Watching Chinese TV for language learning

So I’m sitting on the couch about five minutes into an episode of this one show that’s supposedly the Chinese equivalent of Friends (爱情公寓) when Jessica, who’s sitting opposite where she can hear the dialogue but can’t see the screen, suddenly says, “Hey! I know that scene! They’re totally ripping that off!” Turns out this show isn’t just a similar; it actually copied parts of the script and story from the original Friends so blatantly that Chinese viewers complained on social media and the producers apologized.

american_Friends
(So does that make it extra Chinese?)
chinese_friends

I’ve never even seen a full episode of the original Friends, but it’s really popular in China for learning English — the dialogue is simple, filled with digestible one-or-two-liners, and the canned laughter tells you how to understand the context (funny, sad, touching, etc.). That’s what we need, only in Chinese: something that’s easy to follow because it’s simple nearly to the point of stupid. We’re not aiming for challenging content; we’re aiming for lots of content. (And the reality of it is, nearly any Chinese TV show is challenging; you’ll need intermediate/upper-intermediate Chinese to even attempt to follow most mainstream Chinese media.)

In addition to Googling through the language study blogs, I asked on Weixin what TV series we should watch for language learning. Here’s what the first 26 responses suggested: 人民的民义(x8)、西游记(x3)、琅琊榜(x2)、欢乐颂(x2)、大宅门、伪装者、父母爱情、芈月传、甄嬛传、三国、一仆二主、大头儿子,小头爸爸、小别离、我爱我家、康熙王朝、神探狄仁杰、海尔弟兄。

At different language levels, you need to study in different ways. I’m in the middle of revamping my study routine — much in the spirit of what Hacking Chinese describes here — and part of that is regularly consuming more Chinese content.

Are there any Chinese TV shows you’ve actually found helpful to your language study?

We haven’t picked anything to follow yet, but we’ll take a look at 欢乐颂、我爱我家、大头儿子,小头爸爸 and 人民的民义,along with 爸爸去哪儿?, 快乐大本营 and 爱情公寓。And for whatever we watch, we’ll also try to get our hands on the subtitle files.

The mysterious Chinese colour “qing”

The colour qÄ«ng 青, which we’ve encountered once before, popped up again recently in a story book our daughter’s preschool teacher was reading to her class. It made characters out of each colour, and showed what new colours were created when they touched. All the usual suspects were there — red, yellow, blue, green, black, etc. — plus “qÄ«ng.” See if you can figure out how to describe it.

This is “Little Black” 小黑 xiÇŽo hÄ“i:

heise_black

And this is “Little QÄ«ng” 小青 xiÇŽo qÄ«ng:qingse_qing

You can see on Little Qing’s fingers, the shirt near the fingers and the water drops, that they’ve tinged black with green and blue.

Our dictionaries aren’t super helpful, with entries like, “nature’s colour,” “green or blue,” “greenish black.” I wonder if the iridescent green of some beetles, for example, would be called qÄ«ng by my students, rather than green 绿 lÇœ.

It’s curious that our daughters are growing up with a slightly different colourscape than we did.

There’s more about qÄ«ng here: Language, perception and the Chinese colour “qÄ«ng”

The Romance of Han & Leia — in Chinese

First let’s set the relational context by recalling Han (汉 hàn) and Leia’s (莱娅 láiyà) recent romantic history…
delusionslaserbrain
aloneinthesouthpassage
truefeelings02
…in which Leia calls Han a:
stuckup
nerfherder
scruffylookin
…and then looks at him like this:
leiaglare
Leia (莱娅 láiyà):
真不知道这些幻想哪里来的 zhēn bùzhīdào zhèxiē huànxiǎng nǎlǐ láide
“Really don’t know where these illusions come from”

Han (汉 hàn):
但你没在南侧通道看到我们 dàn nǐ méi zài náncè tōngdào kàndào wǒmen
“But you didn’t see us in the south passage”
她对我倾诉钟情了喔 tā duì wǒ qīngsù zhōngqíng le ō
“She poured out her heart to me”

Leia (莱娅 láiyà):
你这个自大、愚蠢、邋遢的呆瓜! nǐ zhège zìdà、yúchǔn、lātade dāiguā
“You self-important, foolish, sloppy idiot!”

Han (汉 hàn):
谁邋遢了?shuí lāta le?
“Who’s sloppy?”

Undaunted, our hero Han, who always shoots first, is not about to let little things like kissing your brother or getting called nerf herder slow him down for long:
scoundrel00a
scoundrel00b
scoundrel01
scoundrel02
scoundrel03
scoundrel04
scoundrel05
Han (汉 hàn):
承认吧,有时候你觉得我还不错
chéngrènba,yǒushíhòu nǐ juéde wǒ hái bùcuò
“Admit it, sometimes you think I’m not too bad”

scoundrelliumangLeia (莱娅 láiyà):
或许……偶尔吧……
huòxǔ……ǒuěrba……
“Perhaps, occasionally”
你在不耍流氓的时候
nǐ zài bù shuǎliúmáng deshíhòu
“When you aren’t behaving like a hoodlum”

Han (汉 hàn):
耍流氓?shuǎliúmáng?
耍流氓?shuǎliúmáng?
“Behaving like a hoodlum? Behaving like a hoodlum?”
你喜欢我,因为我是流氓
nǐ xǐhuān wǒ,yīnwèi wǒ shì liúmáng
“You like me, because I’m a hoodlum”
你这人就需要流氓
nǐ zhè rén jiù xūyào liúmáng
“You need a hoodlum”

“I’ve got a bad feeling about this” — in Chinese

buxiangde yuganEvery single “I’ve got a bad feeling about this” line from the original Star Wars trilogy — in Chinese.

For all those times in China you wish you’d known how to say, “Um, guys? I’ve got an inauspicious premonition about this…”

Star Wars: Episode IV A New Hope
星球大战4:新希望 xīngqiú dàzhàn: xīn xīwàng
badfeeling01
badfeeling02
Luke Skywalker 卢克·天行者 lúkè tiānxíngzhě:
“I have a very bad feeling about this.”
Han Solo 汉·索洛 hàn suǒluò:
“I got a bad feeling about this.”

Both lines translated as:
我有种不祥的预感 wǒ yǒu zhǒng bùxiángde yùgǎn
“I have a kind of inauspicious premonition.”

Honourable mention: 伍基 楚巴卡 wǔjī chǔbākǎ aka 楚伊 chǔyī

Star Wars: Episode V The Empire Strikes Back
星球大战5:帝国反击战 xīngqiú dàzhàn: dìguó fǎjī zhàn
(The Empire Counter-Attack War)
badfeeling03
Princess Leia 莱娅公主 láiyà gōngzhÇ”: “I have a bad feeling about this.”

我有不祥的预感 wǒ yǒu bùxiángde yùgǎn
“I have an inauspicious premonition.”

Star Wars: Episode VI Return of the Jedi
星球大战6:绝地归来 xīngqiú dàzhàn: juédì guīlái
badfeeling04
badfeeling05
C-3PO: “R2, I have a bad feeling about this.”

我有种不祥的预感 wǒ yǒu zhǒng bùxiángde yùgǎn
“I have a kind of inauspicious premonition.”

Han Solo 汉·索洛 hàn suÇ’luò: “I have a really bad feeling about this.”

我有种不好的预感 wǒ yǒu zhǒng bùhǎode yùgǎn
“I have a kind of not good premonition.”

BONUS! Star Wars: Episode VII The Force Awakens
星球大战7:原力觉醒 xīngqiú dàzhàn: yuánlì juéxǐng

P.S. – The list of lines comes from Wookieepedia.

P.P.S. – Character names came from Baidu, so no guarantees.

P.P.P.S. – More bonus!

“May the Force be with you”
愿原力与你同在
yuàn yuánlì yǔ nǐ tóngzài

And if you’re with your small laowai kids at a Chinese restaurant or your neighbours’:

“May a fork be with you”
愿叉子与你同在
yuàn chāzi yǔ nǐ tóngzài

Language, perception and the Chinese colour “qÄ«ng”

So there’s this thing going around about how supposedly no one could see the color blue until modern times. I’m not sure I buy that; it’s interesting, but sounds like all the other pseudo-science and “history” sloshing around my social media feeds. And I don’t have the time to investigate it well enough to form an opinion. The Chinese have a colour that we don’t. Does that mean we can’t see it? Are we missing out?

The relationship between language and culture (or language and perception) is fascinating. I suspect that if I could somehow perceive the world from a born-and-bred Mainland Chinese perspective, my mind would short-circuit within the first few minutes.

Anyway, that article reminded me of the Chinese colour 青 (qÄ«ng), aka blue, green, black, blackish-green, and the color of nature. The coworker I just asked says qÄ«ng is “a little bit greener than green” (“比绿色绿一点”)。 Our almost-6-year-old daughter, who’s spent the last three years in an all-Chinese preschool and with whom we’ve never discussed qÄ«ng, mentioned the other day (without prompting from us) that qÄ«ng is “in rainbows, it’s really pretty green.”

qing bubbles

One of the fun things about Anthropology 101 is discovering that there are different ways cultures categorize the world, including the color spectrum. Look at these less-than-helpful dictionary entries for the Chinese colour qīng:

In Chinese other words are usually used for blue 蓝,green 绿, and black 黑。 If I ask my Chinese kindergarten students the colour of the sky or grass or coal, they’ll probably use one of those three, not qÄ«ng 青。 But qÄ«ng isn’t rare; our city is QÄ«ngdÇŽo (青岛: “QÄ«ng Island”), our street is QÄ«ngshān Rd. (青山路: “QÄ«ng Mountain Rd.”), and there’s a province called QÄ«nghÇŽi (青海: “QÄ«ng Sea”). In these place names, islands, mountains, and oceans can all be qÄ«ng, but aside from that I’ve never heard someone refer to an object as qÄ«ng. Apparently the 1800-year-old dictionary 释名 defines qÄ«ng as “birth, like the color of things born” (生也,象物生时色也)。

Interestingly enough, a Google image search for “青” (“qÄ«ng“) turned up entries for the colour, and shows mostly blue, while a Baidu image search (the Chinese Google equivalent) turned up entries for words that contain the 青 character, and shows mostly green.

qing image search screenshot

But searching for “青色” (“the colour qÄ«ng“) yields more similar results:


It’s almost like Chinese qÄ«ng belongs in Dr. Seuss:

He has something called qīng.
qīng is so hard to get,
You never saw anything
Like it, I bet.
[…]
Then the qīng
It went qīng!
And, oh boy! What a qīng!
Now, don’t ask me what qÄ«ng is.
I never will know.
But, boy! Let me tell you
It DOES clean up snow!

IMO, our differences between cultures are much more profound than we tend to realize, and they don’t get the respect they deserve. But even deeper than that runs what we have in common, and that transcends biological and cultural differences.

P.S. — All these images, aside from the dictionary and Baidu screenshots, came from a Google image search for 青。 Click the images for their source page. The giant qÄ«ng eyeball is here.

For more about qīng:

For more language and perception: