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 some excellent podcasts that can help you out.
Similar to studying with apps, it’s usually quite easy to find some free time to listen to a podcast.
When working on your listening skills, you need to find 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’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 related to language learning and China that you may find interesting.
ChinesePod is easily the best podcast on this list. They have around 4000 lessons with difficulty levels ranging from Newbie to Native Media with the amount of English used varying by the level.
At the beginning of each lesson, you’ll hear a dialog. Then the two host will discuss it together, emphasizing important vocabulary, grammar, and cultural nuances. In the end, you’ll hear the dialog 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 per month 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 very good resource for learning Chinese pronunciation. Review.
ChineseClass101 is another option and cheaper than ChinesePod. It gave me a very spammy feeling initial impression but it ended up being pretty decent.
II wouldn’t recommend it for anyone past the elementary level though and even then, I prefer ChinesePod. 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 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. 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.
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.
CLO is actually a paid resource that I reviewed before. 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 robotic feel to them.
However, the lessons build on each other pretty well and it’s really not bad, especially for free. There are over 400 lessons across seven difficulty levels.
The name describes this podcast pretty much perfectly.
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 20+ minutes long.
The podcast is entirely in Chinese so only suitable for intermediate or higher level students.
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. Unfortunately, there hasn’t been much new content being released.
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 see him try to put it all together. It’s kind of like sitting in on a private class and you’ll learn 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. There’s also a premium version available as well.
Slow Chinese is a pretty cool podcast and it’s 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.
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. 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.
This podcast has over 75 beginner level lessons available for free. They typically last around 20 minutes. The host is a foreigner that has learned Mandarin.
First, he’ll introduce you to new vocabulary words. He’ll repeat 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
There are over 125 episodes of this podcast and new ones still 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.
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 – including 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.
I’m sure I must have missed something. Let me know if I forgot a good podcast!