How to Speak Chinese: Top 9 Cool Tips

I`ve noticed that Chinese is often perceived as one of the most difficult languages. There are numerous square scripts with complicated strokes, and its sound is just like singing with various tones. In fact, it is not as hard as you think, what you need is a key to this new language. You are just ready to learn but confused on how to speak Mandarin Chinese. Here I`d love to share with you some tips that can help you learn how to speak Chinese. You should not only just go through these tips but give it a try as these tips are the approach of many language explorers to Mandarin learning. Follow these tips; you will get far much more than you ever thought.

 

1. Think about why you want to learn Chinese

Even if you`ve found a language school or a tutor, you need to know what you are learning Chinese for and figuring out the myths of learning Chinese before hurling yourself into the learning process. You should take a step back and dig your underlying reason for wanting to speak Mandarin Chinese.

Reasons for learning how to speak Chinese:

Business purposes: to communicate with Chinese colleagues or clients; to find a job in a Chinese company; to do business with Chinese companies;

Daily life goals: to speak some Chinese when traveling in China; have more conversations with Chinese speaking family members; to keep pace with kids who are learning this language; to speak with Chinese people around you;

Academic purposes: want to take HSK test; working on a Chinese related major; want to read classics of Chinese literature;

Others: fancy in Chinese culture so as its language; just learn it as a hobby;

……

So what about you? Once you find out the reason, you want to learn this language, which means you`ve to get your learning goal clear. Find your reason, set your goal and determine to challenge yourself then.

 

2. Be familiar with the sounds of Chinese

Every language has its unique intonation, cadence, and sounds, so it’s Mandarin Chinese. Make yourself more familiar with this language will lead you to the world of Chinese earlier. You can find one or two Chinese movies to watch or several Chinese songs to listen. Make sure what you hear is Chinese and it doesn`t matter if it`s with subtitles in other languages. You may not learn anything, but get the impression on how Chinese sounds.

 

3. Beat your fear and speak out what you`ve learned from Day One

The best day of speaking Chinese is today! Not tomorrow, not after the first or more training sessions. There is no best time but now. Feel free to use the vocabulary and sentences you just learned. Don`t be afraid of making mistakes. What`s more, you should feel glad when you realize or somebody else reminds you that you’ve made an error on Chinese. Believe me, if you make mistakes in this way, it`s hard to have the same one more than twice. Making mistake is such valuable experience that is far beyond your imagination. It`s a shame on giving up the opportunities of communication in your target language, but making mistakes and feeling embarrassed.

You may wonder what you should speak since you aren’t even very clear about the grammar and structure things. Even the basic greeting like “你好” is enough to start a conversation. You can impress your Chinese friends/colleagues/clients when you show your desire of speaking this language. Besides learning step by step, you can also try some commonly used Chinese phrases/sentences to break the ice and add brilliance to your conversation. Here are some useful conversational phrases for you as example:

Chinese Pinyin English Audio
好久不见。 Hǎo jiǔ bú jiàn Long time no see.
      
你太牛了! nǐ tài niú le You are awesome!
      
吃了吗? chī le ma Have you had a meal?
      
不好意思,打扰一下。 bù hǎo yì si, dǎ rǎo yí xià Excuse me.
      
祝你好运! zhù nǐ hǎo yùn Good luck!
      

4. Focusing on your pronunciation

Once again, I have to draw your attention to Chinese pronunciation. Acquiring real pronunciation is not very easy, the worse is that it`s too important to ignore. It`s the foundation of learning this language. As you know, the function of language is communication. If you can`t even make others understand your basic expressions, don`t mention conveying more complicated messages. So in the beginning, you should go through some guide to mastering Chinese pronunciation, make sure you have a grasp of the whole idea of this language. Getting all the concepts of tones, intonations, pinyin systems and spelling rules clear is a must.

initpi

5. Find a good Chinese teacher

The fast way to your destination is making sure you are always on the right way and of course start from the right place. So a good teacher is a guide to help you get your goal directly and quickly.

Finding a good Chinese teacher is not that hard as you think no matter you are in or out of China.

 

If you just want to practice Chinese with native speakers, here are some resources where you can connect with native Chinese speakers:

Italki: italki is the site you can find a native Chinese speaker who can give you some guidance about learning  how to speak Chinese. It`s online, so even if you are driving or bathing, it`s ok to talk with Chinese people.

Local Chinese Schools, Even if you live in China, you may not know where you can be taught authentic Chinese without offence. Don`t miss the chance to immerse yourself in the language. Professional teachers and teaching methodology will lead your Chinese process much faster.

 

6. Keep review & practice

Learning a language is just like learning an instrument. You need to continue practicing what you`ve learnt to avoid forgetting. There is a forgetting curve hypothesizes which shows how information is lost over time when there is no attempt to retain it. In other words, if we don`t review on time, there is a big chance we may forget 90% of what we`ve learnt within one month- or even one week. Just be patient, learning every day for twenty minutes is much better than once a week. If you just have such low frequency to learn a language, definitely you will keep forgetting but learning. So try to form a suitable habit of review and practice at regular intervals. You will benefit from it.

(resource: sidsacara.com)

7. Make your language environment

When you are trying to pick up a new language, the real environment may connect you with this language tighter. Why not just hurl yourself into this language?

Handy flashcards

What you need to do is make some flash cards first. Surround yourself with Chinese vocabulary so that you can review them at any time. Prepare a set of self-made flash cards and put it in your pocket or bag. When you have some fragment time like drinking a cup of coffee or taking the subway, just pick it out and start your learning anywhere.

Chinese Everywhere

You can also make some stick-up cards and attach them to the stuff around you. When you see this stuff, the corresponding Chinese characters and meanings will just show up immediately. And if you can make a goal of everyday learning, it must be much more efficient.

Language partner

There must be some Chinese speakers no matter where you live. There are a lot of Chinese communities or overseas students around the world. It`s a great opportunity to know someone who can speak Chinese to you.

It`s also great to know some Chinese learners just like yourself. Both of you have the desire to practice Chinese; you don`t need to consider if the conversation harasses him/her. As a learner, you can understand each other`s embarrassment and shyness. And it will be even better that your language partner has a different mother tongue from yours`, in case you can`t help yourselves using your first language. If Chinese is the only language you share with each other, you can only communicate in this language.

 

8. Immerse yourself in Chinese Movie & TV play

Well, many teachers or bloggers suggest some Chinese movies or TV plays. But in most cases, after watching a dozen of films and TV plays, you still just know “好(ok)” “真的吗(really)” “没问题(no problem).” You can`t help asking if this method work? The answer is YES only if you watch it in a correct and efficient way.

tianxiawuzei

First, you should notice that not every movie or TV play are suitable for being your Chinese language learning materials, such as some costume pieces. It`s a kind of method to know something about traditional China, but learning modern Mandarin Chinese. Their performance and spoken language are not the same with our modern life. If you imitate and talk in that way, people in real life may feel weird. So your materials are better about the modern daily life.

 

Many audiences love to watch the movies and TV play with subtitles in their first language. Well, if you always look at the caption, you can`t get real progress. For the first time, it`s fine to watch with the subtitle in your first language so that it can help you understand the content better. But you must realize a subtitle is a tool, not your target when you watch it next or several times. If there is subtitle in your familiar language, you will be attracted to it naturally. So don`t put it always there.

 

The right learning order should be: grasp the outline – understand – comprehend– memorize – repeat. Watch only once is not learning, just entertainment. Once is far from enough. If you are familiar enough with the story, then you will not be dragged into it quickly. Focusing on the language is the only thing you should do. After understanding the whole thing, you can watch and take notes in the meanwhile. Don`t hesitate to pause and repeat some specific words or sentences again and again until you understand and digest it.

 

9. Make your learning plan

Once you start learning Chinese, you should set a long-term goal and several short-term goals. A long-term goal is the North Star which will always guide your way so that you won`t get lost. Language learning is such a lengthy journey, so the short-term goals are also necessary.

Here is an example of the planning steps:

If your long-term goal is passing HSK 6, then you need to figure out which level you are in at the moment.

If you are just a beginner, then the final goal may be four or five years later which depends on your learning frequency and speed.

Next, you need to separate the four or five years into maybe five periods. Each period stands for a short-term goal.

For sure you can follow this logic to keep dividing each period into many smaller goals of every single day until you feel it`s perfect enough for your learning process.

 

Since learning a language is quantifiable which includes how many vocabulary you know, how many characters you can write etc., it`s not hard to set the learning goals. If you could ask a professional teacher help you make a plan, it can`t be better. If you just learn yourself, then try to find enough learning guide and high-quality materials to help you do that. All in all, more preparation may quicken the speed in doing the work.

 

There are many more tips I can make for you. However, advice and suggestions are just the walking stick which can help you move forward more steadfastly, not your legs. What you need to do is follow the points I mentioned and start to do it right now. Once you are in, you will know what and how to speak Chinese naturally. Good luck!

JING CAO

Jing Cao is the chief editor at Dig Mandarin. She devotes herself to the research of Chinese langugage and how to teach Chinese as a second language better.

  • Great overview of the essential steps to take to get started in Chinese, Jing!