese dubbing versions.

For people who are in a higher level, they can choose Chinese movies according to their interests and goals. We recommend humanistic movies that the conversation are close to reality, so that the Chinese you learn can be used in everyday situations.

Be sure not to choose films that are not matching with your current Chinese proficiency. In that way, we will only be watching movies, but we can’t achieve the purpose of study. If you can understand about 70% of the dialogue without subtitles, this movie is perfect for you.

(2) It is better to choose movies with bilingual subtitles

Watching a foreign language movie without subtitles, even if the difficulty is moderate, will make people want to give up halfway. So it’s best to choose movies with bilingual subtitles so you can compare them at any time. Learning a language is a process of familiarity, and you need do it step by step. Reading subtitles can make you better familiar with the language. Any time, deliberate training in blind listening is of no value. At the first time, we can watch the bilingual version, and then after we are familiar with it, we can watch the Chinese subtitles, and finally watch the version without subtitles.

(3) Get a brief understanding of the basic plot of the movie before you watch it

If we are watching a movie we have never seen before, we can take a look at the plot through the movie commentary or introduction. In this way, we will understand the content of the movie more easily when we watch it.

(4) Split the movie part by part to learn

After watching the movie once, divide the movie into several segments according to the plot of the movie. A  two hours movie can be divided into 4-5 small scenes for the convenience of subsequent study.

(5) Select paragraphs repeatedly watching

If we really want to learn something from watching movies, it is not enough to watch them once or twice. Watching it once is not learning, it is called entertaining. If it is for the purpose of learning, we can pick a movie, pick up the interesting part that we believe is useful and study until we can understand the meaning of the sentence, which is better than just watching several movies at glance. If the first time we watch a movie is to enjoy the story, then the second time we should focus on learning. A movie usually has approximately 1500 new words and 1200 to 1800 sentences, which contains a considerable amount of language information. If we just watch it once, we hardly could say we learned something from it. Therefore, it is important to watch a good movie several times to truly understand its essence. That’s why we said in the beginning that it’s important to choose movies that is appealing to us.

(6) Accumulate vocabulary, sentence patterns and unfamiliar expressions

Choose bilingual subtitles, and memorize words, sentence patterns, and all unfamiliar expressions from a movie, so as to understand their various expressions  in different contexts. If we see the authentic expression, we can write it down.

(7) Practice listening skills

When we watch a movie for the first time, we can get familiar with the plot through bilingual subtitles, and mark the parts that we don’t understand and write down expressions which sound useful. When watching it for the second time, we can leave the Chinese subtitles and understand what the characters are saying in Chinese. On the third watch, try turning off all subtitles and just listening. This method will help to improve our Chinese listening skills, but also can strengthen our Chinese comprehension ability, develop a good sense of Chinese language.

(8) Practice pronunciation and shadowing

To maximize the learning from watch movies, we should practice our pronunciation and conducted shadowing exercises. Similar to the method of listening practice, the first time, watch the Chinese subtitles, listen to a sentence, read after a sentence. The second time, do not read the Chinese subtitles, listen to a sentence, read after one sentence. The third time, try to read the lines that we can remember while the movie is playing.  If we can, record ourselves and compare our  pronunciation with that in the movie. This method is time-consuming, but it does have an effect and can be a good way to improve our oral Chinese.

(9) Reverse output

After watching a movie repeatedly, you can test your learning results. Introduce the film in Chinese to your friends, and talk about your thoughts of the film. This section can be described based on several elements: who are the characters, when and where did it happen, what happened, why and how it happened, and how it ended. Describe the details in the scene through these elements, which can not only deepen the impression, but also practice oral output.

(10) Select different theme movies to watch

It is more interesting and meaningful to see a wide variety of movies than just one. It’s easy to lose interest in a movie that focuses only on one subject. In addition, watching movies of different themes can also help us gain a more comprehensive understanding of Chinese culture, social life, history, etc.

3. Recommended Chinese movies

(1) Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000)

Ang Lee’s movie, a martial arts action film with dialogue in Chinese, is likely to be seen by many. It grossed $213.5 million worldwide and won many awards, including an Oscar. In the film, Ang Lee shows many Chinese elements in a way that foreigners can understand and accept.

(2) Farewell To My Concubine (1993)

The classic film directed by Chen Kaige was also gaining a huge international success and won the Palme d ‘Or at the Cannes Film Festival in 1993. The film covers Chinese history from the 1920s to the 1970s, dissecting the impact of political change on the lives of the Chinese people. Through this film, you can understand the vicissitudes of fate in a particular period of Chinese history.

(3) Wedding Banquet (1993)

Directed by Ang Lee, the film tells the story of a Chinese gay man living in the US, who has a fake marriage with an illegal immigrant painter, in order to get away with urge of his parents . The biggest feature of the film is to deal with homosexuality with the unique Chinese family ethics, so that this social problem was solved in a comedy way in the film. In this film, Ang Lee makes the cultural differences between China and the West very intuitive.

(4) Eat Drink Man Woman (1994)

A drama film directed by Ang Lee, the film tells the story of an old man whose wife has died for many years and the family issues occurred between him and his three daughters. It is a very good story, told in a smooth, natural and true way. While showing the traditional Chinese food culture, it also discusses the family affection, love and friendship between two generations of family members. It is a traditional Chinese film.

(5) In the Mood for Love (2000)

The film is directed by Wong Kar-wai. Overall, it’s a love story. In addition, the costumes, music and dance in the film are very beautiful.  In 2009, the film was selected by CNN as the No. 1 film among “ Best Asian Films”.

(6) Still Life (2006)

Directed by Jia Zhangke. It tells the story of a coal miner, and a female nurse, who come to Chongqing from Shanxi Province to search for his ex-wife and her husband. Through this film, you can see the real life, emotions and values of the people who live in the bottom of society. The director’s way of shooting the movie was very simple, it seems very real. However, the dialogue of the film is all in dialect, which is not suitable for listening and speaking learning. The film is a master piece to understand the life of ordinary Chinese people.

(7) If you are the One (2008)

If You Are the One is a romantic comedy movie directed by Mainland Chinese director Feng Xiaogang. The film has an in-depth discussion of love and marriage among Chinese people. The dialogue is light and humorous, making it an ideal film for learning Chinese.

(8) The Wandering Earth (2019)

This movie is different from the traditional martial arts drama, history/love drama, it is a science fiction blockbuster. Set in 2075, the story tells the story of the sun is about to destroy, has not fit for human survival, and in the face of despair, human will open the “wandering earth” plan, trying to escape the solar system with the earth, looking for a new home for human. From this film, we can understand the Chinese concept of family love, heroism, dedication, homeland and international cooperation etc.

(9) A little Red Flower For You (2020)

The film tells the story of two families who all got to fight for cancer. It makes the story feel very real and touching.


Learning Chinese by watching movies may sound simple and fun, but in practice it is a patience test. It’s hard to see results in the short term. But its advantage is that it can arouse our interest in learning, the language used in the movie is more close to life (of course, depends on the subject of the movie itself), with the right method, our listening and speaking skills will be improved considerably. The most important thing is that we should not only treat the movie as a way of leisure and entertainment, but also see it as a learning material. By studying the scenes and clips that we are interested in, we can steadily improve our Chinese proficiency and achieve the ideal learning effect.