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 if you have the right tools, and there are some excellent podcasts that can help you out.
One of the biggest hurdles when working on your listening skills is finding materials that fit your level. If you only listen to materials that are too challenging, you’ll likely get frustrated and not pick up much. On the other hand, listening to materials that are too easy won’t push you to improve as quickly as you can.
In this article we’ll look at a variety of podcasts while taking into account the levels they’re best for, though there’s quite a bit of overlap for some of the podcasts.
I’ll also share some podcasts related to language learning and China that you may find interesting.
ChineseClass101 is one of the more affordable options. It gave me a very spammy-feeling initial impression, but it ended up being pretty decent.
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. Because of this I wouldn’t recommend it for anyone past the elementary level.
The basic plan starts at $8/mo. Review.
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 a Chinese girl. She explains a lot of things to him, and you get to listen to him try to put it all together. It’s kind of like sitting in on a private class and learning alongside the foreign host.
They do a good job of teaching in a way that’s not very intimidating, building up from single words to longer dialogues. Here’s our review of the resource, and here’s a link to the premium version of their content.
CLO is actually a paid resource that I’ve previously reviewed. When I wrote that review, I didn’t realize that basically all of their lessons are available for free as a podcast. Unfortunately, the content has a rather lifeless and robotic feel to it.
The lessons build on each other pretty well, however, and it’s really not bad – especially for free. There are over 400 lessons across seven difficulty levels.
This free podcast releases new 25-minute episodes each week and is best for beginners and lower-intermediate learners. The topics are mostly related to Chinese culture and cover everyday language. The hosts speak quite a bit of English and take the time to fully break down word meanings, expressions, and idioms, which makes it ideal for those with lower levels of Mandarin.
They do a good job of maintaining a casual, personable environment that’s easy to listen to and isn’t very formal.
This is another free podcast that’s got some good listening material for beginners. Lessons start with the very basics (greetings and basic words) and progress in a natural way up to higher levels. There are also additional study materials available on the website that accompany each podcast episode. These include transcripts with translations, vocab words with audio, and a simple flashcard exercise.
This podcast is interesting because it’s in both English and Chinese in just about equal proportions. One of the hosts is from England and speaks mostly English, the other is from Taiwan and speaks mostly Mandarin. Lessons cover a variety of topics but always maintain a lighthearted and fun tone.
The episodes could make good practice for learners at the beginner and intermediate levels. There are also some episodes that are heavily focused on repetition, useful for beginners that want to practice mimicking native pronunciation of basic words and phrases.
The Chineasy book series and TED talk have been extremely popular. Personally, I’m not a big fan of Chineasy. This podcast is almost entirely in English, and the episodes 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 6-8 minutes long.
This podcast has over 75 beginner level lessons available for free that typically last around 20 minutes. The host is a foreigner that has learned Mandarin.
First, he’ll introduce you to new vocabulary words by repeating the words very slowly several times. Later on, he’ll add in full sentences. I find the lessons to be pretty boring, but I won’t complain about something that’s free.
For Intermediate Learners
ChinesePod is probably the best podcast on this list and is great for beginner to advanced students alike. They have around 4000 lessons with difficulty levels ranging from Newbie to Native Media, and the amount of English used varies by the level.
At the beginning of each lesson, you’ll hear a dialogue. Then the two hosts will discuss it together, emphasizing important vocabulary, grammar, and cultural nuances. In the end, you’ll hear the dialogue again. The lessons cover just about every topic you can imagine, and the hosts generally do a good job of making it more fun.
The Basic Plan costs $14/month and includes access to all lessons and PDF transcripts. The Premium Plan costs $29/month and includes a bunch of extras like grammar explanations and exercises. It also includes access to “The Say it Right Series” which is a very good resource for learning Chinese pronunciation. Here’s the review.
In the free version, these podcast episodes present a dialogue in Mandarin followed by a summary in English. There’s also an extended introduction to the language point being covered in each episode that precedes the dialogue.
In the premium versions, the host goes over the dialogue line-by-line to explain the language in detail. It’s worth noting that there is quite a bit of English in these lessons, and the most recent episode is from 2015.
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 is another podcast that no longer produces new content, seeming to have stopped around the beginning of 2015. There are exercises that go along with each lesson, though I can’t comment on their quality. The cost is $19.99/month.
You can find some free lessons for all of these as well. Just search for them wherever you listen to podcasts.
Although it’s not a podcast, intermediate level learners may be interested in Conversations. It was created by Olly Richards of the I Will Teach You a Language blog. He often stresses the value of using stories to learn a language, and Conversations fits into this learning style.
It’s a dialogue-based story that’s told over 20 chapters, entirely in Chinese. The dialogue is spoken at a natural pace, using colloquial language and suitable vocabulary. There are also transcripts and translations to go along with the audio tracks.
This podcast has over 200 free lessons, all of which are seven to eight minutes long 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. Unfortunately, there isn’t a lot of new content.
Slow Chinese is a pretty cool podcast and is completely free. 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 a bit easier to follow along. You can also find the transcript and translations online in multiple languages. It’s most suitable for intermediate level students.
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.
This podcast is aptly named.
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 of minutes, while others are over 20 minutes long.
The podcast is entirely in Chinese, so only suitable for intermediate or higher-level students.
This podcast is releasing content quite frequently – around 4 new lessons per week. The lessons focus on Chinese culture and news, most of which are around ten minutes long. They’re entirely in Chinese and are suitable for intermediate or higher-level students. The quality here is quite high considering it’s free.
Podcasts About Learning Chinese
The podcasts in this category won’t explicitly teach you Chinese, but they can be helpful nonetheless. Use them to get insights into other people’s learning methods, to get inspired, or simply for entertainment.
People who have learned Mandarin discuss how they learned the language and how they’re using it now. There are 39 lessons, and they seem to have stopped adding new ones. Most are around 20-30 minutes.
This is another podcast that features 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.
In this one, you’ll get to listen to professionals in the language-learning community. They discuss their approaches to learning as well as useful some tips and tricks.
China-Related Podcasts in English
Staying motivated in your pursuit of Mandarin is essential, and exposure to anything China-related can potentially help. These podcasts will fuel your interest in Chinese news and culture.
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 discussed jazz music in China. The episodes are lengthy and quite in-depth.
This is a weekly wrap-up of business and financial news from China’s leading financial magazine. They’ve been regularly releasing new episodes every week. I’ve just discovered it, but I’m really enjoying this podcast so far.
Expat Life in China
Already living in China or planning to in the future? These podcasts offer unique perspectives into life in China as a foreigner.
There are over 125 episodes of this podcast and new ones are still being released. They discuss a wide range of topics that would be interesting for expats living in China. Topics include Chinese beach culture, dating, and retiring in China, among many others. Some will find it more interesting than others.
This podcast has a huge backlog of around 400 episodes, but there haven’t been any new ones for about a year. It focuses on expat life in China – things like business, cultural adjustments, personal development, and more. Most episodes are 10-30 minutes but the length can vary. Some of the guests can be quite interesting.
Podcasts are absolutely a viable way to go about learning Mandarin. There are plenty of options at all levels that cover an incredible range of topics. Of course, they likely won’t fulfill all of your learning needs, but they can make solid tools for improving your listening skills.
If you’re looking for other ways to fill out your study method, check out our favorite Mandarin Youtube channels, the best online courses, the best apps, or even the top grammar books for studying Mandarin.
With all of the options out there, this list is far from exhaustive. Let me know if I forgot any excellent podcasts!
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