Learning Mandarin: How To Easily Boost Your Listening Skills

Learning Mandarin: How To Easily Boost Your Listening Skills

Many students in Mandarin classes in Singapore generally focus on improving their output skills, such as writing Hanzi characters and pronouncing each word accurately and clearly. As such, more often than not, an area that is overlooked is listening. While listening to spoken Chinese in songs and movies may not prove to be that much of a challenge, experiencing a real-life interaction with a native Chinese speaker can be tricky and intimidating. Understanding them word for word and crafting a comprehensible response wouldn’t be easy, especially with the varying accents, intonations and pitches to take note of. Below are a few exercises for you to boost your active and passive listening skills.

Active listening

Active listening entails listening to an audio source, preferably one that features everyday Chinese spoken in real life. A speech transcript will come in handy, as you recognise each word and repeat the audio until you understand everything being said. Here are some steps to systematically improve your active listening:

1. Listen to the entirety of the recording

The first step in this exercise is to listen to the entire recording and evaluate how much you can understand. It is best to focus solely on picking up as much dialogue as possible at first listen.

2. Listen to the recording for a second time and take notes

Next, play the source once more and jot down the foreign phrases, words and strings of dialogue that you can’t recognise.

3. Read the transcript

Afterwards, read through the transcript to determine how well you can understand it. Expect to stumble over a few characters, but don’t be discouraged and learn from where you’ve made a mistake. Seek out the new words to you and comprehend the grammar rules of each sentence.

4. Listen to the audio again while reading the transcript

Finally, listen to the audio while reading the transcript at the same time. By doing so, you reinforce the things you’ve learned in the previous step while training yourself to pronounce new words.

Passive listening

In passive listening, the goal is simple: listen to as much Chinese as possible. Unlike active listening drills, you don’t necessarily have to understand every word or sentence. The reason for this is to acquire as much input as possible on the language and further increase your exposure to it to get a better feel of the language. When improving your passive listening, there are a couple of things you can work on, such as to:

  • Reinforce the things you already know
  • Acquaint yourself with the various accents of the language
  • Get used to listening to spoken Chinese with background noise

All in all, working on your passive listening is ideal for getting some studying done, even when you’re doing something else. Here are three simple steps to work on your passive listening when you have the time:

1. Pick an audio source that you’re interested in

When choosing a source, it’s best to pick the one you are interested in and something that will not bore you. Podcasts are an ideal option, but a playlist of Chinese songs can be a good idea as well

2. Listen

After choosing an audio source:

  • Kick back and listen while you tend to your other tasks.
  • Don’t fret over not being able to understand everything. Instead, focus on discerning the general topic and notice the nuanced cadence of the speaker.

3. Repeat as many times as possible

As with active listening, you’re likely to understand more of what’s being said on your second, third and even fourth time listening to a source. Therefore, replay your audio as many times as possible and spend as much time improving your passive listening skills.


When interacting with someone else, understanding them is key to successful communication. Improving your listening skills is an essential aspect of learning a new language, and it is crucial not to overlook it.

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