10/9/16

How to learn Chinese pronunciation

Learn Chinese Pronunciation

Learning how to pronounce Chinese is one of the first big challenges you encounter when you decide to learn Chinese. The size of the challenge depends on your native language and if it has any similarities with Mandarin or not. I don’t remember having much problems in pronouncing English, Swedish or German while studying them in school, but learning Chinese was a whole another thing.

Yes, Chinese pronunciation is challenging, but it’s not impossible! There aren’t any ways to cheat around it, but with a plan and hard work, you can reach your goals and be understood by locals in China. What your goals are, is totally up to you, maybe having survival level is enough or maybe your perfectionist tendencies want you to reach for native like fluency, or anything in between.

When I started Chinese lessons back in 2008 I didn’t pay enough attention to the correct pronunciation, especially tones. I thought just speaking a bit more quickly would do the trick. But later on when I wanted to advance from survival upward, I realized learning the pronunciation well is better to be done in the beginning than trying to fix bad habits later on.

So here comes my experiences and useful resources I’ve created and found to learn Chinese pronunciation.

Where to start learning Chinese pronunciation

First of all you need some basic information how to pronounce Chinese and what pinyin is. Your textbook of choice probably has an introduction, but if you find it lacking, there are other good resources to check and learn more.

Pinyin quick start guide is a great place to start understanding Chinese pronunciation. While you are reading the theory behind pronunciation and pinyin, also listen to all the sounds and repeat after it. You can find many pinyin table applications in the App Store, for example Pinyin by Chinesepod or Allset Learning Pinyin.

Here it’s important to understand that a Chinese syllable has three parts, for example: nĭ (you). The initial is “n”, final “i” and tone is the third tone. Each of these three are equally important and should be seen as one unit. You aren’t learning “ni” + third tone, you are learning “nĭ “.

There is also a new Say it Right video course by my affiliate partner ChinesePod, I’ll be reviewing it on the blog soon so stay tuned for that.

Training your ear

Starting from the early stages, listening is the first step to good pronunciation. You will first train your ear to hear differences between sounds and tones, after that you can start pronouncing them your self.

For example the difference between initials s and sh, c and ch or the differences between tones.

A good app to train your ear is Pinyin Trainer by trainchinese.

For those of you who really want to get those tones right, try Tone Trainer. It can seem a bit difficult at first, but it’s the best tool I’ve found to learn to hear the differences between tones and test your ear.

Start speaking

When learning to pronounce Chinese on your own, go from small to big. First go with one syllable words like yī shí wŭ liù (1, 10, 5, 6), then gradually go to double syllable words and different tone combinations. Gradually go from syllables to words and then to sentences. Listen to phrases and mimic the flow of the language.

At the beginning listen and repeat a lot, you will soon notice which sounds are easier for you and which require more work, remember to pay attention to the difficulties, don’t shy away from them.

If you are unsure how you are doing, have your teacher or tutor to listen you and correct your mistakes. If you don’t have a teacher, you can try my Pronunciation Tutor Service.

Step by step plan to learn Chinese pronunciation

  1. Read a bit of basic info on Chinese pronunciation and pinyin, know what you are supposed to do
  2. Listen a lot and train your ear
  3. Start speaking from syllables to words to short phrases
  4. Have a teacher correct your pronunciation or use my Pronunciation Tutor Service
  5. Continue to improve your pronunciation along with your studied until you achieve your goals

Do you have any questions on how to learn or improve your Chinese pronunciation? Please ask away in the comments section and I’ll do my best to help! 

08/16/16

Chinese lessons in Guangzhou are continuing in September

Learn Chinese in Guangzhou

I’ve gotten emails asking when do I resume teaching Chinese and I thought it’s best to share the plans in a blog post as well. Chinese lessons are continuing in September!

I’ll arrive back to Guangzhou a bit earlier than planned, on the first week of September. After that I’ll need to find a nanny and then I can continue teaching Mandarin. My estimate is that I can continue lessons in mid-September.

I’ll be offering one on one or small group lessons for beginners and elementary level students. Most of my students are keen to learn the basics of spoken Chinese but I have students who are fascinated by the Chinese characters as well. In any case the lessons are always tailored to your personal needs with a flexible schedule.

If you want more information about Chinese lessons in Guangzhou or want to book a meeting with me, get in touch through my contact form!

07/31/16

How to keep on learning Chinese: Do something fun!

Can you recognize these characters?

It’s easy to lose motivation to study Chinese, especially on a Summer vacation when all sorts of things compete of your attention. Open a textbook or go to the beach? I won’t blame you for choosing the latter.

But what can we do in order to keep on learning and not forgetting everything before continuing lessons in the Autumn?

Do something fun every day!

Learning should be fun, especially on a holiday so choose a fun Chinese activity that fits your Summer mood.

For example:

  • Explore fun apps on Apple Store or Google Play, for example tracing characters on Chinese Writer by trainchinese can get addictive!
  • Listen to podcasts on interesting topics. What about listening ChinesePod podcasts At the beach or   Going on a picnic
  • Listen to Chinese songs on QQ Music app, Youku or YouTube. Follow the lyrics as you go to help comprehension.
  • If you want to improve your reading skills, get shopping on Taobao. 
  • If you live in China or close to a Chinatown, make it into a game to spot a certain character on road signs or restaurant menus. Forget catching Pokemons, try catching as many “人” as possible!

You don’t have to study for hours, even a few minutes per day is better than cramming a full day once a month. Stay consistent and your Chinese will improve. Most of all, have fun with Mandarin!

How do you make learning Chinese fun?

10/29/15

How to pass HSK level 1

IMG_6883

HSK is the official Chinese Proficiency Test that is a great way to set goals or check your Chinese level. Sometimes having a clear goal in form of a test gets you more motivated to hit those flashcards or strike up conversations with the local Chinese. Taking HSK1 is the first step on your ladder.

Just remember that you don’t study Chinese for the HSK, but use it as a tool instead. Don’t start learning Chinese by buying a HSK prep book, but try the HSK after you have studied Chinese for some time and want to see how you’re doing.

HSK1 has two parts: listening and reading. The level is suitable for those students who have learned around 150 words and basic grammar patterns. If you are studying Chinese part-time one to two hours per week, you can usually pass HSK level 1 in half a year or so.

How to pass HSK1

1) Learn the vocabulary.

As you have been studying basic Chinese at your course or with a private teacher, you have probably learned most of the basic words that will come up in HSK1. Now it’s time to review those and fill in the blanks that you might have!

The best flash card system for Chinese is Skritter that works on your laptop or on your tablet or smart phone. I started using Skritter more than five years ago and have passed many tests because of it. Skritter is also my blog’s affiliate partner. You can try it our for free and see if it’s the best choice for you too.

2) Practice your listening skills

Listening comprehension is perhaps the most important skill in a foreign language and the best way to train any skill is to do more of it! You’ve probably been listening to the dialogues in your textbook, but that becomes boring quite quickly.

Where to find more interesting materials to listen then? Podcasts like ChinesePod are good resources for all levels. For HSK level 1 check out their newbie and elementary levels. On ChinesePod, with a code “SARAJ”, you can get 20% off a premium annual plan here.

3) Do mock tests

Getting used to the test format is also important with HSK and that is easy to do with mock tests. Do an online mock test of the reading section here on the official HSK website or download paper tests. You can also buy mock exams on Amazon.

Always do a mock test with the actual time limit so see how you would do in the real test situation. Find out with a tutor why you made mistakes and practice the section more which is the weaker one for you.

4) Read short stories

A great way to review vocabulary, grammar patterns and general comprehension is to read in Chinese. These days lots of graded readers are available for different levels. For HSK level 1 I recommend the I begin to learn Chinese by Confucius Institute which contains short stories and exercises.


With these four steps I’m sure you can ace your HSK1 exam! Just remember that passing an exam shouldn’t be your sole reason to learn Chinese, but a tool that helps you to set countable goals and make you even more motivated to master Chinese step by step.

 

06/25/15

No matter how hard it might feel, you can learn to speak Chinese

情 Character

How is it like to learn a second language as an adult is a question I encounter with on a daily basis when teaching my students Chinese. I started learning Chinese when I was 20, but before that I already had experience in learning a foreign language. I started English at 9 years old, German at 11 and Swedish when I was 13. But how is it like for adults who start their very first foreign language and it happens to be Chinese?

First an article on Hacking Chinese came to my mind: You might be too lazy to learn Chinese, but you’re not too old. Olle reminds as that even though it’s easier for children to master the pronunciation of a new language , we adults are much smarter and thus are much better at learning. What we should learn from kids though is that they don’t give up and they aren’t afraid to make mistakes.

We adults often expect results way too quickly and get frustrated when we don’t learn a new skill right away. Remember that learning anything new takes time and effort, so does Chinese, and don’t be afraid to make lots of mistakes along the way.

Speaking of confidence, a blog post from Sinoplice, Confidence and Tones, reminds us how important it is to be confident in your studies. The perfect balance is with having the correct information (knowing the correct pronunciation) and being confident enough to open your mouth and say those words out loud. Children aren’t afraid to speak up so we should definitely learn from them!

I didn’t learn the Chinese pronunciation well when I started. Our teacher just made us listen and repeat after a CD recoding for hours and hours, without explaining why we were learning this way. She didn’t explain where and how all these new sounds should be pronounced in our mouths. She didn’t correct our tones enough and let us get away with bad pronunciation.

When I came to China I noticed that it could take me 5 minutes to try to order yì bēi shŭi one glass of water just because my pronunciation was so terrible. During the years I’ve noticed plenty of foreigners complaining how the Chinese don’t understand their Chinese, I felt the same way at first. But then I realized that it’s my fault, my pronunciation just wasn’t good enough to allow the listener to easily understand me.

Learning Chinese pronunciation is tricky, it takes lots of time and effort, but the good news are, that after you master it (or become good enough), learning Chinese becomes much easier. At first it may seem like that you never learn those difficult initials like j, q, x or zh, ch, sh, but that’s not true. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes, study hard and you will notice how native speakers start to understand you.

It may take a while to get that first feeling of accomplishment, but trust me, it feels great! One day you realize the taxi drive understood where you were going, the waitress got your order right and you just said your very first spontaneous Chinese sentence without translating it first in your head.

John from Sinoplice describes learning Chinese in 5 stages, starting from “Ching-chong-ching”. At this first stage Chinese seems something completely alien to you. How could these sounds be learned? And how is it even possible to recognize the different tones, do they even matter? After learning Chinese for a while, with a good teacher, a learner will gradually realize that Chinese is a language just like any other language (Stage 2). You start to understand that for the Chinese the difference between mā with a first tone and mà with a fourth tone is as big as the difference between A and B letters is for us.

I wish that my students don’t make the same mistakes as I did and think the tones or correct pronunciation doesn’t matter. Yes, Chinese will understand you Xièxie (thank you) and fāpiào (incoive) no matter how poorly you utter them, just  because these are the two words they are used to hearing from a foreigner’s mouth. But try something else and you find yourself having communication trouble.

We also have difficulties with non-native speakers of our own languages if their pronunciation is way off, it’s the same with Chinese. English and Chinese just happen to be quite different languages so it takes a bit more effort to nail the pronunciation. So let’s make it easier for us and for the listener and learn those new sounds. Just like a kid, don’t be afraid to make mistakes!

Now after learning Chinese for 6+ years I finally understand how valuable it is to listen to the advice or advanced learners like Olle from Hacking Chinese and John from Sinoplice. They have gone through the journey, made the mistakes and are sharing their wisdom on how to avoid those mistakes our selves.

As a final word for this not so coherent blog post, I would like to say that don’t give up. No matter how hard it might seem in the beginning, you can learn to speak Chinese. No matter if it’s your first or fifth foreign language, you are never too old to learn new things. Advance on your own speed, but take an advantage of the tips of other learners.

Good luck! Study hard!