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I have some questions about working on my spoken Chinese - I've been studying very sporadically since I went to China about a year ago, and my typing (and at one point, handwriting) is far more advanced than my speaking and comprehension level. There is a good chance I'll be returning to China a year from now and I would like to take my summer months to get a good start on speaking and comprehension practice.
So, I watched this video: How I coached Eliza Coupe's Chinese in the film "Shanghai Calling", and I thought her approach to learning to speak naturally seems very logical. Did I mention I'm a musician? Her approach seems to be similar to the way I learned to play my instrument (竖琴，harp). Or, more like how I learn a new piece of music.
First, learn to read music (done). Much like learning to read Chinese, in my opinion (not quite done, but more easily practiced alone). Next, train the ear to hear the sounds in a way that can be replicated (as in 'knee sheeang ch shehmeh). This includes some instruction on how to make the sounds (which I find lacking in the Chinese materials I have studied up to this point). Then, practice, with sounds, pitch, and rhythm. Then repeat until you can achieve consistency and fluency. Great.
Now, can anyone point me to a learning system or software, etc that does something like this? Trying to distinguish between sounds like q, x, c, sh, chi, j, zh, etc., is quite difficult. I did find another video that does offer some 'technique' as far as making different consonant sounds: Intensive Mandarin Chinese Review of zh-ch-sh-r Pinyin Sounds, but I am detecting a discrepancy in the 'r' sound.
Sorry for the long post! But I would love to have some input on working on speaking so that I can even get to the point where my Chinese friends and colleagues can understand me!
On a related note, I told one Chinese friend (from 上海), out of frustration with tones, that I would just speak in a a flat monotone voice in Chinese. She said she could understand me better! Thoughts? Thank you all! This site has already been very helpful to me in the last year. Wish I had posted sooner!
hey vince - great topic, thanks for posting it.
i personally just do more of a 'parrot' + 'osmosis' technique with pronunciation (and there's a decent chance it's because i'm lazy.) meaning basically i don't worry too much about it for a long while and spend a lot of time just listening. i find podcasts like www.chinesepod.com and dvds with chinese audio to be the most useful. for me, with enough time, i just start to feel that certain things 'sound right' and others don't. that helps with my pronunciation at the lower levels. then after that you probably do need to switch to a live partner for feedback. there are many willing partners for online language exchange on www.italki.com if you don't mind helping them with english. just say you want specifically to work on pronunciation and be prepared with words / phrases you want to practice to get the most value out of your time.
As far as monotone chinese goes... i think this is actually somewhat effective with younger people, in big cities or when interacting with people who speak more than just mandarin. it's also more effective when there is clearly a context for the discussion (like taxi, friends etc). it's one of the challenges of chinese - as your pronunciation improves you can be more difficult to understand because THEN you actually have to get the tones right. when you sound awful at the beginning, chinese people just 'fill in the blanks' to understand what you are saying.
anyway, i am hoping others on the site have some additional / better suggestions for you. have you also thought about trying to memorize chinese songs / ktv style? the tones aren't always perfect there but if you like music you might find it a fun way to learn, practice & get feedback (if you're willing to record yourself on youtube)
Brandon has some great suggestions here and you are right to draw parallels to learning a language and learning music. Training your ear to hear the sounds is probably the one thing that people don't spend enough time on. You've got to listen - a lot. There's no easy way around this. You've just got to spend the time actively listening and trying to store the sounds of the language in your head. I'd say at the beginning you'd be better off listening and repeating, perhaps with the text in front of you so you can read it as opposed to just trying to read on your own with no audio to listen to. So in this way, it's different than learning music. You really need the audio to reference to be sure you've got it right. If you just read without know how it is supposed to sound the dynamics of your speaking can become very unnatural.
I personally used Chinesepod.com for the bulk of my listening early on but there are some other options.
Hello-Hello - I rarely see people recommend this and I'm not sure why. I think this is the most concise and essential collection of audio for beginners. There are 30 conversations that truly cover just about everything you need to know as a beginner. There are related activities and isolated pronunciation practice. But, it's tough for people just starting out and perhaps that what turns people off to it.
Pop-up Chinese - This is like Chinesepod.com but with a more academic slant. I think there might be more free stuff there as well.
FluentU - This is a truly awesome way to watch authentic videos in Chinese. It's really fun and you can get lost for hours just listening.
Hope this helps Vince and let me know if you've got any questions.
Hey guys, thanks for the feedback! I'm working on investigating your suggestions. Definitely enjoying ChinesePod and have been, as well as the Sinica podcast. I'm looking at Pop-up Chinese, but I'm limited until I can budget for the lessons (though it seems like a good investment).
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