Choosing to be a second language learner is a lifestyle choice. If you are serious about learning Chinese to the level where you can use it effectively in your daily life, you might want to consider finding ways to actively study TV shows, by integrating them into your Mandarin study program. In addition to the active study, you should also make time to passively study without much extra effort. Chinese TV shows are useful for both types of studying.
I've been using Chinese TV shows and movies to learn and to teach Mandarin over the past few years. I've seen that it can be very effective in helping to take one's language skills to the next level. Here are a few suggestions of ways that you might consider using TV shows/movies to actively study Mandarin:
1. Read the subtitles as you watch
Don't worry when you miss a few characters here and there--Chinese has a lot of characters! Jot down a few questions or key words to ask your teacher about during your next tutoring session.
2. Read plot synopses
Most websites that stream the shows include paragraph plot synopses for every episode. You can use these to either help you predict what will happen in the show by reading them before watching, and/or to review what happened in the show after watching. Either method will help you to identify key words that you will need in your next tutoring session, to help you talk about the show.
3. Write reaction essays
This often helps to solidify your ideas about what happened in the show. It also helps you to practice writing Chinese characters in a way that is meaningful, using vocabulary that is specific to the events of the show.
4. Get feedback from a teacher on your essays.
Ask a teacher to edit the essays, and in the lesson explain some of the most frequently occurring errors in your writing. By doing this you will become more aware of your common writing mistakes, and it will help you to avoid making them again in the future.
5. Re-watch the episode
After you have had a tutoring session, revisit the episode or movie. You'll probably find that after going through all of the steps above, you will be able to comprehend much more of the show than you originally were able to when you watched it for the first time.
How can I practice passive studying of Chinese?
For passive studying, I'd suggest trying to find a show you enjoy, and making it a reward for yourself when you just want to sit down and unwind. You will learn things just by watching, even without the follow-up procedures of the active study program listed above. When you are passively studying, let the language wash over you, and remember that you are just enjoying yourself. Let all kinds of stuff you don't understand, and would normally be focusing on carefully during active study, slip by. Enjoy the things you do understand, and feel good about the progress you have already made with the language.
Passive studying takes practice to get good at, because it is different from what you may have always done in the past, and requires you to develop a high tolerance for not understanding parts of the language. In time passive study will help you become better at forming hypotheses about the language, that will later be supported or deflated with more examples you run across during future active or passive study sessions.
What are some good shows to use for studying Mandarin?
Right now I'm primarily watching the Chinese dating show 非诚勿扰. I've found it really useful as a way to gain exposure to a large range of Chinese accent types. The people on the show come from all over China, and sometimes from outside of China. I've used the show for both active and passive study.
Other shows I've used for study include: 艾米加油, a light-hearted drama about two young girls just starting out working in the fashion industry in Shanghai. There is the usual love-triangle that always seems to happen in shows like this. The Tom and Jerry cartoons are also a fun way to study Mandarin. They have been overdubbed in a bunch of Chinese dialects as well. I just started studying the 1986 TV serial of 西游记 using the method I listed above, and am really enjoying it so far.
For beginner students of Mandarin, I'd recommend the show 快乐汉语. It is kind of like a Chinese version of Full House or Family Matters. There's an American girl who moves into the home of a middle class Chinese family. Every episode centers on a cultural point or misunderstanding. Make sure you watch the old version of the show with Sushan. There's a new version with the same title that is a travel documentary show.