As mentioned in this question, in many Chinese videos, particularly those coming from large media outlets, there are subtitles. I am wondering to what extent experienced Chinese speakers (native or not) find these necessary. By necessary, I mean that you are able to with pretty good confidence "recognize" all the words that are being spoken.

Naturally, it makes sense to add subtitles if the language being spoken is something else entirely. For example, Classical/Literary Chinese (in a historical drama, for instance), a different Chinese variety is being used (or the person speaking has a very strong accent), and so forth. Likewise, in music (where listeners don't have total access to tonal information among other difference), I could understand how subtitles might be necessary in these cases.

But what about in other genres, such as news reports, cooking videos, etc.?

As a non-native speaker, I find reading subtitles as opposed to actually understanding what is being said as a hindrance to practicing listening comprehension, so I try to listen to things like podcasts or videos without subtitles. Nevertheless, I do spend some time watching (Chinese) subtitled videos and wonder if many of the spoken words in these videos can be understood "on the fly" by Chinese speakers without visual aid.

  • 1
    As an idea it could have to do with the televisions and their possible inability or lack thereof a Chinese script. For English speakers, turning on subtitles is always an option and those black and white texts are usually written by somebody? Perhaps there is also greater room for error for a captioner to misunderstand the context or might use the wrong word ..because you have to choose which (yi jia), for example, that you want to use when you have a certain input style. So they just have it by default in order to help hearing impaired and those who may find it preferable
    – Abe Shudug
    Aug 2, 2017 at 3:46
  • We get used to subtitles. Considering there're hundreds of dialects in Chinese, subtitles is very essential. For example, an Australian might know what an American saying, but a Hakka speaker hardly knows what a Cantonese speaking, even they belong to Chinese.
    – Kevman
    Oct 4, 2017 at 18:30

3 Answers 3



Subtitles are not necessary.

Large media

Large media and news programs often supply subtitles, because they have more resources. The TV companies in mainland China act like public services, so they have to think about people who are not good at Mandarin, or have trouble with listening.

Cooking programs, talk shows

Some do, some don't. Since these kinds of programs are more free-speaking, they don't have scripts, and it would take some extra work to add subs.

Behavior of native speakers

We like subs, it makes you easy to follow. Especially since we always watch foreign videos with subs, we are used to watching with subs, even when we watch Chinese videos.

Can we understand on the fly?

Yeah, we won't have any trouble with watching videos in Chinese without subs, but that doesn't mean we can recognize 100% of the words, because of accent, background music, rare words, speed, etc. I think that happens among English-speaking people also.


Lol. It is our culture. There is a group of people who make some very impressive subtitles and the content often not very good, they are called subtitle party. Subtitle is necessary only if you need to attract a lot of people to view your content.

  • oh...I am stupid I think...these are written with live broadcast? or they are prewritten? I forgot that they must be written live like with news, bcuz i only watch news clip on YouTube so it is already post-production haha = =
    – Abe Shudug
    Aug 2, 2017 at 3:54
  • sorry if my answer seemed rude, I did not fully think..I just thought about the typical English subtitles and how they are so slow. The black box with white letters that overlays the broadcast usually has typing errors and it is clearly not part of the broadcast. However, on Chinese broadcasts, it looks like the subtitles are broadcast WITH the moving picture, as opposed to over lay with an input format. It looks more natural.
    – Abe Shudug
    Aug 2, 2017 at 3:55
  • haha, I watched this video and click to random time..他们一定要回家 he said youtube.com/watch?v=TLVVXLqz44c haha John Wang :)
    – Abe Shudug
    Aug 2, 2017 at 3:59
  • @AbeShudug dont be appologize...your answers are not rude at all.actually,I feel very sorry.as an native chinese who is living in china,we can not watch videos on youtube and so as facebook and twitter and so on...our country built a big local network to protect us from the outside of China.
    – J.Wang
    Aug 2, 2017 at 11:00

Chinese subtitles in Chinese movies are for different dialect speakers in different regions of China. The English subtitles are for oversea markets.

It is just practical business decision to broaden the potential audience.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.