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Being able to speak fluently and interact with native Chinese easily is the ultimate goal of many Chinese learners. However, it can also be seen as a great weakness. Based on my observation of students, the reasons were either they lack the opportunity to practice, or they focused too much on reading, understanding grammar, and learning vocabulary, while ignoring the fact that speaking requires the additional skill of the creation of sentences. In this article, we’ll look into various ways to help you improve your Chinese speaking skill.
Aim: Conduct basic conversations
If you’re a beginner, the short-term goal for you should be being able to conduct basic conversations. Additionally, you can add the ability to describe things and express your thoughts.
Tip 1: Read out loud
To be able to achieve this goal, you have to actually start speaking. Therefore, we suggest that you learn with audio materials that you can speaking along with. It can be textbooks with audio, podcasts, or other similar resources. It’s suggested that you listen a few times, and start speaking with the texts, so that you can imitate the speaker’s tone and pronunciation. At the beginning you can speak at a slower pace, and gradually increase the tempo when repeating the texts. This exercise familiarizes you with speaking the language.
Tip 2: One-on-one speaking practice
Practice makes perfect! Therefore, another tip I have is to practice speaking with a native speaker. It can be your Chinese friend, tutor, or language exchange partner. This can actually put your learning into real practice; the ‘one-on-one’ setting allows you to have less distractions. You can talk about any topic within your capability, for example, the weather, food, transportation, etc.. The purpose of this is to get talking. Meanwhile, your partner must point out any mistakes you made, such as pronunciation, sentence structure, and grammar errors.
It’s easy to look for an online tutor, and Verbalplanet is a popular platform. It’s especially suitable for those who have less budget. If you’re looking for a language exchange partner, wherein you can make online friends while learning from each other, HelloTalk is a free app that has a large user base, so finding the right partner shouldn’t be difficult. Of course, practicing speaking skills with a professional Chinese teacher is the best way to learn and improve. There are plenty of online Chinese schools to choose from, such as TutorMing, Anytime Mandarin, etc.
Aim: Communicate fluently in general situations
As an intermediate learner, you should have adequate vocabulary and knowledge to practice your speaking in wider, day-to-day living situations. Therefore, your target at this stage should be to apply speaking in these situations while attaining a good level of fluency.
Tip 1: Practice with Chinese TV
As your Chinese language skills have improved, it’s the perfect time for you to start watching Chinese TV, as a relatively higher level is required for watching most Chinese TV dramas and movies. However, what I’m suggesting here is not for you to just watch it, but to practice speaking with it. How?
First of all, you’re recommended to choose Chinese TV with Chinese subtitles, which could be easily found on Dnvod.TV, Youku, Iqiyi, and more. Then, watch the whole video before picking up the scenes of your choice. You can then listen carefully to how the actor/actress you intend to imitate speaks, in terms of tones, accents, and pronunciation, and you can repeat the lines for yourself. Furthermore, you can even literally imagine yourself being in the scenes, and speaking to your idol. This is an amazing and entertaining way to learn.
Tip 2: Situational speaking practice
Apart from practicing on your own, you might want to go out and talk to someone else. At the intermediate level, you should be able to chat with people on a wider range of topics. Therefore, travelling to China is a good option, as this opportunity allows you to practice speaking in different kinds of situations, such as booking a hotel room, ordering food, eating in restaurants, buying in shops, purchasing train tickets, etc.
If you find it difficult to plan a trip to China, there are other ways to get around this. Try attending Chinese social events at local Chinese clubs, or other similar activities. These events allow you to be involved in a Chinese environment where you can interact with Chinese people, therefore you get the chance to practice speaking in a more natural setting.
Aim: Speak like a native
When you’ve reached the advanced level, you should be able to speak with native Chinese fluently covering a broad area of subjects. So what more can be improved? How about speak like a native? This would help you to mingle with Chinese more quickly and smoothly, and we have two tips for you to reach this goal.
Tip 1: Surrounded by Chinese-only environment
As you’re at an advanced level now, it is highly likely you can improve your speaking if you’re immersed in a complete Chinese environment for a period of time. You could apply your knowledge in daily Chinese life. In addition, what you previously learned in materials may not 100% fit in the actual world, as there are always modern and trendy words evolving, such as ‘萌’ as ‘可爱’, and ‘很牛’ instead of ‘太棒了’. These phrases are more likely to be adapted when you’re in a complete Chinese environment.
It’s believed staying in China for a while, ranging from months to years, would best serve this purpose. However, if it’s not possible for you to leave your country for such long time, another alternative is get to know more Chinese friends in your local area, hang out more with them, and copy the way they talk about things. Gradually, you will sound more like a native.
Tip 2: Adopt Chinese accent
Students at this stage often can speak very fluently and pronounce words accurately. There’s only one step away from sounding like a native, which is the adoption of a Chinese accent. Why’s that? Because if you sound like a native, there’s a better chance Chinese people perceive you as one of them, and in turn, it will help with building relationships, regardless if it’s for friendship, business, or romance.
To achieve this, find a Chinese language partner who can tell you in what areas you might need to adjust to sound close to a native. Other than that, you can pick a character in a movie or TV show and copy the way he/she speaks. Record your voice and listen back to make further corrections. Finally, keep practicing and practicing, and eventually you will reach your goal.
In the end, it will really benefit you to pay attention to your Chinese-speaking skills. Don’t neglect this skill in favor of your reading, writing, and listening skills. Remember that any language is a means for communicating with others, and a big part of communication is to speak it, not just to read it or write it down. Always remember to develop your speaking skills alongside reading, writing, and listening in Chinese.