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OneEye

Studying with movies

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Ludens

Great information, thanks. I'd like to ask what your Chinese level was before doing this, in general as well as your listening comprehension in specific. For example, were you able to have conversations in Chinese before, without missing too many details? I'm asking because I'd like to know what would be a good time to start doing this.

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OneEye

Well, I feel like I started late. Like I said, I like my comprehension level to be very high before I dive into native media, so I waited a while before I really did much with movies. I had already audited graduate-level courses in my field, with probably around 90% comprehension, before I did this. I took the highest level (流利級) of the TOP/TOCFL and missed a passing mark by 1 point before I did this. My listening was lagging behind my reading at the time, but I was still quite well along already. I'm sure I waited too long, but I was focused on "study."

As far as when you should start, I'd say start when you're ready to. That's been my guiding principle with native media, whether books, movies, TV shows, whatever. When I can read it or watch it without it being too uncomfortable, I do. But not before that. You should go by your own interpretation of that, because I know different people have different tolerances as far as level of incomprehensibility. But I find that occasional bursts of effort like what I mentioned above, even when it's uncomfortable, can bump you up a level. I've found that to be the case with reading something difficult, I've found it to be the case with 文言文, and of course with movies.

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JustinJJ

Interesting technique, I'm keen to give it a go also. I've had a similar experience when doing the 'dictation method' , transcribing the imandarinpod news mp3s recently, a method which someone mentioned in another thread. I think with these sorts of exercises forces your brain to concentrate on all the fine details which you might otherwise gloss over. I've also noticed a side benefit that it's much more comfortable listening to lazy native speakers e.g. on the subway I can listen into someone's conversation for listening practise (if I'm not following it, out of curiosity I might ask them which dialect they speaking), and the speed of the news is much easier to understand. I noticed a difference after only a couple days of using this method.

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Steingletscher

I've been doing this with 新白娘子传奇, but a bit lazily. I started at first to write down every word I came across, but then it became apparent that I didn't know half of the words. Since I'm still in the stage where I'm learning a lot of vocabulary everyday, I felt like I was overloading myself with new words. Though now after a few weeks I got tired of watching it slowly and have just been passively, but attentively, listening. I don't know if it is the best way to do it, or even if I am listening correctly since I have't progressed as much as I would like to. But then again, I have a listening problem in English, so I shouldn't be too hard on myself.

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OneEye

I don't know that series, but since it's a period piece it may be that the language used is more archaic. Have you tried something in a more recent setting? I thought 那些年,我們一起追的女孩 was good for this, because it was set in the 90s and the plot revolves around kids in high school and college, so the language wasn't too difficult.

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anonymoose

How many times do you have to chorus a single clip of say 5 seconds before you reckon you've got it as close as possible to the original?

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OneEye

I guess it depends on what's in the clip, how clearly they're speaking, etc. Also, once I get it right I like to keep saying it for a while longer (thus getting more practice saying it the right way). So I'd say it might take 5-10 minutes for a 5-second clip, so that would be 60-120 repetitions. I generally review over the next few days, but since I've already gone through the trouble of doing it once, I usually only have to repeat it a few times before I'm satisfied.

I should say I've only used this technique for short periods of a few weeks or so, and only 4 times ever. It's fairly boring stuff, so I don't stick with it for too long. But I do find it very effective, even if I only do it short-term, so I'm always glad that I've done it. I did it when I was first learning Chinese with the China Panorama series I used back then, then again with PAVC when I first moved here and was trying to get rid of my neutral tone, once more about a year ago with a "Media Chinese" (news) course just for the heck of it, and again a few months ago with a few dozen clips from 那些年,我們一起追的女孩. This time around, I did maybe 20-30 minutes of it per day for two or three weeks, I don't really remember. My goal was to figure out how Taiwanese people elide certain sounds (腳踏車 sometimes becomes something like jiǎo à cē when people get lazy, 沒辦法 becomes sort of like méi bà wǎ, etc.). But in the process I ended up making my accent more local-sounding because it forced me to keep my tonal range narrow, and I finally figured out what's going on with the so-called retroflex initials here in Taiwan (they're generally alveolo-palatals).

So yeah, I believe the most recent round was the most effective, and I'm sure it has to do with using authentic content instead of textbook recordings. I think there are some people in Second Language Acquisition who say you should only do this with authentic material because the goal is to internalize the natural sounds and intonation of the language, not the artificial ones you find in learning material. Aim for the target, so to speak, the target of course being a native-like accent. Makes sense to me.

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raydpratt

OneEye, thank you for the heads up on the value of doing that kind of study with movies. I am slowly collecting movies that I enjoy that are in Mandarin with English subtitles, and I look forward to someday being able to understand them without the subtitles.

I recently experienced something similar to your jump in the quality of your understanding of spoken Mandarin. I experienced this with my Pimsleur audio lessons in Mandarin, but the jump did not come from my study techniques.

I recently started adding meditation to my daily routine; and, during such a meditation, I diverged and did a little inner work about a personal problem, and it dug into something deep and helped me understand myself better. My next Pimsleur audio lesson was surprizing because it felt like someone was talking to me in plain English as far as clarity. In effect, after I better understood a general personality problem that I have and freed up some mental real estate, my head worked better. I'd call it a bonus freebie.

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OneEye

I'd recommend looking for some kids' movies while you're at it. Disney and Ghibli are great, and should be easy enough to find with Chinese dubbing. The Incredibles and Spirited Away have both gotten a decent amount of play here over the past few days.

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Frapunchino

heeey OneEye,

i just finished all the slow-chinese episodes by XInyu Wen, your post inspired me to turn towards movies to take my listening ability to the next level, besides as you raised up, they contain lots of sentence structures/pattern that you can mimic in order to achieve oral fluency .while its true that massive swallowing of stories on chinese story platform or any other sources are very good to internalize grammar,but they don't always fit very much if you are mostly going to use chinese orally. btw i also have the new practical chinese reader level 3 set of dvds and textbooks, i guess their level would be lower than movies ?

p.s im also impressed by your ever-so efficient use of technology to serve your purpose [ extracting audio,creating mp3 files etc..] and your adamant hardworking attitude. I know that chinese-learners around the globe have a reputation of being hardworkers since its not an easy language to grasp but would it be impolite to ask you if there is anything driving you that much ? or its your normal attitude towards things ?

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OneEye

I think whether you are "mostly going to use Chinese orally" or not, large amounts of audio are necessary. Language is sound, after all, not ink.

I'm not familiar enough with NPCR to know how they compare, but you'll find that movies span the entire range of difficulty. Something like Totoro (Chinese title: 龍貓) has very simple language, but something like 英雄 would be a good bit more difficult.

I'm starting my MA in Chinese at a university here in Taiwan this fall, and not in one of the "for foreigners" programs. Most of my classmates will be Taiwanese people who have spoken and studied the language since forever and already have degrees in Chinese literature. I have a very real and pressing need for my Chinese as good as possible, so that's what's motivating me.

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JustinJJ

Hi OneEye

Interested to know what level your technique helped you bump your level up to. If you're at post grad level academically and believe your listening is now your main strength, would you say your technique helped you get to a native educated level?

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OneEye

Haha, not even close. I do well with graduate lectures in my field, and I do OK in the humanities in general as long as it isn't too specialized, but that's a LONG way from being "native educated level." I'd be lost in a middle school math or science class, for example, and there are tons of everyday things I have trouble with because I've focused more on academic language (though I'm working on fixing that).

Think about non-native speakers you know who have gone to graduate school in your country. I doubt you'd say that their ability is equal to an educated native speaker? Really, few people ever truly reach that level.

For listening, I'm maybe a 3+ on the ILR scale, if that says anything. I'm probably about the same in reading, and 3 in speaking and listening. I've passed the 流利級 on the TOCFL listening exam, which is currently the highest level, but they'll be adding a higher level soon.

So it's still very much a work in progress. But I'm improving.

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JustinJJ

I watched 那些年我们一起追的女孩 today. How did you find the difficulty in understanding the speech compared to other movies you saw. I usually don't spend much time watching movies (I spend more time listening to the radio and watching 强强三人行)。I found that movie much harder to follow.

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OneEye

Well, since it was the first movie I did this with, and the first one I ever really tried to watch and understand, and after I spent weeks doing everything I mentioned above other movies became much easier for me, I'd have a really hard time comparing it. For me at the time, I thought it was pretty hard. Now I think it's very easy because I know most of the dialogue by heart. I don't know if other movies would have been harder at the time or not (of course it depends on the movie), but I do know that going through that process helped a ton with my listening ability.

Again, I recommend something like Totoro or a Disney movie if you're looking for something easier. They tend to have great voice acting and singing if you get the official version.

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Yadang

I've decided I'm going to try this out (not sure to what extent yet)... I have the movie, and I have some subs which I thought were pretty okay, but now I'm noticing some mistakes... I wouldn't mind a few mistakes, but I'm worried there will be mistakes in the parts where I really need the subtitles - when they're slurring their words and things - and here is when I need them most, because sometimes listening to it over and over just isn't enough to know exactly what they're saying... Would you mind sharing your sub file?

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OneEye

There were a few places where the audio and the subs don't match, if I remember correctly. Not a big deal. If you can't figure it out no matter how much you listen, ask a native speaker.

 

I don't have the file anymore, but if you click the link in the first post and search for the movie title, I'm sure you'll find it.

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tysond

Just a tip on finding matching subtitles...  You can search for 简/繁 and filter simplified/traditional using that.

Also, 字幕来源 is often listed, and gives some hints as to the source of the subtitles.  

 

Useful if you are using dubbed films because there can be many different subtitles for one film (e.g. fan translated, official subtitles that match the English, official subtitles that match the Mandarin audio, etc).

 

I gave up on finding matching subtitles for The Dark Knight Rises, as they all appear to be unofficial translations of the English.

But  today I noticed the 字幕来源 field in the subtitle searching tools, and started looking at different sources.

 

Soon I found a set that matched the mandarin audio perfectly from my Chinese DVD.  From there you could easily study this film using the dubbed audio and matching subtitle using OneEye's techniques and have English subs easily available to fall back on.

 

What I did next was speed up the subs by 4% (NTSC and PAL have different framerates so actually the PAL film is 7 minutes shorter!) - used Aegisub to do that.   Fine-tuned the timing on the subtitles (off by about 750ms) and then I fed it into subs2srs and generated 1600+ Anki cards automatically, with audio, hanzi, english, and a screenshot.    

 

Attached is the dual-language subs Dark Knight Rising for NTSC which match the Mandarin audio in case anyone is interested.

国配双语无特效.srt

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MeiMay

Thank you for taking the time to write in detail about your method. It was helpful to read how you went about it instead of just "movies helped me". It sounds like a great method :)

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