How much Chinese do you listen to on a daily basis? How much time would you estimate you have spent listening to Chinese in total?

Very few people learning Chinese listen to as much Chinese as they should (myself included). That’s because to maximise your Chinese learning, you should be taking every available opportunity to add more Chinese listening to your day. That means if you’re awake and not listening to something else, you should be listening to Chinese (see also: time boxing).

This may seem like a ridiculous goal, or it may seem reasonable. It actually doesn’t matter. The point is that you can always be listening to more Chinese and listening to more Chinese is always good.

Listen to 10000 hours of Chinese audio

Here’s some wisdom from the great AJATT: you should listen to 10000 hours of audio in your target language every eighteen months.

As there are only around 13000 hours in eighten months, this means you’ll need to listen to Chinese for 76% of every day (including sleeping time). Good luck!

The 10000 hours goal is there to inspire and motivate you to cram as much Chinese listening into every day. Start now — put some Chinese audio on if you haven’t already (if you need to find some Chinese audio, see below).

Why listening is so good for your Chinese

You learnt your native language by listening. Later you used reading to expand your vocabulary and command of the language, but it was listening that laid the foundation. Listening continues to improve your ability in your native language to this day, and you can achieve the same effect for your Chinese.

Listening is good because it’s cheap: cheap to get hold of and easy to include in your daily activities. It’s good because it can be the lightest of mental loads or the heaviest, and it’s benefiting your Chinese in either case.

Chinese audio includes a wealth of information for you to acquire and emulate. The more you listen, the more chances you get to improve your mental model of the language and give your brain something to aim for when producing it.

You get exposed to new words, new structures, new accents and new nuances every second. You can let it creep in by osmosis or try to analyse every detail, and switch between listening styles when you get tired of one.

So long as some amount of effort is involved, you’ll get something out of it (100% passive listening won’t help).

Where to get Chinese audio

If you’re going to be listening to that much Chinese audio every day, you’re going to need some good sources.

Start with some free Chinese podcasts. Use Google and Baidu to find more. Use gPodder or iTunes and save all of the downloaded files to your Chinese listening stash.

Watch videos on YouTube, Youku and Tudou, and extract the mp3 audio. Watch Chinese films and use video editing software to extract the audio. Use software like Audacity to record the audio coming out of your speakers as you listen to anything in Chinese.

Listen to Chinese internet radio, or local radio if you’re lucky enough to have Chinese stations in your area. Same goes for TV. Remember to record it whenever you can.

Get Chinese audiobooks. Add them to your stash as well.

If you’ve got the budget, pay for premium Chinese audio services like ChinesePod or Chinese Class 101. But fear not — there’s more than enough free Chinese listening material out there.

How to add more Chinese listening to your day

You need to be able to listen to Chinese at every moment of the day, wherever you are. Don’t waste any opportunity to listen:

As you get up and get ready
Whilst eating
In the shower
On your journey
When doing any other activity (if you can pay enough attention!)
Whilst resting
Whilst exercising
Again, it would be pretty hard to get 100% coverage of all those times, but it’s a good goal to have.

This means you’ll need to have Chinese audio available on every device that you can put it on and in every place you can keep it. Put it on your computer, phone, tablet, eReader etc. if you can. Use radio and TV if you have access to that. Use headphones, and don’t forget about the speaker on your smartphone.

You might as well have Chinese audio on in the background even if you’re not paying much attention to it. It won’t hurt your Chinese, and tuning in to it every couple of minutes is better than not listening at all. Whenever you can, though, try to get more focused listening in.

There’s also the option of leaving Chinese listening material playing while you fall asleep. It’ll still be playing as you wake up the next morning. Alternatively, set up an alarm clock that can play local radio or audio files (again, a smartphone can provide this).

As with anything, this will be quite difficult at first, but if you persevere you’ll form habits that are easy to keep going.

Another trick is to automate wherever possible: set up your computer to play Chinese audio as soon as it starts up; configure Chinese audio as the alarm on your smartphone; make Chinese listening material easy to access wherever you are.

You can also increase the amount of Chinese input you get each day by watching Chinese films and listening to Chinese music. In other words, increase your Chinese listening time by reducing your English listening time.

How to keep going

Staying motivated for this is quite hard. Learning is tiring, and most people quickly lapse back into their old routine.

One way to keep up momentum is to vary the type of listening you do. Very active listening is mentally exhausting but also very rewarding. Less focused background listening is gentler but prone to getting monotonous. By switching between the two and different levels in between you can keep things fresh.

It’s important to keep adding to your stash on a regular basis so that you have new things to listen to, but don’t forget that to re-use all the material you have. This not only lets you build up a bigger Chinese listening stash over time, but lets you re-listen to material to gain better understanding and recall.

As well as the level of focus, you can also vary the difficulty of the material. Native-level material is excellent and should be part of your listening diet as early as possible, but easier stuff has a lot of value too. I like listening to newbie level Chinese audio as it often contains idiomatic language for daily life.

10000 hours to go!

There’s only one thing left to do — start your 10000 hours!