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Benefits of Changing Your Phone Language to Chinese

Have you ever considered practicing your language skills by changing your phone’s system language to Chinese? I had always heard of people using this technique with their phone, computer, GPS, etc but, until recently, I had never tried it out myself. I’ve started using this method to help remind myself to practice my Mandarin daily and it has been really helpful! Today I’d like to share with you some of the benefits and difficulties I have encountered.

Okay, so let’s kick off with some of the benefits.


System menus, messages, notifications, buttons

Not surprisingly, tons of system menus and labels change to Chinese which is a great way to learn new terminology and vocabulary. Note that Siri language is managed through a separate setting, so you can still communicate with Siri in English. Here’s some examples of differences in iPhone menus and apps.

Major apps use Chinese

Many apps that you use every day support Chinese and will start sending your push notifications and other information in Chinese. Check out these examples below of using the Chinese language Facebook and Instagram.

I also enjoy a feature of Instagram in which you can tap on post captions for a translation from your native language to Chinese. Check out the comparison below.

Maps and Navigation in Mandarin

You probably guessed this one, but when you change over your language, Google Maps changes entirely to Chinese. This is really cool because it helps you learn the Chinese names of many different cities around the world, as well as have your GPS navigation spoken in Mandarin!

Wikipedia Google Searches Automatically in Mandarin

Here’s a benefit that I never expected. You may be familiar with how when you use the Safari browser on iPhone, often a Google search will provide a brief blurb taken from Wikipedia and a link to the relevant Wikipedia page. With your phone set to Chinese, these will show up in Chinese as well as the article itself when you click through to the Wikipedia page. This is super cool because it reminds you to take some time and read in Chinese everyday. I have found that I often would rather read in Chinese than take the time to change the Wikipedia page back to English (but you can quickly do that, if you like). Check out the examples below.

Mandarin Webpages

In addition to the benefits listed above, some websites support Chinese, especially if the websites are for companies which sell products globally. This is really cool because you don’t always expect which website will support this so it gives a little spontaneity to your day, providing more occasional opportunities to practice your Chinese skills.


Banking and Finance Apps

Many apps determine what language to present content in based on your system settings. This can be really cool because most apps on your phone will suddenly convert to Chinese language. However, there are some functions that can be kind of scary to have change to Chinese if you aren’t 100% confident in your skills. For example, some online banking or stock trading apps may have Chinese language functionality and will change over languages. I personally have noticed Paypal as an example of this. Just be aware that if you are making a large transaction and you aren’t confident you understand, you might want to temporarily change back to your native language to do so.

Navigation Apps

Having your phone in Chinese can be all well and good in normal situations, but when you are stressed out and in a hurry, it can be an extra headache. I have found that Google Maps provided Mandarin language navigation can be frustrating at times, even if you understand perfectly, because it does not provide street names. Instead, Google will tell you to turn left in 500 ft without further explanation. You’ll have to look at your phone for clarification on the map most of the time. This isn’t a game changer, but it can definitely add some difficultly if you’re in heavily traffic in the rain. Be careful and consider changing your language back over to English before setting out on a long journey if you are worried. Remember, changing languages requires a brief system reboot (not to mention navigating through the System menu) so it’s not an immediate process.

Spoken Content

This may be unfamiliar to most users, but I think it’s worth noting. I like to minimize the time and energy I spend reading information on my phone, so I have enabled the Speak Selection setting in the Spoken Content menu. What this does is allow you to have your iPhone read selected text aloud. This is helpful if you want to just select the text of an article or email and listen to it being read to you. For more information on how to set this up on iPhone, you can read about it here. Either way, if you rely on this setting, note that changing the system language to Chinese will have some impact on this. You can still select and read text by clicking 朗读 after selecting text. However, the Asian accent voice sounds a bit more robotic to me at fast speeds. In addition, all numbers and dates within the selected text will be spoken in Chinese if the text you are selecting is in your native language. This isn’t a huge impairment but it is a bit of a distraction.

Great Resources for Mandarin Reading Content

When you’re first getting started learning Chinese, it’s very important to start reading as soon as possible. Reading helps you contextualize the language so that you reach your maximum language acquisition potential. If you want to learn more about this method, you can some research further into Stephen Krashen and his “Input Hypothesis.” But in this post, I want to skip over the details on why reading is so important and discuss more about how you can get started with your reading by finding content.

Once you’ve gotten over the initial plateau of reading Chinese characters. It’s important to have go-to resources on hand for content that you are truly interested in so that you can pick out a book or article at any time and start reading on the fly. Dump the textbooks as quickly as possible and get going with some of the following resources:

  • News Sources
  • Print Books – I always think it’s good to have at least one physical print Chinese book around so that you can practice reading even if you’re tired of sitting in front of a computer screen all day. When you are first getting started and not used to navigating Chinese websites, I would highly recommend buying a Chinese version book on Amazon so you don’t have to deal with the complexities of the interface and checkout. For example, my favorite genre is biographies. So to find a book like this (or for any other genre you prefer), perform the following steps: go to Amazon.com, click the menu button in the top left, select “Books & Audible”, select “Hardcover & Paperback”, scroll down and look on the left side for the filter called “Language”, click “See More” and then select “Chinese (Simplified)”, finally scroll back up find the “Department” filter on the left side and select the genre you are most interested in. The most important thing here is to find a book you really want to read because you are interested in the topic.
  • Blogs      
    • Wait But Why. www.waitbutwhy.com/wechat . This one is a little trickier to access because you will to set up a WeChat account first, add Wait But Why to your WeChat account by scanning the QR code, and then access articles by selecting View History and selecting from the Past Articles list.
    • Lei Jun’s (雷军) personal blog(Chinese billionaire tech entrepreneur)http://leijun.blog.techweb.com.cn/
  • Technical Content
    • Zhihu: www.zhihu.com – Similar to Quora.com or StackExchange.com, a forum with questions and answers about a wide variety of topics. You can find the simpliest or most technically advanced of topics on this forum for whatever you might be interested in. Download the app for on-the-go reading. This will require you to set up an account by entering your mobile number.

I would also highly recommend you check out the following post from our Getting Started Series: Pick a Go-To Source of Chinese Reading Material. If you haven’t read through that entire series, you might want to visit it because it is packed with more information to help you along the way.

Using JinbuPal’s Chinese YouTube Library

How would you like to improve your Chinese listening and vocabulary by watching genuine Chinese language videos? There are so many great Chinese films, TVs, documentaries, and video bloggers to choose from!  

JinbuPal Chinese
Youtube Library
View Library

Regardless of your current skill level, it is always more fun to learn through content that actually aligns with your interests, rather than conversation that feels like it came from a textbook. If what you’re learning isn’t interesting or meaningful to you, it’ll be much harder for it to stick in your memory. For example, I’m an engineer; for this reason, engineering and tech related videos were what I was most interested in watching. Once you find Chinese language videos about the topics you already want to learn about, you can now just use the language as a means to learn about something that is meaningful to you. The more meaningful, the more easily you’ll acquire the language! Makes sense, right? So how can you go about finding what you really enjoy?

I know that when I first started learning Chinese, I found it very difficult to track down the Chinese shows that I really was interested in.  I found in my own experience that finding YouTube channels which teach Chinese is a very simple task; just run a search for Chinese language in YouTube or on Google and you’ll find may channels available (JinbuPal being one of these). However, finding actual Chinese content proves to be a lot more difficult, especially if you’re picky enough to only watch what you’re interested in.

Having experienced this myself, I want to prevent you from having to go through the same challenges! I want to save you time and, most importantly, help you on the path to rapid success as best as I can! So that’s why I’ve compiled a huge list of Chinese content YouTube channels that I’ve found by personally mining through YouTube. I’ve even categorized all of these channels based on common topics and subtitle availability. This way, you can easily filter by category and find something you like right off the bat! It’s available right here for you to download and it’s absolutely free! All you have to do is join the JinbuPal email list below and I’ll send you a free download link! It doesn’t get simpler than that!

The rest of this post is a walkthrough of how to use the document, so I’d encourage you to go ahead and enter your email so you can download it right ahead!

Here’s what you’ll find inside your downloaded file.

Each channel has the following details filled out:

  • Channel Name
  • Category
  • Typical Subtitle Format
  • Subtitle Style
  • Topic
  • Direct Channel Link

If you’re unfamiliar with using filters in Excel, check out the following GIFs which so how to turn filters on and off as well as how to activate filters for in specific columns. Once you’ve downloaded your copy, you’ll be able to sort and filter the listed channels based on topics you’re interested in.

Using filters:

Applying filters to specific columns:

Depending on your current skill level, you may want to filter the channels by subtitles. Digital (or “soft”) subtitles will be the easiest for you to make use of if you’re work a lot on your vocabulary and encountering new Chinese characters. These soft subtitles will be capability with popup dictionaries, such as Zhongwen.

Lastly, if you haven’t already, I’d highly recommend you read through our posts on how to utilize YouTube as the ultimate language learning tool and ways to find Chinese content on YouTube. Trust me, you will not want to miss out on the information provided in those posts because they should really help you see how incredibly powerful YouTube can be for learning learning.

Also, check out our related video with some extra tips on how to search for Chinese content on YouTube.

4 Ways to Find Chinese YouTube Content

If you’ve read my post on Chinese YouTube Tools, you already know how to set up YouTube to be the ultimate language learning tool. Make sure you check it out if you haven’t yet, because it provides some excellent tips for getting the most out of your language learning experience on YouTube.

But once you’ve followed all the steps in that post, how do you actually go about finding Chinese videos and YouTube channels you are interested in? This post is intended to answer that question and get you started with a ton of channel options to choose from. Unfortunately, finding Chinese language YouTube channels can be a little challenging if you don’t know where to start. So here is a list of 4 ways you can find YouTube content as well resources we offer with tons of channels sorted by category.

1. Setup your YouTube Location for Chinese speaking countries

One of the most helpful ways of find Chinese content on YouTube is by simply telling YouTube that Chinese content is what you are interested in. The best way to do this is to change the Location setting in your profile. Since Google does not operate in China, you cannot set your location to mainland China; however, you can choose between Hong Kong, Taiwan, or Singapore. Any of these options should set YouTube up to start suggesting Chinese-language videos for you throughout the website. To change this setting, just click your profile icon in the top right and select the Location setting from the menu as shown below.

One of the most helpful ways of find Chinese content on YouTube is by simply telling YouTube that Chinese content is what you are interested in. The best way to do this is to change the Location setting in your profile. Since Google does not operate in China, you cannot set your location to mainland China; however, you can choose between Hong Kong, Taiwan, or Singapore. Any of these options should set YouTube up to start suggesting Chinese-language videos for you throughout the website. To change this setting, just click your profile icon in the top right and select the Location setting from the menu as shown below.

One thing to note is that you might consider creating an entirely separate YouTube profile specifically for viewing Chinese language videos. You might want to do this if you would prefer to keep your YouTube channel subscriptions and recommended videos separate between English (our any other language) and Chinese. Obviously this is just personal preference, but this can be useful for organizing your content.

2. Know the right search keywords

Fortunately, lots of YouTube titles include certain characters that you can search for. I would recommend the following character searches:

  • 中文, 汉语, 国语, 普通话 – This is pretty straightforward, but you can take advantage of the fact that some Chinese YouTube videos have searchable information related to the video being in Chinese. In case you don’t know, these are all terms for Chinese or, more specifically, Mandarin Chinese.
  • 集 – This is the character used to denote an episode of a show, such as “Episode 1”. This will help you search for China language TV series. If you’d like to search for the first episode in a TV series, you could try “第一集” or “第1集”.
  • 电影 –the word for “movie”, straightforward.
  • 字幕 – This word means “subtitles” and searching for this can help you find both hard and soft subtitled videos.
  • Topic specific words – This is more of a stab in the dark, but you can try searching the Chinese translation of a topic you are interested in. For example, you could simply search the word for “art” (艺术). However, most channels will have a more creative name that does not directly include the topic in the title and these are harder to find this way. (Don’t miss #4 on this post! It will help you out a ton!).

3. Search specifically for videos with soft subtitles

When searching on YouTube, click the Filter button and select “Subtitles/CC” under Features. This will only return search results which have soft subtitles (digital subtitles). Unfortunately, you cannot specify which language the subtitles are written in so some results may just be English subtitles rather than Chinese. It takes some trial and error, but this method can help be very helpful to find subtitles that are readable by a pop-up dictionary like Zhongwen.

4. JinbuPal’s Chinese YouTube Library

Lastly, I have taken the time to compile a huge list of popular Chinese YouTube channels. I’ve even categorized them based on channel topic so you can easily pick a few channels that suit your interests. All you’ve got to do to download this entire list is sign up for our JinbuPal mailing list with you email using the form below. A lot of work has gone into compiling this document so I really hope that you enjoy!

JinbuPal Chinese
Youtube Library
View Library

You can learn how to use the tool here.

I’d recommend going ahead and subscribing to a few channels on the list and start watching a few videos. After this, YouTube will start suggesting similar content on your homepage and the sidebar. This will make it easier to branch off and find other videos you are interested in.  Also, YouTube will recommend similar channels on the sidebar of any channel you decide you enjoy. Our channel list is definitely not comprehensive, but it should provide enough options to get you started watching something you are interested in.

Ultimate Guide to Learning Chinese on YouTube

When I first started studying Chinese, I found it really difficult to find interesting video content to watch. After talking with some Chinese friends, I learned that tons of incredible content was right under my nose – on YouTube. In this post, I will discuss how to turn you YouTube into the ultimate language learning tool. This post (and JinbuPal, in general) is geared specifically toward learning Chinese. However, these same tools are applicable regardless of what language you’re learning. And the best part is… all but one of these tools are completely free and will take you less than 5 minutes to set up! Ready? Let’s start!

YouTube can be an incredible resource for learning any language. You’ll find all sorts different topics of interest such as movies, TV shows, TED talks, documentaries, and more. But even aside from the content itself, the YouTube video player and interface itself can be adjusted to create huge benefits for the language learner.

Before jumping into the tools, I’d like to introduce a mindset I’ve found super helpful for efficient Chinese learning – combining tools for efficiency. In this article, you will learn about several different browser tools that are useful by themselves but way more powerful once you combine them together. Once you’ve see how this works, you might want to consider this same mindset in the future to eliminate any time that you feel is wasted in your studying process. Because even repeatedly wasting just 30 seconds to look up words inefficiently can add up significantly over time. So remember, any time you notice waste in your studying process, look for tools that could be used by themselves or in combination with others to optimize your use of time.

Alright, bring on the tools!

1. Google Chrome Browser – Free

         No. 1 is pretty straightforward, but we will need to install several Chrome Extensions to add functionality to YouTube so it’s important that you are using Google Chrome.

2. Zhongwen Popup Dictionary – Chrome Extension – Free

         No more looking up unfamiliars words! Every second you spend looking through a dictionary is wasted time. Hover your mouse over a Chinese character or word and Zhongwen will instantly display the definition, pinyin, and tones. You will find this tool essential for your language learning and particularly on YouTube, it will help you find definitions from subtitles and the titles of videos themselves.

Link: https://chrome.google.com/webstore/detail/zhongwen-chinese-english/kkmlkkjojmombglmlpbpapmhcaljjkde?hl=en

3. Youtube Playback Speed Control – Chrome Extension – Free

         You may know that you change the speed of a YouTube video by clicking the Settings gear. It offers the speeds .25x, .5x, .75x, 1x, 1.25x, 1.5x, 1.75x and 2x. These settings work really well for speeding up an English video to quickly get through all the information. However, the .25x increments make it less than perfect for language learning because it’s often too slow and can also result in poor sound quality.

Enter the Youtube Playback Speed Control Chrome extension. With this extension there are no limits on how fast or slow you play a video. Not only that, you can also change the speed increment to whatever you want. To set this up, right click the extension icon next to the browser URL bar and select Options. Click the Settings tab. Here you can update the value in the setting Speed Change Step. I typically use “0.05,” which will allow you slow down the value by 5% at a time. This allows you to slow down to exactly the speed that is manageable for you at your current ability level.

         Link: https://chrome.google.com/webstore/detail/youtube-playback-speed-co/hdannnflhlmdablckfkjpleikpphncik

4. Controls for Youtube – Chrome Extension – Free

         Now that our video playback speed is just right, we need to think about how to quickly skip backward and repeat dialogue when you don’t understood. YouTube has built-in keyboard shortcuts to jump backward and forward by 5 seconds by hitting the Left and Right Arrow keys. But I find that 5 seconds usually skips back a few seconds more than would like to. And what do extra seconds mean? You got it, wasted time! Install this Chrome extension and it will add 2 rewinds buttons to your YouTube playback bar with customizable Seek Duration settings.

I like to set my buttons to 3 seconds and 1.5 seconds. Having these two buttons plus the 5 second keyboard shortcut, you are all set to quickly skip backwards with precision.

Link: https://chrome.google.com/webstore/detail/controls-for-youtube/doocmbmlcnbbdohogchldhlikjpndpng

5. CopyFish – Free

         Now let’s move on to the topic of closed captions. As you probably have noticed, a vast majority of available Chinese content has subtitles already embedded in the video. On the plus side, this is great because you almost always have the ability to look up unfamiliar phrases from the subtitles.

However, because so many videos contain these “hardcoded” subtitles, it is less common that someone has taken the time to create a digital version of the subtitles, or “soft subtitles.”

This tool offers a quick way to lookup characters from hardcoded subtitles by performing an OCR (optical character recognition).

Also, the tool is compatible with Zhongwen, which we already added to your stack of tools. You will have to activate this functionality as shown below. Note that to use the Zhongwen dictionary, you have to hover your mouse over the red font overlaid on the actual screen capture, not the text in the OCR Result field.

Link: https://chrome.google.com/webstore/detail/copyfish-?-free-ocr-soft/eenjdnjldapjajjofmldgmkjaienebbj

6. Closed Captions & Open Transcript – Free

         Okay, so you’ve found a video with soft subtitles? Fortunately, this adds a lot more functionality. Select the Subtitles/CC setting (shown below). Note that the Zhongwen dictionary will be compatible with these subtitles!

Next, click the “…” button as shown below and “Open Transcript.”

This will open the entire closed caption transcript in the right pane of the window. Again, this text will be compatible with Zhongwen.

7. LingQ – $12.99/month

         Have you heard of LingQ? If you haven’t you should definitely check it out for learning any language. There are a lot of excellent features in Lingq that are outside the scope of this article, but I would like to discuss one potential use for Lingq to add to your YouTube Chinese learning experience.

Lingq includes a Chrome Extension which allows you to scrap content from the web, including YouTube videos and their closed caption transcripts. If soft subtitles are available for your video of choice, you can upload the video to Lingq through the extension. After uploading you can view the video directly in Lingq and follow along with the text.

All of the YouTube extensions we’ve just added will be applicable when you watch a video on LingQ.  However, I find it a bit cumbersome switching back and forth between adding definitions (called lingqs) and watching the video because both features appear in the same pane one at a time.

To make things easier, I prefer to open the LingQ app on my iPhone and follow along with the transcript on my phone while watching the video on my laptop browser directly on YouTube.

Link: lingq.com

This brings us to the end of the list. I really hope that you find these tools helpful to get the most of your Chinese learning on YouTube!

Now you have all the tools you need to use YouTube to it’s fullest potential. But do you have many sources of Chinese videos on YouTube?
You don’t want to miss the next post: 4 Ways to Find Chinese YouTube Content. In this post, I’ll share a few tips for how to find videos and you can even download a document with tons of popular Chinese YouTube channels organized by category.

Lastly, we’d love to hear from you! If you know of any additional tools that didn’t make the list or if you have some unique ways of using these tools, please share your thoughts in the section below.