You may think that it will take you years to be able to speak Mandarin Chinese.
Why even bother when you will never get the tones right, let alone learn all the vocabulary?
Hold up! Stop right there.
Sure, you may never sound exactly like a native, but this shouldn’t discourage you at all!
In fact, when you consider learning Chinese as a whole, speaking Chinese is the easier part compared to writing and reading the characters. Even if you don’t have natural language learning skills, through the right approach, you will still be able to reach a high level of communication skills in Chinese.
Whether you’re planning an upcoming trip to China or you’re studying Chinese in an academic setting, here are some useful tips to start speaking Chinese like a pro.
Learn Spoken Mandarin Chinese Like a Pro: What You Need to Succeed
Change Your Mindset
Speaking Chinese is not as hard as you may think, but so often we put up mental barriers that stop us from learning the language.
So give yourself a little pep talk. Look up foreigners speaking Chinese on YouTube and read up on their motivational stories. If you need a specific example to start, just Google Dashan (大山).
Though he is relatively unheard of in the Western world, he’s renowned in China for being a foreigner who speaks exceptionally good Chinese. And he only started learning when he was at a Canadian university!
Review the Four Tones
Regularly review the four tones. Go over them repeatedly in your head, and then practice saying them out loud. Exaggerate each tone more than you ever would normally.
Since accurate Chinese focuses so much on the tonal sounds, this needs to be a top priority. Achieving the four tones is the only way you will actually begin to sound like a native.
Even when you think you’re pronouncing words completely right, it’s possible that you’re not expressing the tones correctly at all. A good way to learn tones is to think about the sounds is as if they were a musical pitch. The tones will make more sense when you consider them in relation to each other.
Do Learn Chinese Grammar
Chinese grammar can be hard. Even if you may find some similarities with the English language, most of it is quite far removed, so that’s why it’s sometimes easy to become frustrated.
But don’t let this stop you from talking at every chance that you can. Once you know just a few basic patterns, you will be able to express yourself successfully in Japanese!
Of course, you won’t be speaking perfectly, but you’ll be able to communicate—and that’s the goal. Think of it as a little child that first begins to speak. Even if they don’t know all the specific grammar rules, they can communicate efficiently.
While you might not know many grammar rules now, you can start building up that knowledge with some of these tips about forming your first sentences.
1. Don’t Modify Chinese Words
Chinese is different from many European languages in that its words have a fixed form, no matter where they are in a sentence. A word is a word, and does not ever need to be changed. This should actually make Chinese easier for you, but the concept does take some getting used to.
2. Chinese Is Topic Prominent, Not Subject Prominent
This is something that trips up English-speakers even after a long time of studying the language. A Chinese sentence always begins with whatever the sentence is about, whereas in English we put the subject of the phrase first.
The best way to learn this is to listen actively to Chinese conversations around you or online, and read as much as you can. The more you hear and read, the more natural it will feel for you to use.
3. Know These Characters and How to Build Sentences
Here are six crucial character combinations that will help you begin to form standard sentences, so that you can start speaking. Here they are:
- 是 shì
是 shì translates as “to be,” “am,” or “is.” It’s a way to connect nouns.
The basic structure for 是 is: (Noun 1) + 是 + (Noun 2)
- 有 yǒu
The most fundamental use for 有 yǒu is to use as “to have.”
The typical structure for this is: (Subject) + 有 + (Noun)
- 没有 méi yǒu
This is the negation used for 有 yǒu. Most other verbs are negated with 不 bù, but this is an exception.
The common structure for this is: (Subject) + 没 + 有 + (Object)
- 很 hěn
很 hěn is the way nouns are linked to adjectives in Chinese. This is unlike English, where nouns can be related to adjectives or nouns with the verb “to be.”
The structure for this is: (Noun) + 很 + (Adjective)
- 也 yě
也 yě is used where in English we’d say “too” or “also.” Remember that it needs always to come before the verb or adjective.
Here are the two structures for verbs or adjectives:
Subject + 也 + (Verb/Verb Phrase)
Subject + 也 + (Adverb) + (Adjective)
- 要 yào
要 yào is used as an auxiliary verb to show that you “want to do” something.
Here is the structure: Subject + 要 + Verb + Object
And there you have it! Use the vocabulary that you have learned to start forming sentences with these six simple structures. You’ll be surprised at what you may be able to communicate.
Capture Every Opportunity to Speak
The only way you will become better at speaking Chinese is if you speak it regularly. Since most of us are not fortunate enough to be able to move immediately to China or a Chinese-speaking community, we will have to make do with our current situations.
Try this simple exercise for the day: Start speaking Chinese in your head the moment you wake up. Actively force your brain to translate everything you are thinking into Chinese. Even the simplest things, like “我起床了(wǒ qǐ chuáng le)” will help you process the language.
After teaching yourself to think in Chinese, start narrating your day aloud. Yes, do it! You may not usually say “I got out of bed” to yourself in English every day, but remember, you are learning the spoken language as a child would. After you’re comfortable speaking in Chinese to yourself, why not find a language partner, either online or in person?
Use Online Resources to Build Your Vocabulary
My final tip today involves building up an extensive vocabulary to truly communicate at an advanced level. Vocabulary doesn’t need to be a daunting task if you take it one day at a time. Here is a great online resource that makes learning a breeze:
Replace just one episode of your standard television series with FluentU daily, and you will see yourself improving tremendously.
FluentU lets you learn real Chinese from music videos, commercials, news and inspiring talks. It naturally eases you into learning Chinese language, and you’ll learn Chinese as it’s spoken in real life.
FluentU has a wide range of contemporary videos—like dramas, TV shows, commercials and music videos. In fact, below you’ll even see the song “Let It Go” from the hit movie “Frozen”:
FluentU brings these native Chinese videos within reach via interactive captions. You can tap on any word to instantly look it up. All words have carefully written definitions and examples that will help you understand how a word is used. Tap to add words you’d like to review to a vocab list.
From the description page, you can access interactive transcripts under the Dialogue tab, or review words and phrases under Vocab.
FluentU’s Learn Mode turns every video into a language learning lesson. You can always swipe left or right to see more examples for the word you’re learning.
The best part is that FluentU always keeps track of your vocabulary. It suggests content and examples based on the words you’re learning. You have a 100% personalized experience.
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