I get asked all the time by prospective students, new students, or even seasoned students–“How do I improve my spoken Chinese?” And not only do they want to know the answer to that question, they also want to know: “How can I do it fast?”
Often if you are a Westerner learning Chinese, you are not able to be around Mandarin 24/7. You are not hearing it in the streets everyday, or at home. You are mostly surrounded by your native language, whether that be English, French, Spanish, etc.
So how do you improve your Chinese tones, your natural Chinese speech when you are isolated in a non-Chinese environment? Here are four tips I give and which are guaranteed to work, as long as you use them consistently over a period of six months:
You can start by creating your own sense of immersion in your daily life. This can be done by watching Chinese-language dramas and movies, listening to music or podcasts.
You can do this by finding some Chinese DVDs or watch Chinese films online. This is an easy, entertaining way to get a feel for the sound and structure of the Mandarin Chinese. Repeat what a TV says, or a recording, read a book out loud or quietly while listening to someone read it to you on CD, talk to mirror. Or you can read Chinese words or short stories aloud to reinforce your memory. Record yourself and play it back later, and ask yourself, “How does it sound?”
Are there peers who speak Mandarin at your school or university? Then make them your friends! Take every opportunity to speak with Chinese people. You will know you’re doing well when you can make yourself understood by a native speaker.
Find a native speaker to help you practice your speaking. Visit some Chinese webs and forums. There are lots of Chinese who want to improve their English, so consider doing a language exchange with them.
Learn Chinese from professional Chinese teachers: there are some excellent online Chinese schools that offer customize 1-on-1 online live lessons with high standard Chinese teachers and the most important is that the teachers can arrange each lesson based on your pace, level, and specific needs, you can make progress faster by taking the Chinese lessons.
Chinese tones are crucial for speaking Mandarin Chinese, however they are usually quite challenging for the beginning Mandarin learner. Here are some suggestions to help you master Chinese tones:
First of all, memorize, memorize, and memorize. Try to remember the Chinese tones as much as possible. The tone chart helps you remember how four tones are pronounced. Then practice, practice, and practice. Try to practice the Chinese tones as much as possible. You can practice your tones by listening to yourself using a recorder on your phone or tablet. It’s just like watching a video of yourself attempting to perfect a dance, or a sport. You can assess where you’re really at. Find out where you may need to improve and do targeted exercises.
A. 1 (ˉ), 2 (ˊ)
B. 4 (ˋ), 3 (ˇ)
C. 1 (ˉ), 3 (ˇ)
Jennifer Zhu is a professional Chinese teacher from eChineseLearning. She has many years of Chinese language teaching experience and received her B.A. and M.A. in “Teaching Chinese as a Second Language”.