Even though nowadays there are an increasing amount of Chinese language TV programmes available. Helping learners of Chinese around the world as they absorb the language while admiring the ancient Chinese ensembles against the backdrop of the Forbidden City. However, I would argue that bilingual TV shows offer their own benefits, such as, having more representation of a international America. In one of the latest podcast episodes, the history of Chinese immigration to America was discussed. According to a US 2022 census which quoted statistics from 2019, stating that Chinese was the second most spoken second language in American households. By watching bilingual shows you can see even more example situations where Chinese may be used in a variety of ways in a modern setting. According to an article written by Asian Canadian Victoria Huang, the lack of accurate representation helps perpetuate damaging stereotypes, many originating from the 1800’s when the Asian exclusionary legislation was enacted. Huang argued “These flawed portrayals can be easily internalised by both the individuals of a group being stereotyped and other members of society. All in all, it influences public opinion and the societal view of underrepresented communities.” With regards to learning the language, bilingual shows are also a good starting point for those who have just started learning the language, if you don’t want to go for the straight at the deep end approach.. Reinforcing your language abilities through watching bilingual shows will help you understand not just the language in further depth but also the cultural nuances in a modern setting. With a tonal language like Chinese, learning the different contexts is even more crucial. While there are a few popular bilingual TV shows of other languages such as Jane The Virgin (English and Spanish) and Kim’s Convenience (Korean and English), here are a few bilingual TV shows with Chinese and English I highly recommend:
- Fresh off the Boat- The show first premiered in 2015. Set in the mid 1990’s, based on the memoir of the same name written by Taiwanese American celebrity chef Eddie Huang. The show runs for 6 seasons and follows a Taiwanese American family as they readjust after moving from ChinaTown, Washington DC to Orlando, Florida. Themes explored include identity and trying to fit in. Like the show Jane The Virgin, the show also features a grandmother character who speaks entirely in her mother tongue. Played by Chinese American actress Lucille Soong. By making the show bilingual, it allows the programme to feature scenes like the Lunar New Year dinner, where The Huang family have a competition to see who can speak Chinese the longest, which is one of my favourite scenes See clip here.
- American Born Chinese– First aired in May 2023 on the streaming service Disney+. The show is based on a graphic novel of the same name written by Chinese American Gene Luen Yang. The story follows Jin Wang as he navigates school, tries out for the school’s football team, and deals with home life when he meets a new student, Wei Chen, who involves Jin in a mythical quest as the son of the Monkey King. The show incorporates Chinese mythology and impressive fighting scenes. Similar to Fresh Off The Boat, the show also explores themes such as identity, dealing with stereotypes and self-acceptance. I like that the show explores the same themes in its own way. Starring Oscar winners Michelle Yeoh and Ke Huy Quan. Jin’s parents often have conversations in Chinese with each other, which is a stark contrast with JIn who struggles with the language. Through using Chinese in the show, viewers can learn slang and practise their reading skills.
- Twogether– First released in 2020. This show is rather different to the previous recommended shows. It is a travel documentary, it follows celebrities Lee Seung-ji from Korea and Jasper Liu from Taiwan as they travel to different locations across Asia suggested by fans, to complete a variety of challenges, to meet their fans. Unlike other shows, the two main languages spoken are Korean and Mandarin. However Liu does speak a little english. It’s a good programme for Chinese learners who want something a bit more challenging. Despite the pair not actually speaking the other language, I think that the show does a very good job at maintaining a light hearted tone, and showcasing the duo developing friendship. By listening to the two languages, avid polyglots can also see how the Korean and Mandarin languages relate to each other. The programme’s second season is set to air 21st June 2024.
In conclusion, bilingual shows not only offer valuable representation for different minority groups, but also provide Chinese learners with insights into the various ways the language is used in different contexts. Watching these shows allows you to see the language in action and appreciate its use in diverse situations. Moreover, by honing your Mandarin skills through bilingual TV shows, you can enjoy a wider variety of shows, enjoy different types of humour, and gain insights into various cultures, all in a world that’s becoming increasingly international. Happy watching! 📺🌍