Pinyin Cinema: Learn Chinese from watching movies with Pinyin subtitles

A few months ago I made a website for Chinese language learners. The idea is that the user can practice their Chinese through watching movies. All the films on the site have Traditional/Simplified character subtitles, as well as Pinyin subtitles, which is the main selling point since it is very difficult to find Pinyin subtitles for Chinese films elsewhere on the internet. Every movie has learning games to go along with it, so you can review words used in the films. All users can, once per month have a voice call with a native speaker to practice what they’ve learnt. It’s still in the very early stages and I have been improving it every day so if you have time to try it out, please give me your feedback!



What are the prices in, TWD or USD?

Has anyone used this site?

The prices are in USD. We have quite a large group of monthly users, and some annual users.

I like the concept, but only 7 movies available so far. I won’t do a membership. I might do a one time purchase or individually but I don’t see those options.

It’s almost like one of those scams where they want you to sign up for monthly billing to credit card for very little benefit, and then make it difficult to unsubscribe or quit.

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If you could put one movie for free (without requiring Credit Card), people could try it and decide whether they want to subscribe or not.

I signed up for a month to see what it is.

The movie soundtrack quality on the first movie is not very good. A little static and so forth is no problem for a native speaker but it can be a major issue for a beginner. The exercises seem to be aimed at beginners – I mean, asking things like “Xie xie” and “ni lai chi ba” isn’t worth doing if you’ve had much Chinese at all. So I think there needs to be some consideration given either to making the exercise questions appropriate to some given level, or having an option for level so that the student can focus on new things without constantly being annoyed with stuff that isn’t anywhere near his level.

I haven’t found a vocab list yet either – I don’t want to learn new words by only finding them in a set of random exercises, I’d rather look over a list (again, hopefully categorized by level; I don’t need basic expressions laid out). We also need to know which expressions are no longer current (the movie I’m watching is rather old) and which are used mostly/only in the Mainland vs in Taiwan. Basically we need value added to the vocabulary – anyone with a pause function can look up a word from the subtitles of any movie. (That’s how we did it back in the day, of course. Probably wore out more than a few VHS tapes doing it.)

Putting up a brief English introduction to each film would also be nice – basically what is the story going to be about, when was it made, anything else interesting about the movie.

The Pinyin is not always divided up logically. I had to turn on character subtitles to figure out what some things meant, at which point it was easy. But aside from not needing to look up Pinyin for any characters I don’t know, if the Pinyin isn’t easy to understand, I’m not sure why this is better than, say, watching a random Chinese movie on YouTube or something. I can easily do flashcards on my favorite flashcard site, and that would give me personalized practice (of the exact same sort), rather than having to deal with the premade list that’s not at my level (wherever that is for each student).

It’s a nice idea, but I think the site could use more input from learners about what really helps learners and what’s not readily available elsewhere. I will say the pricing seems very reasonable. I would probably keep on for $5 a month in the hopes that spending the money would make me actually watch something every day or so (like the gym membership effect).


I think they will find it difficult to impossible to get movies that are copyrighted and anything other than these old movies. Which aren’t really applicable to today’s modern world.

There are many free sites with current movies and tv shows in Chinese. Hit or miss on pinyin but definitely available.

Signed up last night. I quite like the option to switch between pure pinyin, or pinyin + simplified or traditional Chinese hanzi. I guess one of the benefits of having old movies too is that the Mandarin spoken in those movies is kind of basic, since when they were made China was trying to push Mandarin to Chinese who only spoke Cantonese and other non-mandarin dialects. I think it’s fine that there aren’t hundreds of movies, because to be honest, most learners could watch the same film ten times before they could understand everything. I’m half way through A Widow’s Tears, a great film.

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Hi Terry, we are currently working on a vocab list for all the movies, which we will roll out next week. In the coming months we are also adding some new independent films and web shows, which are currently being subtitled as we speak. We will start to correct the other issues you mentioned too, including the pinyin division. In your opinion, would it be better to have every single character’s pinyin divided, or each word divided? It seems the two people subtitling disagree on this issue.

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“Spring in a small Town” is a classic.

Yes, and it is also a great film to learn Chinese with, since the language is spoken so slowly. The learner is given time to think about what was said before a new sentence is spoken. We recommend it!

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Totally agree.

Thank you for the feedback. After A Widow’s Tears, give Spring in a Small Town a shot.

I used movies to help with my Chinese. I did two things:

1: Watch a very re-watchable movie, lets say guardians of the galaxy. Watch it in English, then watch it with Chinese voice dubbing. Then repeat until the movie is dead to you forever.

2: Go to the video store. Ask for the best Chinese language movies of all time. Take them home. Watch them repeatedly alternating English and Chinese subtitles.

Both of these worked OKish. It definetly did help.

$5 a month sounds like good value

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We wanted to make the price lower than $5 when originally creating the service, but we found that because the hosting costs are so high for a movie streaming site, $5 was really the lowest we could go. Have you ever tried using Pinyin subtitles when watching Chinese movies? It can be a real big help.

Here is a short informational video we created a few months ago:

It explains some of the features, and shows what our subtitles and learning games look like.

I’ve actually never watched a movie with pinyin subtitles, the only time I ever use pinyin is for typing and texting. I can see how it could be helpful though. Nice idea.

I’ll have to check it out when I get a chance to

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Betty, one of Pinyin Cinema’s first ever users left an awesome article about the site on Medium.

She goes over how the site works and how it can help Chinese language learners. It’s a good read.

That’s awesome!

As for the Pinyin issue, I think you need to put yourself into the eyes of the beginner reading that Pinyin. It doesn’t matter what the “correct” linguistic rules are. The best thing is to divide it up into “sense groups” so that when a beginner goes to look it up, he can tell which words go together. It’s hard to define what that is. But definitely not syllable by syllable individually! Another thing that might help is to bring back the old convention of underlining proper names (people, places) with a line or a wavy line, if that’s possible. I do subtitle so I know systems vary in terms of what characters are allowed, but if there were some way to mark proper names, that would help learners a lot too.

An example with the Pinyin (if I’m recalling correctly) was when I saw the words “shi shiche” divided that way, I couldn’t tell what that meant, but seeing the characters 試試車 it was obvious. It might be an artefact of some automated process too – I know what that’s like with Pinyin. :frowning:

I actually like the older movies so that’s no problem. Just would like to have more information about which expressions are or are not current, and the TW/Mainland issue (that’s really relevant for this board since it’s a Taiwan-oriented community). That might not be important for the bulk of your users, though.

Hi ironlady, the wordlist for A Widow’s Tears is now live, it is still being worked on so expect changes.

The wordlists for each movie will be located on the corresponding learn page, below the quiz/games.

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