Chinese Language Learning – Watched a movie over the course of an entire year (无问西东)


This post serves as a bit of a victory lap as well as to share my experience with this method of learning chinese. I’ve been learning at various paces for almost 4 years now, in general without a textbook or school. I’m a firm believer in learning the basics and then getting as much native material as possible.

Last year, my main method of learning chinese was [watching Peppa Pig]( — listening, transcribing, translating, recording, reviewing flashcards. Complete and utter understanding of the content —- meant for 4-year olds, but native 4-year-olds nonetheless.


So when my chinese roommate and I moved into an apartment last January, and he told me about [this movie]( he wanted me to watch… I said I’d watch it if we could make sure I understood every line. He said sure, I said “I don’t think you understand how long this is going to take”. And so, here we are, Eleven months and 150 pages of dialog later. ONE MOVIE COMPLETE!


Ultimately, this was both an effective method for learning a lot of interesting chinese and also in my opinion not as efficient as peppa pig for my level (which is unfortunately still far, far far far from fluent). Clearly, a movie meant for adults would be at a much higher level than peppa pig — there were times in the movie where entire sentences would be new words — but also where people would speak cantonese or a regional dialect or use ancient chinese. This also made it quite interesting and genuine (check out 39:20 for instance), but for me, it was often just too much, and rather than embracing the challenge and fully understanding everything, I felt myself just trying to write the words down so I could move on. The closer I got to the end, the more I felt like this. The movie eventually became an albatross around my neck that prevented me from studying in other ways — I couldn’t do those things because I still had to get through this freaking movie.

Ultimately, the year would have gone by either way, and at least it’s something added to my language corpus. [If you’re interested, I’ve got the transcription/translation up on this google doc over here.]( The translations get lazier and less complete as time goes on, but it’s a good starting point for anyone willing to take on the challenge for themselves.

In any case, it’s good to be free!

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  1. xiguacha December 30, 2022
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