Being able to speak fluently and interact with native Chinese easily are often the ultimate goal of many Chinese learners. However, it’s also seen as their greatest weaknesses. Based on my observation on students with this issue, the reasons were mainly either they were lack of opportunity to practice, or they focused too much on reading, understanding grammar and learning vocabulary while ignoring the fact that speaking requires additional skill of self-creation of sentences. In this article, we’ll look into various ways to help you improve Chinese speaking skill.
Aim: Conduct basic conversations
If you’re a beginner in speaking, the short-term goal for you would be being able to conduct basic conversations, and can slightly 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 resources of your own. It’s suggested that you listen a few times, and start speaking with the texts, which 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 yourself with speaking the language.
If you’re afraid you might not be pronouncing words accurately, I found SpeakChinese App quite useful, as the App is for speaking practices purpose, and their App has a ‘speaking analysis’ function, which you can repeat their sentences by recording your voice, while a score will be given based on how accurately you speak.
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 in real practice, while the ‘one on one’ setting allows you to have less distractions in the conversations. You can talk about any topic within your capability, for example weather, food, transportation, etc, as the purpose for this is to get talking. Meanwhile, you partner is suggested to point out any mistake you made, such as pronunciation, sentence structure and grammar errors.
It’s easy to look for an online tutor, and Verbalplanet is popular platform. It’s especially suitable for those who have less budget. If you’re looking for a language exchange partner, which you can make online friends while learning from each other, HelloTalk is a free app that has a large user base, hence finding the right partner shouldn’t be difficult.
Aim: Communicate fluently in general situations
As an intermediate learner, you should have adequate vocabulary and knowledge to practice your speaking in a wider, day to day living situations. Therefore, it’s believed your target at this stage would 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 enhanced, it’s the perfect time you start watching Chinese TV, as a relatively higher level is required for watching most Chinese TV dramas and movies. However, what I’m suggesting you here is not just to watch it, but to practice speaking with it. How to? First of all, you’re recommended to choose Chinese TV with Chinese subtitles, which could be easily found from Dnvod.TV, Youku, Iqiyi, and more. Then, watch the whole video precisely, before picking up scenes of your desire. You can then listen carefully to how the actor/actress you intend to imitate speaks, in terms of tones, accents, and pronunciation, and repeat the lines yourself. Furthermore, you can even literally imagine yourself being in the scenes, and speaking to your idol. Isn’t it amazing?
Tip 2: Situational speaking practice
Apart from practising on your own, you might want to go out and talk to someone else. At intermediate level, you should be able to chat with people on a wider range of topics. Therefore, travelling to China shall be a good option, as this opportunity allows you to practice speaking in different kinds of aspect, such as booking a hotel room, ordering food and eating in restaurants, buying in shops, purchasing train tickets, etc.
If you find it difficult to plan a trip to China, other ways could be participating in Chinese social events, local Chinese clubs or similar activities. These events allow you to be involved in the Chinese environment where you can interact with Chinese people, therefore you get the chance to practice speaking in more natural setting.
Aim: Speak like a native
When you’ve reached advanced level, you should be able to speak with native Chinese fluently, covering a broad subject area. 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.
Tip1: Surrounded by Chinese only environment
As you’re at advanced level now, it’d be highly likely you can improve your speaking if you’re immersed in a complete Chinese environment for a period of time. This could apply your knowledge in daily life, while maintaining your level. 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 people now often use ‘萌’ as ‘可爱’, and ‘很牛’ instead of ‘太棒了’. These phrases are more likely to be adapted when you’re actually in a complete Chinese environment.
It’s believed staying in China for a while, ranging from months to years would best serve the 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’d sound more like a native.
Tip2: 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 the adoption of 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 helps with building your relationships, regardless if it’s about friendship, business, or romantic relationship.
To achieve this, you can find a Chinese language partner, who can tell you in what areas that you might need to adjust to sound close to a native. Other than that, you can pick a character in a movie or TV, 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’d reach your goal.
Next, if you're keen to know about our tips on improving your Chinese listening skill, check out our other post, 'How to Improve Listening Skills Effectively'.