Tips and tricks

The Two Minutes It Takes To Read This Will Improve Your Spoken Chinese Forever2 min read

13 February 2022 2 min read


The Two Minutes It Takes To Read This Will Improve Your Spoken Chinese Forever2 min read

Reading Time: 2 minutes

You’re busy so I’ll keep this quick.

The following six tips will help you improve your spoken Chinese forever.

1. Lower the tone of your voice.

Native Chinese speakers tend to speak in a lower tone of voice than English speakers do.

So learners of Chinese tend to speak in a tone of voice that sounds too high. This gets worse, and higher, when grappling with Chinese tones.

  • Tip: Try dropping to a lower tone of voice and you’ll find you sound so much better.

2. Print out short sentences in Chinese and read them out-loud.

Print out five short Chinese sentences in large text on a single piece of paper. Hand-write the tones above them, including the changes due to ordering of characters.

Take an easy one like this: 想好以后,再说一下你的想法

Print it out, read out-loud, practicing your tones as you go. Keep going until you can say it without looking. Then do the same again with more complex sentences.

  • Tip: ideally choose a sentence with some nice tone-changes due to ordering – like the one above.

3. Record yourself speaking

It’s uncomfortable, I get it. But recording yourself speaking Chinese, and then listening and self-correcting, is by far the most effective way to monitor and improve your pronunciation and fluency.

Read your short sentences out-loud and record them. Take note of how your tones change, if your overall tone of voice goes higher, and if your mother language intonation creeps in.

  • Tip: Ask your Chinese teacher to point out where the errors are. Adjust and keep doing it.

4. Remove the word 我 Wǒ “I” from sentences after you’ve used it once.

Chinese is a context language. Native speakers often drop the subject of a sentence when it’s understood.

Do the same to sound more authentic when you speak.

  • Example: 要去吃饭了 instead of 我要去吃饭了 – “[I’m] going to get something to eat”

5. Say the topic first. 

Chinese is what is known as a topic-prominent language. That means the topic, the main thing you’re talking about, is said at the start to set the context.

Work out what the topic is, say it upfront and highlight it with 呢 ne after it, or the 就…. 而言 structure around it, or simply pause after you’ve said it.

  • Example: 你说的这个观点,我不同意. This is more authentic than saying 我不同意你说的观点 – “I don’t agree with your opinion.”

6. Drop an on-trend word into your conversations

Contemporary Chinese language changes much faster than English. Having a couple of current ‘buzzwords’ (热词 rè cí in Chinese) to drop into conversations can really impress, and help distract from other minor imperfections in your language.

I publish Slow Chinese 每周漫闻, a resource to help you learn, use, and understand Chinese language the way people speak it today.

Sign up and get round 20 new words in your inbox every Saturday. For free!

  • Tip: Spend 10 minutes reading it every weekend and try out some of the idioms, colloquialisms, slang and on-trend words in your Chinese conversations. I guarantee you will impress!
  1. Jerod

    I heard you on Mandarin Blueprint, and I really love what you are doing; great insights.

  • Feilipo

    These are very useful tips, though they’d be even more useful for me, or anyone else whose knowledge of characters is limited, if the sinographs were accompanied by tone-marked pinyin. This is my first introduction to Slow Chinese, thanks to a link from Paper Republic, so I’m hoping that your neglect of pinyin here is not a general policy.

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