Two helpful practices in getting an ear for the sound of a new language are Repetition and Dialogue.
One great way to practice listening Repetition is by listening to music in the target language. While listening to music in Mandarin Chinese will not necessarily help with acquiring an understanding of the tonal patterns of the spoken language, it will help with recognition of word sound combinations and gaining a feel for the flow of the language.
Here is a simple song in Mandarin Chinese to start out with:
(Note also that this video is captioned with the Traditional Chinese characters that represent the sung lyrics. One character = one syllable in Mandarin Chinese. Practice matching the syllables you hear to the sung word-syllables.)
Once you get tired of that song, here is a curated YouTube playlist of more songs in Mandarin Chinese. (Note that a few of the songs on this playlist are in Cantonese Chinese, which sounds totally different from Mandarin Chinese. See if you can recognize which songs do not contain the word sounds of Mandarin Chinese — these are the Cantonese songs).
This is where learning Mandarin Chinese gets really fun. Basically, the principle here is to acquire exposure to authentically spoken dialogue by listening to and watching native speakers speak. How do we do this? By watching TV. 🙂
In Chinese-speaking countries, the on-going, serial television drama (a.k.a. ‘soap opera’ — but nothing like American soap operas!) is very popular. Watching these shows gives the language learner exposure to how the language is spoken by native speakers in a casual, often colloquial manner.
(As a side note, the copyright owners of Chinese-language TV series are often less fickle than their American counterparts about having their material posted on YouTube. Full length episodes of entire multi-episode series are readily available — if you know what to search for in Chinese.)
One TV series to start with is “Two Fathers,” a show from Taiwan. Note that the speakers in this show speak Mandarin Chinese with a Taiwan accent, which will differ a little from shows from Mainland China where the ‘Beijing accent’ is more dominant. Also, this show has one character that speaks almost exclusively in Taiwanese, which, like Cantonese as discussed above, sounds totally different from Mandarin (see if you can pick out this character!). As this show is from Taiwan, the captions are in Traditional Chinese characters.
Here is the first episode of “Two Fathers”. A YouTube playlist with all the episodes in the series can be found HERE.
(Note: Don’t be put off by the title or the basic premise/set up of “Two Fathers”. The show actually represents some fairly traditional family values, with an emphasis on the role of the father in raising his children. In his desire to marry off his daughter, the Taiwanese-speaking auto repair shop owner is very much like a Chinese Mrs. Bennet.)
BONUS: From watching the first minute of the first episode of “Two Fathers,” you can probably gather that music / sound track is a big element of TV series like this one. After watching a few episodes of “Two Fathers,” check out the Original Soundtrack on YouTube to circle back around to Repetition. 🙂