Immersion has proven to be the most effective way to learn a language, however doing it from ground zero is definitely not easy. When I first started learning mandarin it took me about a year before I could give up flashcards and material for language learners and just immerse with content made by natives, for natives. However, a large part of that reason was a huge struggle to find resources and engaging material. Now that I’ve been immersing for over a year, I’ve found lots of things that are really useful, and I’d like to share them with you now.
Generally as a beginner, because books are impenetrably difficult, it’s generally recommended you start with video material. Of course you need to read too, and if you haven’t learnt hanzi by now you should definitely get started on that, especially as even for video material it’s best to watch with subtitles, but there are ways you can make it much easier for yourself. For this reason, I’ll start with video material, and then proceed to written material.
Video Material – Should you watch children’s shows?
It’s honestly up to you, I didn’t, but I feel like I could have started immersion much sooner if I did.
Netflix has lots of shows for children in mandarin. These will be simpler than most things you could watch, and will be much easier, but it’s also important to note that the purpose of children’s shows is to teach children vocabulary, meaning it will help you too, and be quite comprehensible even if you don’t understand the language. I have only ever watched Peppa Pig on Netflix, and it did give me a confidence boost when I watched it. There are of course many more.
Also if you are looking for content that has both pinyin and hanzi, then unfortunately you might be disappointed. When you are wanting to learn a word, you should pause and draw it in google translate so that you can learn what it is. Don’t do this very often as the value of immersion is through comprehensible input, but it can really help if you keep on noticing the same words appear.
Video Material – Anime
I remember spending a long time trying to find anime in Mandarin and being unsuccessful, a piece of advice for if you ever want to watch anything is that searching something like “Watch anime online free in mandarin” (of course in the mandarin language) is generally ineffective, however if you search for individual shows you want to watch you are more likely to be successful.
A good site for watching anime in mandarin is /www.ktkkt.top, however be sure to add popup blocker and ad blocker from the chrome web store first. Some anime are easier than others, obviously have a look around and choose for yourself. Mandarin dubs essentially always use simpler language than native mandarin animations, so in general they are an easier form of immersion.
I wouldn’t worry too much if the anime you watch is very different to real life, as continuing to immerse is the most important, and generally a lot of anime can be applied to real life. For example if you enjoy watching Naruto in real life, it makes sense that you would also want to talk about it in the language you are learning.
Video Material – Vlogs
TV shows may be too hard at first, and that’s completely normal. Vlogs can be a good choice if you’re struggling. The first immersion I did that was actually successful was the series of GEM Vlogs on YouTube youtube.com/watch?v=YOIozHEdnZM&list=PLhN7ssqfKxgpGDz5NhHUg8h8_etUJztOU. However just searching vlog with any hanzi on YouTube will help you to find a vlog you are interested in.
Vlogs generally are quite simple, although at times they may get complicated. Don’t worry too much, just make sure you’re enjoying the content. If you are looking for vlogs done by a male, I think you will find that very difficult. I couldn’t find any. Part of the struggle of learning to speak is finding someone of your gender that speaks in very natural ways without unnatural editing and jump cuts. I’ve found that this is much easier to do if your are a girl. When I asked my girlfriend (who is Chinese) why this is the case, she said “Nobody is interested in a man just talking by himself in front of a camera without editing” and I was pretty disappointed.
Video Material – Bilibili
I must also mention that if you are looking for Chinese immersion on YouTube, you are already looking in the wrong place. Bilibili is the Chinese equivalent of YouTube, and therefore has much more material for you to enjoy. Once again it’s important to search for what you want in very specific terms. For example I wanted to find someone who talked about Zelda on bilibili who talked about games other than breath of the wild (As Zelda is quite new in China this is not easy at all), and I didn’t find a channel I liked for a long time. However searching for the name of the specific Zelda game I was interested in helped me to find a channel that I actually liked, so take this as a lesson.
It’s quite difficult at first, but if you persevere you will find channels that you like.
Video Material – Other websites
I will simply list these
喜马拉雅 – podcasts
iqiyi （爱奇艺) – drama’s
Amazon prime – It has some stuff normally, search the Chinese language tag and make sure it’s not cantonese
YouTube music – I listened to lots of Chinese songs on here
QuickFox – Chinese VPN
Audible – It has some Chinese audiobooks such as 鬼吹灯 which is something I’m still finishing
Please let me know if you use any others!
Reading Material – Books
I read kids books first, and it was while doing this that I really felt able to immerse with video material, and actually understand a lot of it . If you want to read any English book, for example Harry Potter the most important words to put are 下载 (Which means download) or txt. This is because offering books as a pdf isn’t actually done very often, the most common method they use to download books is in txt format. But it’s always safer to read online rather than downloading everything – I’m not responsible for any virus’s your computer gets.
When you read books it’s often too much effort to translate every word, I recommend using something like LingQ where you can translate automatically, or a Chinese reader which translates words simply by hovering over the text. If you don’t have any of these, definitely don’t translate words very often, it will help you to read more.
A very compelling children’s book that I’ve read is 舒克和贝塔, which can easily be found online using the tips above. Reading translations of popular children’s books such as those of Roald Dahl is quite simple too.
I read Charlie and the chocolate factory in Chinese, and I feel it would be good to read Harry Potter too. If you’re looking for that search 哈利波特.
Reading Material – Manga
Manga is probably the material you will be able to understand the most. Just search 漫画, and you will be able to find a website that has something.
The only manga that I seriously read was 校园高手, which was a huge confidence booster, but mainly because the series is pretty generic, and quite trash and predictable. Which is normally bad, but if you’re wanting to maximise comprehensible input it’s actually useful.
Manga that I can actually recommend because it’s good is 快把我哥带走, and 胡渣小女, both of which are really funny, although maybe a bit more advanced than generic trash manga.
If you can’t understand one manga, then no worries, just try another, there is absolutely no problem with struggling to read a manga, remember that you’re immersion to learn and have fun at the same time.
A good app to read manga on is 快看，I think you can find it on the Huawei play store but not the google play store. I’m not sure about apple.
Although dubs of anime are really infrequent, and not really watched by Chinese people, manga is definitely not. The main difficulty with manga is not finding it itself, but finding it in simplified Chinese – you might have to start learning traditional.
As it may be difficult to find the manga, I’ll go through a general guide that should work for anything popular enough to get a fan translation. First, search the English name followed by 名字 to get a webpage which should contain the Chinese name of the anime, after this, search the name with 第一章 or 第一卷 to find a website that you can read it at.
Some English sites e.g. mangadex allow manga of other translations, so it may be possible to find Chinese translations here.
Buying Physical Material for Immersion
This is of course not essential, and definitely not something to do for a beginner, but I want to make it clear that if you want, it’s very easy to get physical immersion material in your own country.
With that being said, most of the stuff you can buy is martial arts films in charity shops, but I have found actual written books in mandarin Chinese at charity shops. I’ve found “万般滋味 都是生活” and “一只独特独行的猪” – actual novels! These are the only one’s I’ve found, and I do live next to a University which has a 25% Chinese population (part of why I’m studying Chinese in the first place) so it may not be representative, but it’s still worth a try.
Amazon is actually a place where you can buy books as well as DVD’s in mandarin. Of course most of the books are for teaching you Chinese (and not immersion), however you can find some really good ones on there. I’ve ordered 三体, 活着 and 边城, the latter of which is much too complicated for me. However the other two were great. It really is possible. You can buy many more for an extremely high price, but generally extremely famous and well known ones can be bought at an affordable price.
But probably the king of ordering mandarin books to your own country has to be book depository because essentially all books there are reasonably priced, and it has such a large variety. There are about 10 books that I’m interested in reading now, some are incredibly obscure and about rarely seen subjects and they have all of them. There are roughly 430,000 mandarin books on book depository. You would have thought that most of those would be simply about learning Chinese, but this isn’t the case. You can filter by genre, and find that those books related to learning a language, or are just simply for small children are only about 30,000 of the 430,000 books on the website. So chances are, if you want to read something on there, you can.
You have a person here who will reply to any question you ask them pretty quickly, so if there is anything you would like to know about immersion feel free to ask. Other people who read this will be able to see it, and you yourself will have the answer. Let me know how you get on.