How to Improve your Chinese Speaking Skills (By Yourself!)

October 09, 2022

Chinese learners often seem to be under the misconception that they must speak Chinese with native speakers in person in order to develop strong Chinese speaking skills. Although that would be ideal, the reality is that not everyone can travel to China or be surrounded by a predominantly Chinese-speaking community. Luckily, there are ways you can practice speaking Chinese online with native speakers, as well as on your own.

Let’s explore how to train your Chinese speaking skills by yourself, and how to practice speaking Chinese using online resources.

HOW TO TRAIN YOUR CHINESE SPEAKING SKILLS

Step one: Learn vocabulary.

Since you can’t speak without words, learning enough vocabulary is the first step in improving your Chinese speaking skills. You can learn new words from HSK textbooks or from YouTube channels such as Mandarin Corner.

In terms of apps, Super Chinese, Speechling, and Hello Chinese are also great for learning new vocabulary as they allow you to record your speech and give you feedback on your pronunciation.
Always pay attention to your pronunciation when reading aloud since the wrong tone can completely change the meaning of a word in Chinese. Ask your Chinese teacher for feedback if you have difficulty so that you don’t end up sounding like a foreigner when you speak Chinese.

Chinese vocab list

Step 2: Sentences Building

One of the common mistakes that Chinese learners make is relying on flashcards to learn new vocabulary. Unfortunately, individual word definitions don’t provide context on how to use the vocabulary, which poses a major issue given that Chinese is a highly contextual language.

Even if you know all 5000 words required to pass the HSK 6, you will easily forget them the next day unless you use them in your daily life because the human brain generally retains new information better when it’s able to link it to information it already knows.

Using your newly acquired vocabulary to build sentences relevant to your lifestyle can help prevent that.

Imagine a context in which you may need to use them in your daily life, and create a dialogue. If you don’t feel inspired, you can refer to sentence examples on Tatoeba, or Chinese reading and listening practice materials from textbooks.

This will help you get used to using Chinese words in a conversation, with the right grammar structures. Once again, be sure to read the sentences out loud when practicing and have someone check on your pronunciation.

High school student studying Chinese

Step 3: Active Listening

Now that you have a list of sentences you could use in your daily life, ask your native Chinese teacher or language partner to read and record them for you, then listen to the audio recordings. Online translators such as Deepl or Google Translate can also generate AI-powered audio but they may sound robotic and the audio cannot be saved for future use.

If creating your own dialogue and finding someone to record it for you sounds like too much hassle, some great alternatives include listening to some HSK listening materials or an audiobook, watching a video from one of these Chinese learning YouTube channels, or picking a short dialogue from your favorite Chinese shows.

Study Chinese online with Culture Yard

Step 4: Shadowing

Listen to the dialogue while looking at the transcript, and repeat the speech out loud, imitating the speaker’s rhythm and pronunciation. This is called “shadowing”.

Take note of sounds you struggle with so that you can practice saying them later.

Feel free to pause and replay when necessary. This is a great way to train both your Chinese listening skills and your reading skills simultaneously.

Step 5: Shadowboxing

Isn’t shadowboxing the same as shadowing, you ask? No, it’s not.

Shadowboxing is when boxers fight an imaginary opponent as if they were really in front of them. They do this to rehearse for upcoming matches.

In the context of learning Chinese, shadowboxing requires you to act out dialogues as if you were really talking to someone. You should internalize every word and say the words as if you meant them, rather than simply parroting. This will help you prepare for your upcoming “battle”: speaking to a native Chinese.

Frequently using the shadowboxing method will help your brain convert your ideas faster into speech, hence increasing your Chinese speaking fluency and confidence.

Shadowboxing for speaking skills

Photo by Thao LEE on Unsplash

HOW TO PRACTICE SPEAKING CHINESE ON YOUR OWN

Once you’re satisfied with your shadowboxing sessions, it’s time to do some real-life practice and get instant feedback on your Chinese speaking skills. Here’s how:

Sign up for Chinese classes with a native Chinese teacher

If you take Chinese classes, you can discuss with your Chinese teacher to dedicate some time to practicing Chinese speaking. This means that in addition to your regular classes, your Chinese teacher will also act as your language partner, so you will be killing two birds with one stone!

If you’re interested in finding speaking-focused Chinese classes, we happen to have great native Chinese teachers at Culture Yard happen that would be happy to help you.

Courses > conversational course image

Join a free chat session online

If you are in a Chinese learning group, you can arrange a chat session with the group members. Alternatively, one of my favorite YouTube channels for learning Chinese - Richard Chinese Language - also offers weekly free-chat sessions that Chinese learners from around the world can join for free to practice speaking Chinese.

richard chinese language

Find a language exchange partner

Another way to practice speaking Chinese with native speakers is to find a language partner on apps like HelloTalk, Tandem, or LingBe. These apps are a great way to practice speaking Chinese with several native speakers without paying a penny. What’s more, they not only support text messages, voice messages, and voice calls but also make it clear that they’re only intended for language exchange, rather than dating, which makes it a safe space for language enthusiasts that have no interest in dating.

Meet people online

Lastly, if you’d like to practice Chinese, make friends, or find that special someone, consider using Wechat or dating apps to find someone that may share the same interest as you. Either way, always remain mindful when talking to strangers online.

WeChat

HOW OFTEN SHOULD YOU TRAIN YOUR CHINESE SPEAKING SKILLS

As always, consistency is key. Steps 1 through 3 can be incorporated into your usual study routine, but I would recommend setting aside a few minutes every day for shadowboxing. Doing an hour-long shadowboxing session once a week won’t be as effective as doing it for 5-10 minutes every day while you’re getting ready for school or work.

WHY SHOULD YOU TRAIN YOUR CHINESE SPEAKING SKILLS

1- Training your Chinese speaking skills can be a lifesaver

Verbal communication is the most common form of communication. As such, speaking Chinese can come in handy if you want to better communicate with your Chinese friends, impress a Chinese client, a business partner, or a recruiter, or if you take Chinese courses via Zoom.

2- Training your Chinese speaking skills is a good way to prepare for a Chinese speaking test

The aforementioned Chinese speaking training guide can be used to prepare for Chinese speaking tests such as the HSKK or the YCT speaking test.

YCT Youth Chinese Test

3- Practicing speaking Chinese can help improve your Chinese pronunciation

If you’ve learned Chinese for some time, you probably know by now that the five Chinese tones are crucial to avoiding misunderstandings when speaking Chinese. This is exactly why I insist in Step 1 that you make sure your pronunciation is spotless, as part of your Chinese speaking training. pinyin

4- Training your Chinese speaking can help improve your Chinese listening skills

Since training your speaking skills requires some active listening practice, your Chinese listening skills can benefit from it. This is especially important because both listening and speaking are necessary to effectively communicate verbally. Plus, your listening comprehension can be very useful for passing Chinese proficiency exams such as the HSK.

5- Training your speaking skills can help improve your reading skills

How much Chinese text are you able to read until the characters start blending together and your brain stops recognizing what’s in front of you? Frequent reading, including reading the transcript in Step 4, can help your brain and eyes get used to decoding Chinese characters which can improve both your Chinese reading speed and stamina.

Chinese characters

RECOMMENDED APPS FOR IMPROVING CHINESE SPEAKING

Recommended language exchange apps to practice speaking Chinese with native speakers

HelloTalk

Tandem

Lingbe

Recommended apps for Chinese vocabulary and pronunciation practice

Super Chinese

Speechling

Hello Chinese

CONCLUSION

Contrary to what most Chinese learners believe, there are ways to train and practice your Chinese speaking skills even without being in China. Try them out if you’re determined to amp up your Chinese skills. With a bit of time and patience, you’ll be closer to feeling confident in having a conversation in Chinese as you are in your native language!

About the Author

Juli Mboty has called China home for over 11 years where she became passionate about the Chinese culture, language, and history.

Juli Author Culture Yard