Intensive Mandarin Viewing – Week 49

Besides fertilizing my eucalyptus plantation and spending time with family, my major pursuit for the past couple of weeks has been language study, namely my Mandarin project. It’s great to be on vacation!

This week, I enjoyed sharing three of my favorite movies with my sister Sofia while at the farm. First, we watched my all-time favorite, Dragon or Wu xia, with its impressive acting, gorgeous visuals, cool martial arts sequences, enthralling storyline, psychological duels, and carefully crafted philosophical undertones. Next, we viewed the visually matchless House of Flying Daggers. The colors in the autumnal birch and bamboo forests, the luxurious bordello, and the historical costumes of soldiers and rebels delight the eye, as does the actress Zhang Ziyi. For those that prefer gazing at men, Takeshi Kaneshiro is a good-looking fellow and an excellent actor, who happens to also star in Dragon. Finally, we watched Hero, probably the overall highest quality Chinese film I’ve seen. Like House of Flying Daggers, it is visually stunning and is directed by Zhang Yimou and features Zhang Ziyi (although here she is in a secondary role). Like Dragon, it involves a subtle psychological battle—in this case between the king and Nameless, the hero played by Jet Li.

As a way to focus my viewing, I sometimes reference my word-a-day list as I watch movies. It is easy to do, since when I record terms I include the exact source in a simple database, allowing me to produce queried lists. Here is an example from the movie Dragon—probably my longest movie list, ready to use for beginning students of Mandarin. Please note I am watching the abridged version of Dragon for Western audiences, downloaded from Amazon, and the notation is not pin yin, but rather my own invention, based loosely on English phonetics.

yinze 05:12 05:56 18-Oct-14
shu(r) 10:05 04-Oct-14
tjien 10:12 16-Nov-14
shee 10:22 05-Oct-14
chahng 10:28 06-Oct-14
ying shiung 12:30 07-Oct-14
fatzu 30:00 30:15 08-Oct-14
fa 30:48 30:55 17-Oct-14
yuan 31:34 28-Nov-14
bye 35:25 29-Nov-14
kan 35:52 02-Dec-14
cheezuh 48:50 19-Oct-14
guh 52:00 52:08 03-Dec-14
ju 53:00 20-Oct-14
hi 58:57 04-Aug-14
yao 1:11:27 31-Aug-14
jia 1:18:10 21-Oct-14

I have also been enjoying the sadistic machinations of the Boonie Bears recently, logging many hours of viewing without subtitles. Less enjoyable, but highly profitable, is the time spent on Qiao Hu. The following graph shows my erratic weekly viewing from October through December, followed by my traditional hours-of-viewing graph, which now spans over 11 months. hours_oct-nov-14       hours_25-dez-14

To conclude this week’s post, I’d like to mention my excitement about the Christmas present my wife gave me—a shortwave radio. This technology may have made a lot more sense 20 or 30 years, before the advent of the Internet and online radio. Nonetheless, here in Brazil and especially when out at the farm, camping, or backpacking, reliable Internet is not ubiquitous.

Thus, if I am able to tune in to foreign-language radio, it will be great for my language studies. For now, I am interested in finding and listening to French-language radio for my French fluency recovery project. In the future, however, when I understand a lot more Mandarin, Chinese radio may be a great listening source. In my preliminary dabbling with the radio, I was surprised not to hear any French, but to pick up several Mandarin stations! It’s a new world.

4 thoughts on “Intensive Mandarin Viewing – Week 49

  1. Sofia says:

    Thanks for sharing those great movies with me. Hero was my favorite, since it not only had AMAZING visuals, but also a very interesting and semi-historical story-line. I recommend it to everyone.

    A question: I wondered as I saw you taking notes, how does this note-taking factor into your experiment. My understanding of your hypothesis was that one could acquire listening fluency simply by watching/listening to Chinese. Does this intense and focused listening go beyond what most people would do were they to try your method of learning a language?

  2. Author says:

    I enjoyed watching the movies with you and was really glad you liked them. I agree with you on Hero!

    As to your question, I think taking a few notes and then reviewing them as I watch the same movie again as a way of focusing my viewing IS a different experience from simply passively and motionlessly watching videos. However, I don’t think it fundamentally alters the experiment, since I am not doing “outside” study, using translations, or trying to memorize vocabulary lists independently. Everything is done while watching videos and within that context.

    I think the use of subtitles is a much more significant factor in altering the experiment. I’ve written about this a few times, most recently in the Week 42 post: I don’t think using subtitles is necessarily helpful in terms of acquisition, except that it makes viewing more enjoyable. It has serious drawbacks, which is why I am gradually phasing it out.

    I discuss this issue more generally, in terms of a flexible interpretation of my rules, in my week 25 post: Essentially, I don’t think anything I’ve done alters the basic issue that is being tested: Is watching authentic video always useful in language acquisition? Even with a radically foreign language at a beginner level? Even when you understand nothing, or hardly anything?

    If I will only learn through these adaptations, such as the use of subtitles and making word lists to review while watching, then my method will be extremely inefficient as compared to traditional approaches that use translation, formal study, and vocabulary lists copiously. On the other hand, if, as I believe, there is a LOT more going on, and my brain is gradually adapting to the sounds and consciously and subconsciously deciphering the language, then my method will eventually reveal its benefits as compared to these traditional approaches.

    I should note that I do not advocate my exclusive approach for general use. It’s better to combine extensive listening with conversation classes, reading, and writing, and even a tiny bit of formal study ( The only case that doing something along the lines of my experiment might make sense would be for someone who already knows one second language, wants to learn a new one, but does not have the time or energy to take classes or undertake a more complete study plan (

  3. Greta Browne says:

    I for one am not so fond of the martial-arts style of movie and I’ve avoided watching the films you like so much. However I love to read novels about China and have read several in the past few months. A series by Kay Bratt (Tales of the Scavenger’s Daughters), that takes place in contemporary China, contains occasional comments in Mandarin: eg. ‘Hao le, ”Dui le’, ‘Zhende.’

  4. Author says:

    I’m getting a lot of insight into Chinese culture through the movies and shows, but I’m sure reading novels about China would enrich my perspective.

    Regarding my favorite movies, although many do in fact involve wu xia, or martial arts fighting with magical Qi powers, many others do not. You watched Shower with me, but others are A Touch of Sin, Lust, Caution, Shanghai Triad, The Story of Qiu Hu, The Road Home, Riding Alone for Thousands of Miles, etc.

    However, I also think that if you made a little effort to set aside your prejudice against wu xia and try to appreciate it as akin to choreographed dance (at times, quite intricate and beautiful), you might really enjoy some of the great Chinese films that you would otherwise miss out on.

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