Tip in Practice
When I was younger, I always associated the term “variety show” with Jim Henson’s “The Muppet Show.” And for the most part, I still do (especially when it comes to American variety shows). However, recently I’ve been watching some “variety shows” from Taiwan, and I’ve been really impressed by how diverse they are.
In Taiwan, you’ll see the phrase “variety show” (綜藝節目) used pretty loosely. American variety shows are typically entertainment showcases that feature a “variety” of performances by musicians, comedy routines by the hosts, games and challenges with the guests, and so on. Taiwanese variety shows, on the other hand cover a broad spectrum of TV show formats. They range from travel shows, game shows, reality TV, MTV style top 10 music countdowns, and just about anything else you can think of. So they blow the Ed Sullivan/ Muppet Show association completely out of the water.
In fact, I think there’s enough diversity in TW Variety Shows that you can use them to help with your Chinese (and Taiwanese).
Listening Practice: The shows can help out with listening practice, and depending on the show you watch, you could probably pick up some great theme specific vocabulary. For example, I’ve been watching a few travel shows lately and I’m surprised at how much makes sense based on the context. And there have been a number of times in which I’ve watched a show thinking… “Oh! So that’s what the word for ___ is. Good to know.”
Cultural Education: Another cool thing is that you can pick up some insights about culture as well. There are several shows that follow a modified talk show format. So, you’ll have guests telling personal stories and weighing in on some pretty interesting cultural issues. It’s neat to hear some of the perspectives that people bring to the table.
Variety Show Formats and Examples
I haven’t watched all of the popular variety shows, but I’m getting there. So far here are some of the themes that I’m seeing:
- Travel shows highlighting interesting attractions around the world (Woman 愛旅行; 世界那麼大; 冒險王)
- Entertainment shows on the latest celebrity news and gossip or promoting new TV series or music artists (娛樂百分百; SS小燕之夜; 完全娛樂)
- Music countdowns (音樂飆榜)
- Cooking shows (型男大主廚)
- Talent showcases and reality shows (給你哈音樂; 鑽石夜總會)
- Hobby shows highlighting the latest video games (電競 All Star)
- Taiwanese specific shows featuring things like regional cuisine or special destinations (食尚玩家; 美食大三通)
- Women’s interest shows targeted at wives, mothers, or single young women (國民女王)
- Conversation panels with cultural pundits (新聞挖挖哇)
- Talk shows inviting audience members to discuss interesting (or trendy) topics (WTO姐妹會; 爸媽囧很大)
- Comedy shows which include challenges, games, gags, and slapstick humor (Power Sunday; 綜藝大集合)
- Game shows (天才答不答)
- Shows broadcast entirely in spoken Taiwanese (Hokkien) (豬哥會社)
And like I said, there are still a bunch more show formats and shows that exist.
Benefits of Watching a Variety Show
- These shows are fairly short in length, and unlike dramas, they don’t require much of a commitment.
- Also unlike dramas, there’s more that’s accessible for an older or more professional audience (not just youth culture).
- Many variety shows are pretty entertaining.
- If you find the right variety show to suit your tastes, you’ll get to learn about a topic that interests you, listen to different perspectives and experiences, and hear some specialized vocabulary.
- A lot of celebrities show up on various “variety shows.” So you’ll get to feel up-to-date on who’s important in Taiwanese media.
- Because Taiwanese variety shows are typically very flashy (sound effects, visuals and stylized captions, and big personalities of the celebrity hosts), it’s pretty easy to follow the show and understand what is going on from the context
Word of Caution
Unlike TW dramas, most variety shows don’t have a following in the fansub community. Many of these shows come out daily or multiple times a week, so there’s just not time to translate the shows into English. So, for language learning purposes, I would classify this as a strictly Intermediate or above activity. If you’re not quite intermediate yet, and would like to watch for entertainment purposes, that can work too. There will usually be enough going on that you can still the enjoy based on the context. But I would recommend an entertainment show or a reality show for a more elementary level learner.
Finally, most variety shows are pretty true to life in terms of how people actually speak. So, you’ll often hear Taiwanese words sprinkled throughout any given program. So hopefully, you’re at a level where you can read fairly confidently (or understand the Taiwanese).
Where to Find Variety Shows
My one stop shop for variety shows on the internet is Sugoideas.com.
On my Android, CatTail software has two great (free) apps. They are both pink and have the character 綜. One is for “weekend shows” (綜藝週末秀) while the other is for “talk shows” (綜藝脫口秀). Both are pretty good, so they are certainly worth a download.
Any recommendations for other variety shows or insights about where to find them?