If you find yourself getting burnt out on textbooks, and generally despise the news channels, then perhaps studying a film might be a fun alternative for learning Chinese. Most of the time it’s nice to just sit back, watch and enjoy, but sometimes it’s also good to actively study a film’s dialogue, scene by scene. More often that not, there is a wealth of slang, idioms and jokes, just waiting to be tapped. Some people might say this method is not for everyone, but I would have to disagree. The hardest part is just finding a film which is able to keep your interest.
Find a movie
For me, this was Toy Story 3. This script is fantastic in both English and Chinese, and even now, and picking it apart scene by scene, line by line, I am still not tired of this film.
Whichever movie you choose the important thing is that you find one that will maintain your interest, so chose one that is about a topic you already have an interest in, or something you want to learn.
Tools for the job
If this idea tickles your fancy then give it a go, find yourself a copy of Cyberlink’s PowerDVD – this seems to be the only video software that supports dual subs on DVDs (if you know of any more then post in the comments!). Having dual subtitles is a great way to learn as you get to see what’s going on and hear the Chinese, while at the same time reading the English translation, this gives you a few levels of reinforcement to work with. If you see any words that you don’t recognise, and you will, just pause the movie and make a note of it, make sure to write down the accompanying English too, as this will come in handy later when you checking the words in the dictionary, as it will help you remember what was going on at that part of the movie. You could even make your own flash cards using Anki like I am in the screenshot below:
As well as directly studying the dialogue, you can also rip the audio, slice it up and then listen back to it later in random order while you are doing other things (I used DVDfab to rip the movie and then MP3DirectCut to split, but you could also use Handbrake to rip as it’s free – anyway, there’ll be a tutorial on how to do this in the coming weeks!). If you mix up a few movies it can really help your comprehension when listening out of context and also help you become used to listening to Chinese in general, so this is useful even if you don’t understand what is being said. In the case of Toy Story, I would estimate I have listened to the whole thing about 20 or 30 times now. It can be fun trying to guess who is saying what and which scene is taking place.
On first viewing on Toy Story 3 with Chinese audio I’d say I was able to understand about 50% of what was going on. With Chinese subtitles I would say around 75% and now after studying it piece by piece I would say, even without subs, I can understand 95% of what is going on. For me this was a huge pat on the back. When you feel like you are making progress, well, that’s what keeps you going!
If anyone else has tried this or has some good movie recommendations or ways that you have used a movie to study Chinese then let us know!