Improving your listening comprehension is one of the most important things you can do while learning Mandarin. The reason is pretty obvious. If you don’t understand what people are saying, how are you going to communicate with anyone?
Luckily, improving your listening comprehension isn’t terribly difficult. There are a ton of quality resources. It’s also usually quite easy to find free time for listening practice. When working on your listening skills, you need to find materials that fit your level. In this article, we’re going to look at a variety of podcasts, both free and paid, that can help you improve your Mandarin listening comprehension.
At the end of this post, I’ll share some other podcasts that you may find interesting, although they aren’t focused on learning Mandarin.
ChinesePod – ChinesePod is easily the best podcast on this list. They have around 4000 lessons with difficulty levels ranging from Newbie to Native Media. The two hosts will listen to a dialog and then discuss it together. The amount of English used varies by difficulty level. In the end, you’ll hear the dialog again. They add in lots of cultural information and the hosts do a great job of making it a bit more fun. The Basic Plan costs $14 USD/mo and includes access to all lessons and PDF transcripts. The Premium Plan costs $29/mo and includes a bunch of extras like grammar explanations and exercises. It also includes access to “The Say it Right Series” which is a great resource for learning Chinese pronunciation. Review.
ChineseClass101 – ChineseClass101 is another option and cheaper than ChinesePod. It’s really only good for beginner level students though. All of the lessons use quite a bit of English which is good when you start but can become a major problem as you move up difficulty levels. The basic plan starts at $8/mo. Review.
Popup Chinese – Popup Chinese has quite enjoyable and high-quality lessons. Unfortunately, it seems like they haven’t released new lessons since 2015. There are lessons at four levels – Absolute Beginners, Elementary, Intermediate and Advanced. A subscription costs $99/year.
CSL Pod – CSL Pod is another podcast that no longer produces new content. They seem to have stopped around the beginning of 2015. There are exercises that go along with each lesson, though I can’t comment on the quality of them. The cost is $19.99/mo.
You can find some free lessons for all of these as well. Just search for them wherever you listen to podcasts.
Chinese Learn Online – CLO is actually a paid resource that I reviewed before. When I wrote that review, I didn’t realize that basically all of their content is available for free as a podcast. The content is quite boring and feels like you’re listening to robots. However, the lessons build on each other pretty well and it’s it’s really not bad, especially for free. There are over 400 lessons across seven difficulty levels.
Learning Chinese through Stories – The name explains what this podcast is about very clearly. You’ll listen to stories told in Chinese and the hosts will explain different parts of the story as they go through it. It has a fairly large library of content and is still actively releasing new material. Some lessons are very short and only last a couple minutes, while others are 20+ minutes long. The podcast is entirely in Chinese so only suitable for intermediate or higher level students.
Learn Mandarin Now – This podcast has over 200 free lessons. These lessons last around 7-8 minutes on average. First, they’ll introduce the key vocabulary in English. Then, there’s a short dialogue that is played twice. Afterward, the hosts go through the dialogue line-by-line and explain the words and sentences. The lessons are around an elementary to intermediate difficulty level. There hasn’t been much new content being released.
Coffee Break Chinese – The coffee break series is popular for many languages but new to Chinese. So far, they’ve only released one season. These lessons last around 30 minutes each and are suitable for Beginner students. It’s hosted by a foreign guy and Chinese girl. She explains a lot of things to him and you see him try to put it all together. It’s kind of like sitting in on a private class. There’s also a premium version available as well.
Slow Chinese – I enjoy Slow Chinese quite a bit. There are around 200 lessons, lasting from 3-5 minutes on average. As the title suggests, the host speaks at a slower pace which makes it much easier to follow along. You can also find the transcript and translations online in multiple languages. It’s most suitable for intermediate level students.
Talk Chineasy – The Chineasy book series and TED talk are very popular. Personally, I’m not a big fan of Chineasy. This podcast is almost entirely in English. The episodes will focus on a Chinese word or phrase, often discussing Chinese culture and history. It’s more useful for learning about those things than for learning Chinese. Lessons are typically from 6-8 minutes long.
Melnyks – There are 25 beginner level lessons available for free. They typically last around 20 minutes. The host is a foreigner. First, he’ll introduce you to new vocabulary words. He’ll repeat the words very slowly and several times. Later on, he’ll add in full sentences. I find the lessons to be pretty boring and think there are better free resources available.
iMandarinPod – This podcast is releasing content quite frequently – around 4 or so new lessons per week. They focus on Chinese culture and news. Most lessons are around ten minutes long. They’re entirely in Chinese and are suitable for intermediate or higher level students. They’re quite high quality considering they’re free.
Yep! Chinese – This podcast has a fairly large backlog of lessons with many of them labeled by difficulty level. Most last around ten minutes long but that can vary somewhat. There doesn’t seem to be new content being released. I recognized DiLu from ChinesePod in one of the lessons I listened to. The structure of lessons is quite similar to ChinesePod as well.
Learn Chinese Insights Podcast – People who have learned Mandarin will discuss how they learned and how they’re using it now. There are 39 lessons and seems to have stopped adding new ones. Most are around 20-30 minutes.
Chinese Talkeze – This is a new podcast that has conversations with people who have reached a high level of Chinese. They talk about how they got there, what motivated them, embarrassing moments, challenges they faced and more.
Sinica – This is my favorite podcast that doesn’t focus on learning Chinese. It’s a weekly podcast that discusses current events, along with a variety of interesting side-topics. A recent episode had a guest talk about what it’s like to report on Trump as a member of Chinese press. The episodes are lengthy and quite in-depth.
Caixin-Sinica Business Brief – This is a weekly wrap-up of business and financial news from China’s leading financial magazine. It’s quite new with only 13 episodes released so far. I’ve just discovered it but I’m really enjoying this podcast so far.
Two White Chicks in China – There are nearly 100 episodes and new content being released. They discuss a wide range of topics that would be interesting for expats living in China – for example; Chinese beach culture, dating, retiring in China, among many others. It can be fairly interesting.
Limitless Laowai – This podcast has a huge backlog of around 400 episodes. It focuses on expat life in China – including business, cultural adjustments, personal development and more. Most lessons are 20-30 minutes but the length can vary. Some of the guests can be quite interesting.
I’m sure I must have missed something. Let me know if I forgot a good podcast!