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victorhart

Learning Mandarin by watching videos

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victorhart

Hi everyone! I have undertaken a language acquisition experiment, in which I will try to learn to understand spoken Mandarin exclusively by watching movies, cartoons, and other authentic video sources. My six-year-old daughter has joined me in my experiment. The best source I have found thus far is Boonie Bears. It is highly entertaining and a plethora of videos are easily available on YouTube. I am very interested in learning from you what other video sources you recommend (again, I'm talking about authentic material, as in my experiment I'm not "allowed" to watch video lessons).

 

If you're interested in reading about my adventure, check out my blog:

 

www.mandarinexperiment.com

 

There is a sources page that I think will eventually be an excellent resource, even for those who are taking a more balanced, integrated approach to learning Chinese!

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roddy

Hmmm, we might have one or two ideas hanging around. A lot of those we have transcripts or vocab lists for, but I'm not sure if that would breach the rules of your experiment. 

 

Is there a 'learning to speak' stage of this experiment, or is purely input?

 

Oh, and this might be useful if you get bored of bear and fancy some lamb. 

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victorhart

Thanks roddy for those links, definitely helpful! So far, I like the bears better than the sheep. I don't understand hardly anything yet, but the Boonie Bears plots are easy to follow and enjoy just with the visuals, while I find the sheep rather trippy and confusing.

 

Yes, the vocab lists would definitely breach the rules of my experiment :)

 

The experiment I've designed is purely oral input. However, if it is successful, I'm almost certain I will then move on to a speaking phase and want to learn the characters as well.

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Lu

Hi everyone! I have undertaken a language acquisition experiment, in which I will try to learn to understand spoken Mandarin exclusively by watching movies, cartoons, and other authentic video sources.

May I ask why this experiment? Do you think this is the most effective way of learning a new language completely different (I assume) from the ones you know? Is it all you have time for, with not even a few minutes a day for learning new vocab? Apologies if I sound a bit judgey, I do feel this is not a great idea, but am genuinely interested in why you're attempting this.
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Demonic_Duck

"熊出没" is entertaining? I always used to see that when channel-hopping and wonder whether anyone actually liked it. Still, I guess it's better than a lot of the animated crap that Chinese kids have to put up with. It always boggles my mind that a country of a billion people can't seem to throw up one or two who can do kids' animation decently (please feel free to prove me wrong, by the way, I'd love to find some quality original Chinese animated shows or films, if they exist).

 

That said, "喜羊羊与灰太狼" can be fun from time to time, but it's hardly something I'd choose to watch if I wasn't learning Chinese.

 

If we're counting stop-motion, "阿凡提的故事" is great, although there are only a few episodes, and none of the versions I've found online have subtitles. It has a certain slightly rough-around-the-edges feel, but if anything this only adds to its charm - it reminds me a little of the Soviet-era Russian stop-motion animation series "Cheburashka", and the gentle humour has a similar feel to it as well.

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victorhart

Hi Lu, thank you for your questions and opinion. Part of the reason for undertaking this experiment and writing the blog (mandarinexperiment.com) was to provoke reflections and discussion, so I don't find your opinion judgmental at all--I really appreciate it.

 

First off, I do not think my method is the most effective way to learn a new language. Rather, I believe the most effective method is to combine listening to authentic sources with speaking with native speakers (preferably that are willing to correct you and model appropriate structures and pronunciation), as well as reading authentic sources and writing original texts. At least in the case of languages with a familiar alphabet (in my case the Roman alphabet), I believe in incorporating reading and writing early on, but I would probably also include study of Chinese characters early on in an ideal program to learn Mandarin. Also, I believe the more hours you spend per day, the better. Total immersion is the best, when possible.

 

So why am I doing this experiment? I am the founder of a language institute and have developed original methods for learning foreign languages, particularly English. One of the approaches I always advocate is watching movies and other video sources (along with speaking, reading, and writing practice). Students are often skeptical and say, "But I don't understand anything." So I am out to test my hypothesis that, even with a language that is absolutely foreign (I only apeak Romance languages and English), watching authentic videos can be an effective approach, among others.

 

I am skeptical of the benefit of using vocabulary lists and other more "abstracted" or "academic" forms of studying languages. But the reason I don't incorporate speaking and study of characters is to isolate variables, to make my experiment more scientifically rigorous, as it were. If I end up understanding Mandarin, it will be evident that watching videos can be effective for beginners, whereas if I mixed other approaches, such as video/audio lessons and conversation classes, it could be argued that I only ended up learning because of these latter elements, and not at all because of the authentic video sources.

 

I would have loved to conduct this experiment watching at least 2-3 hours per day. In that case, I would have hypothesized that in about a year I would have attained a reasonable level of comprehension. However, I have a day job, a business on the side, a farm, and a family with two kids, so even 30 minutes a day, which is what I am doing, is quite difficult. Therefore I hypothesize that I will take several years to actually understand what I am watching.

 

Although if it weren't for my desire for some scientific rigor, I would certainly incorporate some conversation classes and more formal study (especially of characters), there is something nice and very convenient about not having to do anything except turn on a video at the end of the day. And it's great that so far, my 6-year-old daughter is enjoying watching with me, especially Boonie Bears!

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Lu

Thanks for the reply, I see what you're trying, and that it's not really about learning the language per se, but more about proving the usefulness of a certain type of input. Well, if you keep this up and end up understanding Mandarin, you can prove that point. The main weakness in your plan is now whether you can indeed keep this up for several years.

I wonder, are you the first to ever look into the effectiveness of native input while not yet understanding anything? You could save yourself a lot of time if someone has researched this already. I don't remember where I saw it, but I've read about research that shows that little children cannot in fact learn a language purely from the tv, they need interactive input. On the other hand, I know people who tell me they've learned most of their Mandarin from soap series, but then, those people already spoke other Chinese dialects.

Good luck, and I hope you can report back here once in a while!

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victorhart

Demonic_Duck, yes, I actually find Boonie Bears quite entertaining, a slapstick type of funny similar to classic Bugs Bunny or other Loonie Tunes. I didn't like the Boonie Bears to the Rescue movie much, though my daughter (who also speaks zero Chinese) liked it a lot. I like the 10-minute episodes. Of course it's a matter of preference, but at least not understanding almost any of the dialogue, I find it WAY better than Pleasant Goat or Momo (which is awesome material for a beginner learner but aimed at infants so very boring). Of course I wouldn't watch any of this if it weren't for my Mandarin acquisition experiment.

 

I've only watched three Chinese movies: Hero, which I loved, Farewell my Concubine which I know is a great movie and all but I didn't enjoy, and Lost in Thailand, which is pretty bad but definitely watchable.

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OneEye

I wonder, are you the first to ever look into the effectiveness of native input while not yet understanding anything?

 

Nope. This guy sat in front of the TV for 2000 hours before ever trying to have a conversation. When he finally did, he really struggled, but he did understand some. He convinced himself that he had native-like pronunciation, even though it was far from it. I almost felt bad for the guy for having wasted so much time when he could have studied much more effectively. I get what the OP is trying to do though, and think it's interesting.

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victorhart

Wow, OneEye, thank you for posting that! Not that you just saved me from endless years of fruitlessly watching Boonie Bears, I'm too stubborn for that haha! But I will definitely look through this guy's blog with much interest. His blog seems to be all over the place, so if you can point me to where he explains his methodology and especially his results, I'd really appreciate it!

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Demonic_Duck

I have to say, overall, I'm sceptical that you'll learn much at all this way, if you really restrict yourself to just watching TV and films. Whilst I agree that such things are excellent resources to supplement conversational practice and traditional forms of learning (yes, that means in a classroom*, with the aid of a teacher, as well as a textbook and/or other prepared materials), I think that on its own it will simply be an extremely inefficient way to learn. As well as what Lu said about children needing interaction in order to learn their L1, bear in mind that young children also have a vastly greater quantity of input available to them than your half-hour a day, or even your ideal situation of 2-3 hours a day. They're immersed in the language their entire waking life, whether it's passively through hearing others talk nearby, or actively through being required to communicate with others.

 

That said, good luck with your experiment, however far you get with it in the end. Add my name to the list of those who are curious to see how you get on.

 

I've only watched three Chinese movies: Hero, which I loved, Farewell my Concubine which I know is a great movie and all but I didn't enjoy, and Lost in Thailand, which is pretty bad but definitely watchable.

 

I agree that "人在囧途之泰囧" ("Lost in Thailand") is mediocre but enjoyable in parts. It's actually a "spin-off" of sorts though (same name, and same actors in the leading roles with somewhat similar personalities, but different continuity). The original film, which for some reason is less well-known, is simply called "人在囧途" ("Lost on Journey"), and in my opinion is much better. It's still a comedy, but the style is generally more realistic, and it has some genuinely sweet moments. People say it's a rip-off of Trains, Planes and Automobiles, which I haven't seen so I wouldn't know. Anyway, no matter how similar the storyline, it certainly has a unique Chinese flavour to it as well.

 

*Edit: when I say "in a classroom", I mean "classroom" in the figurative sense - could be your tutor's house, a nearby café, the local park bench, or whatever. What I'm getting at is that it's dedicated and at least somewhat structured learning.

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lakers4sho

I can understand (but not necessarily speak) a good amount of conversational Japanese from having watched a lot of anime (english subtitled). Granted, I did not have as my goal learning to speak (or learning the language for that matter), and that I've been watching anime for as long as I can remember. But I can say that I've picked up a good amount of expressions from this kind of exposure to the language.

lakers4sho

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Glen321

Isn't this what Dr J.Marvin Brown used to do... although I've never heard a recording or seen a video of him speaking.

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andyfastow

Interesting experiment, good luck to you!

 

I watched "Lost in Thailand" (with English subs) a few months ago and enjoyed it. I didn't realize it was a spin-off. I'll have to find "人在囧途" now and watch that too.

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victorhart

Thank you all for your support and comments on my experiment.

 

Demonic_Duck, I have begun watching Lost on Journey, and I'm enjoying it. Even without understanding the dialogue (well, I get 1-2% of it), I find it funny and enjoyable. It's totally an unabashed Chinese version of Planes, Trains, and Automobiles (which I highly recommend as a light comedy since you've never seen it).

 

Glen321, thanks for letting me know about Dr. J Marvin Brown, I've begun looking at some of his theories, quite interesting.

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victorhart

Hey everyone, I just found on Amazon Prime a video series that appears to be in Mandarin Chinese. Please check it out, and if somebody could confirm that it really is in standard Mandarin, I'd really appreciate it! Argh, links do not seem to work on this forum, and I cannot paste anything into here. So I will just tell you the titles and you can please google them:

 

Ancient State of Silk Road, Mysterious Loulan, Riddle of Silk Road

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roddy

Pasting in link...

http://www.amazon.com/Silk-Road-Ancient-State-Road/product-reviews/B004ZXNPS2

 

Seems fine, drop me a pm if you want to do some trouble-shooting, Victor...

 

Nobody's going to be able to check those out unless they're Prime members, btw. If it says Chinese / Mandarin, then it's probably standard enough. Certainly as good as a bear. 

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耳耳语语

OneEye & Victorhart :

The method is in these posts :

http://natural-language-acquisition.blogspot.fr/search/label/TV%20method

 

The result is here :

http://natural-language-acquisition.blogspot.fr/2011/01/breaking-silence.html

First comment says "You would have made much more progress if you had used some other study methods to compliment your TV learning."

 

Someone mentionned that babies get much more time of exposure. I would add that they also get interactions and mediations. By the TV-only method you can guess some expressions about some actions and names. But without interaction, subtitle or any kind of mediation, even with a super-memory I can't see how you could decipher abstract structures.

It's like when the russian soldiers said "quickly" (bystro быстро) when they wanted to drink; and the french understood it adapted it as "bar" (bistro), as it was always correlated. :D

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lechuan

Just talked to my sister-in-law, who learned Manadarin almost exclusively from watching dramas (with subtitles) and reading.

What she did for dramas was: Stop at a part that she wanted to learn, then loop the section and imitate until she could copy it in real time. It worked really well for her and she easily surpassed my Mandarin level in a short period of time.

Think I'm going to try it now too, now that I know the secret.

I'd assume this method of using dramas to learn would see much results compared to passive listening.

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Lu

What languages did she already speak before learning Mandarin? I think that the tv method is infinitely more effective for people who already speak a related language. I think I already mentioned that I know a few overseas Chinese who told me they learned Mandarin from watching soap series. I myself could probably learn quite a bit of Italian or Cantonese that way (hell, I've learned a few basic Danish words already from 6 hours of watching a detective series, despite not even trying), but not, for example, Swahili or Vietnamese.

And of course actively learning, with listening back and trying to copy it, works a lot better than just listening.

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