How I watch Youtube to improve my Mandarin.

Photo by Kon Karampelas on Unsplash

Youtube can be a great way to get Mandarin exposure, especially if you aren’t in China.

Todays post is about how I use Youtube for Mandarin learning, as well as what channels I recommend.

Become more immersed with a simple tip

Thanks to randomly running into a video by Youtuber Matt Vs Japan, I learnt this extremely simple but effective tip.

We all know that when we are watching Youtube videos, we get recommended videos on the side. If we are trying to only watch videos in Mandarin, we are most likely still going to get recommended videos in our native language rather than in Chinese.

A lot of times these videos might seem interesting so we start watching them. This is a problem as we are trying to immerse ourselves in Mandarin at this point in time.

This is where Matts tip comes into play. If we create a separate Youtube account where we only watch and subscribe to channels who speak/use Mandarin, then we will only be recommended videos in Chinese as we watch more and more Chinese videos.

Youtube recommended on my Chinese only account

Now whenever we are in this Youtube account, we are solely immersed in Chinese.

Creating a separate Youtube Channel

It used to be that if you wanted a separate Youtube account, you would need a whole new google account. Not anymore.

Youtube now allows you to create several channels for the same google account. Here’s how you can do that:

  1. Visit your list of channels and log into Youtube if required.
  2. Click Create a new channel
  3. Give your channel a name, for example for me: Chinese Learning
  4. Once you click Create, you will be taken to your new channel

Just make sure to switch back to your normal account if you want to watch native language videos, as I initially forgot to switch back.

Tip - To switch back, click your profile picture in the top right, and then click ’Switch account’ in the menu and select your normal account.

Switching Youtube Channels

Who and what to watch

So you’ve created a separate Mandarin-only channel.

Time to start watching Chinese videos, but who and what to watch?

Although there is a lot of content on Youtube, what you watch should mostly depends on two things: Your interests and your current level.

Watching content you find interesting, such as videos on hobbies you have, means that you are immersing yourself with vocabulary you are more likely to use in the future, since you are interested in these things.

It’s not necessary to force yourself to watch videos you dislike or find boring just to learn some Mandarin. In my experience I learn more when I’m enjoying the content.

Recommendations for beginners


The key is to combine interesting videos and with videos suitable for your level. This isn’t always possible, especially when you are just starting out.

It’s something I found really hard to balance when I started out too. I simply wasn’t interested in watching kids shows so I found it tough to stay fixated on watching it.

With that said, here’s some shows I found at least relatively interesting which I think are suitable for beginners to intermediates:

  • 爸爸去哪儿?

    • This is a show where Chinese celebrities take their kids with other celebrities kids on small trips.
    • As well as being super cute, as a beginner you can understand quite a lot of what the children say.
  • Thomas阿福 and 杰里德Jared

    • These are both foreigners who live in China and produce content in Chinese.

Some people might suggest to avoid foreigners speaking Chinese so you can focus solely on acquiring an authentic Chinese accent.

However when starting out I found these kind of videos were great for increasing vocabulary. Not to mention their accents are brilliant!

What I’m currently watching

Recently I’ve been watching a lot of interview content. I’ve found that not only are videos often funny, but you can learn a lot of conversational things from them.

Here’s some examples I’ve been enjoying recently:

  • HahaTai哈哈台

    • Hilarious interviews as well as random odd videos.
    • Note - These are Taiwanese Youtubers so subtitles are in traditional characters rather than simplified.
  • 大樹君TreeMan

    • Social experiments/Prank videos in China.
    • I found these videos especially helpful for colloquial and authentic conversation that occurs in China compared to interviews.

If I’m not watching interview type content, then its most likely content related to my hobbies, or vlogs.

I’ve tried to watch Chinese TV shows, but I found their use of language to be too exaggerated and overall not realistic of authentic conversations.

What to do when watching

Photo by Victoria Heath

I like to break down how I watch Youtube depending on my mindset/situation.

There’s probably 3 different ways I watch mandarin Youtube videos:

  • Active listening + Increasing vocabulary.
  • Active listening.
  • Passive listening.

Active listening + Increasing vocabulary

If I haven’t learnt any new vocabulary today and I’m not mentally exhausted, then this is the way I’ll be watching Youtube.

The method is simple: You are listening to the video as if someone was talking to you. Also, you can only Chinese subtitles.

If you hear a word or sentence you don’t understand, open up your Chinese dictionary app (Pleco or equivalent) and from there try to figure out the meanings.

If you are a fan of spaced repetition aka flashcards you could then add the new vocab and example sentences to your flashcards. If not, make a note of it mentally.

Make sure to re-watch that specific part of the video a couple of times, so that you can clearly understand each word that is being said. This repetition might seem tedious but ensures you familiarise the sounds for the new vocabulary.

I personally limit this method of watching Youtube videos to about 10-15 new words per day. I find that anything more than this results in me becoming overwhelmed, leading to me forgetting new vocabulary rapidly.

Active listening

I’ll use this method when I’ve already learnt enough new vocabulary for the day, and just want to get more input to be more familiar with spoken Mandarin.

Here we again listen to the video with as much concentration as possible, as if someone is speaking directly to you. This time however you can have english subtitles if available.

Having said that, what I usually do is turn English subtitles off until I don’t understand a sentence/word and then switch them on just to figure out what I missed.

A lot of the time you will find you don’t need to have English subtitles on anyway. Depending on the type of video, you can get enough visual cues to understand the content anyway.

The main goal here is training your ear to more easily figure out the nuances in Chinese spoken language. The only way to make yourself more familiar with that is to actively listen to as much as you can.

Passive listening

I have mixed feelings about passive listening. Some people believe that listening to Chinese or their target language while they sleep helps them to acquire it faster.

The idea is that you have some kind of chinese audio going on in the background, in this case a Youtube video. Although you’re not concentrated on it, the argument is that you are more immersed and even if you don’t actively listen to it, it still helps train your listening, just at a much lower pace that active listening.

I can’t imagine that working for me, I feel like my sleep quality would be ruined and consequently my focus when learning new things would diminish.

However, sometimes I will have a show on in the background while I’m doing other things. Most of the time I’m not really listening to it. But in-between things I’m doing, I can switch to active listening, even if it’s for just a minute or two. I think this active listening can build up over a long time, but it’s hard to measure if this is actually effective or not.


Well thats about it. Since this is my first post, I would love some feedback!

Do you have a similar to method to me, or do you have extra things you do?

Let me know in the comments below!

Join the Newsletter

Subscribe to get my latest content by email.

    I won’t send you spam.

    Unsubscribe at any time.