You may have been learning to speak Chinese for a while and find that, as I do when you are speaking to friends and maybe even your teacher, you understand most of what is being said. But then, when you speak to a random person, listen to the radio or watch a TV programme you get completely lost, which can knock anyone's confidence. Friends and teachers are often grading their language but, the shopkeeper and the taxi driver are not worrying about grading language! There are many resources you can use to help you with your Chinese listening, some are for free and some you need to pay for, below I will highlight the resources I have found useful.
Free resources such as Sohu and Tencent that show a plethora of Chinese programmes are a good place to start. You may not be a TV person, but using sites like these often introduces you to a variety of accents. However, to be at the level of watching or listening to a TV programme, your Chinese listening should be quite good. If it isn't, don't despair. Sometimes you just have to be smart about how you use resources such as these. It is easy to put yourself under pressure, and think you have to watch a whole film or programme.
You could just limit yourself you to five to ten minutes of intensive listening, the great thing about Chinese TV, is that most programmes have subtitles. Listen to a five-minute segment for as many times as possible, and try and fill in more and more of what is being said each time you listen. This type of listening works well for tuning your ear to those sounds that seem like dog whistles that only native speakers of a language seem to hear.
I know many people turn their noses up at Chinese soap operas, the storylines are often overdramatic, but many of them are a great resource for learning Chinese idiomatic expressions. And it is visual, so you have the advantage of context.
There are also radio apps such as Fenghuang FM (凤凰FM) or Ximalaya FM (喜马拉雅FM). They have talk shows and audiobooks. Fenghuang FM also has a chat show called qiang qiang san ren (锵锵三人). what is great about this show is that the transcript of the whole show is available. I would recommend this chat show for quite advanced speakers of Chinese, however, I often just listen without pressuring myself to understand to get used to the rhythm of the language.
Chinesepod – Comprehensible input
Of course, there are Chinese listening resources that require a paid subscription. For example, ChinesePod is a useful resource; it is recorded conversations, so it is very comprehensiblecontrolled input, which I find is very useful particularly when I am trying to get my head around a tricky grammar point and perfect for beginners. I find this resource useful for everyday language use; ordering a pizza over the phone, renting a flat, etc.
There is a free version of this resource, but you are limited to just having access to their library of programmes, you would not have access to the transcripts – but this may be all you need at the beginning. If you decide to pay, you have a choice of an annual, monthly or quarterly payments.
Yabla – The best of both worlds
The most recent premium resource I have been using is Yabla; it describes itself as language immersion with authentic video, which is exactly what it is. You can watch interviews with celebrities, Chinese commercials, documentaries and much more. It shows programmes in bite-sized pieces. You can decide whether you want to see the subtitles or not, or whether you want to see the English translation or not. You can highlight words and get instant translations, and it will be stored for you in the online dictionary. And, you can listen as many times as you want – do not think repetition is cheating – how else would you have learnt to understand your own language!
I say this is the best of both worlds because you are listening to authentic Chinese, it is very visual, and you can choose your level. I think this is one of the best resources I have used so far. You can pay for a period of six months.
My advice is start with what is freely available and go from there, listening can be one of the toughest parts of learning a language, but we live in an age where we have so much access to resources, paid and free, give these resources a try and be open to what you learn teaching in China.