For everyday listening practice, my Chinese tutor always suggests that I watch television variety shows. Although not all variety shows are created equal, watching TV usually tends to work pretty well for building theme specific vocabulary and for testing myself against pretty natural conversation (it’s not overly formal like the news and not as exaggerated as most dramas).
Despite loving the method for my personal language development, I don’t think this is the best way to study for the TOCFL Listening Section for at least two reasons:
- On TOCFL you have pure audio and can’t rely on visual cues or (Chinese) subtitles.
- TV shows usually stay on a general theme for 90 minutes, but TOCFL has 30 seconds to only a few minutes of audio.
I’m not saying dump your regular listening routine. But to get yourself in the zone, I’d recommend listening to something that’s pure audio (no visual accompaniment) and to occasionally listen to things that require you to focus on information in short chunks.
I started listening to “audio books” for a while. Some are full length books; some are short poems; some are Taiwanese radio dramas and radio broadcasts; and there are many other options you can try out. LibriVox was my first experience with audio books and I kind of just moved on from there.
Radio can be good for audio practice as well. I like it because I can pretend I’m in an immersion environment on the train, in my car, at work, etc. Block out other English speakers and just focus on the Mandarin (and Taiwanese). Check out radio talk shows and (because it’s TOCFL) don’t forget to pay attention to the commercials. My current radio site is Surfmusic, because it allows you to stream any station—but plenty of other sites let you do the same.
Podcast dialogues are especially wonderful because you can find something for your specific level. I’ve tried some podcast tricks that tend to work for me. After listening to a dialogue, I’ll think up questions that someone could ask me about the dialogue or while I’m listening, I’ll pause to explain or translate the dialogue sentence by sentence. Two language learning podcasts to check out are ChinesePod (based in Shanghai) and Chinese Learn Online (based in Taiwan).
Listening to music is usually my fun way to break up study sessions. I’ll put some on in the background while I’m doing things that don’t require a lot of concentration. And I always try to find new songs and sing along with them as much as I can. Spoken audio (conversations, announcements, and shorter statements/ conversations) is great, but listening to music as audio practice gives my brain a chance to relax a little.
Old mock tests are obviously going to be one of your best choices to get a feel for what kind of topics you’re going to hear when you cozy up to your headphones during the exam.
[Edit: Consider including telephone practice to your list. This is much more interactive than the other methods and requires to you instantly engage and respond. You can get immediate feedback about whether you've actually understood what you've heard and--it's social! Perhaps combine this with creating a bilingual voicemail greeting (so people know you're ready and willing to speak with them.) ]