Updated: Dec 29, 2019
There are so many aspects to discuss with topics like ‘how to improve your language skills’. To improve speaking skills in Mandarin, there are a few aspects should pay attention to:
When you say a sentence in Mandarin, it is important to give the correct pronunciation of each word especially the easy confused words. e.g 我今天晚上出去吃饭。In this sentence, the word 出去chūqù - go out should be pronounced clearly, otherwise might sounds like 不去bù qù - not going.
When you say something in Mandarin, the Intonation of each sentence is very important. It shows and expresses your attitude, the facts that you would like to emphasise, as well as the key information you want to give. Correct intonation is especially important when many words are grouped together in long sentences. For example, 我昨天收到了在北京学习的朋友发来的电子邮件.When speaking, this sentence should be grouping words together like this: 我昨天 收到了 在北京学习的朋友 发来的 电子邮件 (I received an email yesterday sent by my friend who is studying in Beijing. The key information is ‘ I received an email’ 我 收到了 电子邮件 which should be stressed and emphasised. Therefore learners should learn about sentence stress and when to pause for effect.
3. The speed of speech and the fluency
The final aim of speaking Mandarin, to sound like a native speaker, is the fluency.
The speed of speech
Try to speak naturally, at a reasonable pace. The average rate of a native Mandarin speaker is 180-200 words per minute (each character is one syllable.) For example, if making an 800 word presentation in Mandarin, it should be a short talk lasting 4.5 minutes. Beginners can practise saying the sentences a little bit slower, at the rate between 140-160 words per minute.
Fluency and accuracy are sometimes contradictory, specially when you don't know exactly which words to use. Therefore, the advice for speaking Mandarin fluently is:
Word order - say the correct sentence with the right word order, especially the long sentences.
Using the correct conjunctions or linking words - to connect different ideas. e.g.
不管你喜不喜欢社交网络，我们都得认识到它影响了年轻人的生活方式。虽然这种基于网络的社交方式对老年人来说有点奇怪，但是我们就是生活在这样处处有数字技术的时代。In this long sentence, there are three conjunctions like ‘no matter what’, ‘although’ and ‘but’ to express different opinions.
Listening and Reading - finally and most importantly, one cannot improve speaking skills without listening and reading. One can learn how to say the simple words or phrases correctly just by listening, but sometimes one can say the words without understand the meanings. Therefore, reading authentic texts, dialogues or articles is a very important part of improving your speaking skills. This is because you can learn the right ways to say things by reading. Good reading materials contain rich and useful vocabulary and a wide range of grammar and sentence structures which you can use as in your own speech.
© T. Tian