Back in July I was fortunate enough to be invited by the school where I teach part time to accompany a party of Year 12 students participating in the SSAT/DCSF/Hanban summer camp for UK students in China in July. It was an amazing experience not least to see the way in which our students “bonded” with their Chinese “partners” during the nine days we spent at Changzhou Senior High school in Jiangsu Province.
We spent a few days at the beginning and end of the trip in Beijing where we were accommodated in a 5 star hotel – 谢谢 Hanban! Surfing through the TV options one of the evenings I came across the English channel on Chinese TV, and more specifically a programme for learning Chinese – it was all about eating snacks and the typical delicacies of Beijing. When I got back home I thought I’d just do a google search to check out whether there was anything available online and was pleased to discover that there are several series for learning Chinese produced by CNTV.
At the beginner’s level there is Easy Chinese, broadcast originally at the time of the Beijing Olympics and consisting mainly of short dialogues and basic phrases based on some typical tourist scenarios – shopping, booking accommodation, eating drinking, finding your way and so on. The presenter first explains the vocabulary and then finds an unsuspecting tourist (!) to teach the phrases to. The key phrases are given on the webpage for each individual video in characters, English and, in most cases, Pinyin. Each video is very short (mainly less than five minutes) so could be useful in the classroom. However, there is possibly a bit too much English spoken in it so it is probably better suited to the individual learner, either wanting to reinforce something he/she has learnt or to learn some new vocabulary.
Also at this level is Growing up with Chinese which is aimed at teenage beginners. To date there are 9 episodes available online which cover things such as greetings, name, nationality, family, age, saying thank you etc. The video content is available either streamed or can be downloaded with Realplayer and there is also a downloadable transcript of the key dialogues in characters, pinyin and English. Each episode has a full explanation of the language content and new sentence patterns along with information on things of cultural significance. Lesson 5 on Simple enquiries for example has quite a lot on the significance of the colours yellow and red in Chinese culture.
Finally, at beginners’ level there are also short 5 minute audio episodes from CRI chinese Studio. The transcript is on the page for each episode (of which there are 190+ to date). Unfortunately these appear only to be streamed live and not downloadable as a podcast – a pity as they would be perfect for “on the go” listening and learning.
Moving on to Intermediate level there’s Communicate in Chinese which is suitable for older learners. The early episodes cover some familiar ground such as dates, time and numbers, but later episodes move on to topics such as opinions, being a guest etc and are more challenging. Not all of these appear to be downloadable and I’ve experienced occasional interruptions whilst the video is buffering which is irritating – so better for individual use rather than in class. As with the beginners’ series there are some useful insights into cultural matters such as not losing “face” along with analysis of words and phrases. The transcript on the web page is only in characters and in English, not Pinyin, but Pinyin does appear on the video alongside the characters for some of the vocabulary.
At Advanced level there are several series: Happy journey across China and Happy Chinese – daily life, both of which are all in Chinese with English subtitles. Travel in Chinese is also reckoned to be at the same level, but is introduced in English and has more by way of explanation for the dialogues. It was the episode on Beijing snacks that I saw on TV in the hotel in Beijing! Sports Chinese is a similar series based round sporting events such as the Beijing Olympics.
For really advanced learners there is also Special Chinese – audio podcasts of the news in the Chinese with an English transcript, explanations of some of the vocabulary and some comprehension exercises.
In addition to the language videos and audio material there is also a video series on culture which covers such things as festivals, calligraphy, paper cutting and much else, whilst the Chopsticks series is all about how to cook typical Chinese dishes.
All in all this website has a lot of useful materials for the Chinese learner at whatever level some of which could be used in the classroom.