Hacking Chinese

A better way of learning Mandarin

Chinese mimicking challenge, June 2020

Hacking Chinese Challenges are about building language skills through daily practice and friendly competition. By focusing on one specific area of learning over a limited period of time, you will be able to learn more!

Pronunciation is often overlooked in Chinese language education. The tones, initials and finals are introduced in the first few weeks, but are then mostly forgotten about. Some teachers give students opportunities to work on their pronunciation and helpful feedback, but this is the exception rather than the norm.

This is a pity because pronunciation is perhaps more important than you realise. Studying vocabulary and grammar is no good if you can’t pronounce the sentences in a way that native speakers can understand. This month’s challenge is about improving pronunciation through mimicking.

Hacking Chinese mimicking challenge, June 10th to June 31th

How to sign up and join the challenge:

  1. Sign up (using your e-mail, Facebook or Twitter)
  2. View current and upcoming challenges on the front page
  3. Join the pronunciation challenge
  4. Set a reasonable goal (see below)
  5. Start improving your pronunciation (see below)
  6. Report your progress on your computer or mobile device
  7. Check the graph to see if you’re on track to reaching your goal
  8. Check the leader board to see how you compare to others (if you want)
  9. Share progress, tips and resources with fellow students

Please note:  The challenge starts on June 10th, so even if you join now, you won’t be able to report progress until then. I post this article today so you have a few days to prepare! A good start is to find your target audio and start listening to it now.

Mimicking native speakers to improve your pronunciation

I have talked about mimicking as a way of improving your spoken Chinese before, so will focus on the challenge itself in this article. Although you are free to use whatever method you want, I suggest doing the following.

  1. Select target audio – You can mimic anything you want, but make sure to choose someone who speaks roughly in a way you want to speak. If your goal is to sound like a CCTV news anchor, don’t mimic Taiwanese talk shows, and vice versa.
  2. Select 5-15 sentences from one speaker – What the person is saying matters little. You’re going to use only a handful of sentences and you’ll know them inside out fairly soon anyway. However, picking something you can at least understand the gist of without looking things up will make it easier.
  3. Listen to and study the sentences until you know them well – Extract the sentences you have chosen from the source audio so you have only those sentences available on your phone. Listen to them whenever you can, the more the better. Your goal is to listen so much that you notice every little detail. Look things up if you need to.
  4. Shadow the native speaker –  Start saying the sentences after the native speaker when you feel ready to do so. It’s okay if you only manage a few words here and there, it will improve with more practice. Don’t wait until the native speaker is finished and then speak, say it at the same time.
  5. Try to produce your own perfect copy – When you can say the sentences along with the native speaker, matching their pace, it’s time to sit down with a program like Audacity and record your own voice. You should still be listening to the target audio while speaking, but if you use earphones to listen, the microphone will of course only pick up your voice.
  6. Compare your version and the original – Once you have produced a recording, compare it to the original. It’s likely that you will hear things that are different. Go back and fix those. You can also get feedback from a teacher or a native speaker at this point.
  7. Post your final result in a comment to this article or post it and mention me on Twitter or other social media platform. I can’t promise that I will be able to give feedback, but by sharing your final result online, other people can help out if they want!

Please note that this is not a rigid process meant to be followed to the end for each and every sentence before you move on to the next! I suggest you go through each step for each sentence, but in whatever order suits you. Mix it up a bit to make it more interesting!

If you want to read more about using Audacity to mimic native speakers, please check this tutorial by Olle Kjellin.

Suggested target audio

Like I said above, any audio can work, depending on your situation, but here are some suggestions:

  • TV series and movies
  • Talk shows
  • Radio broadcasts
  • Podcasts
  • Interviews
  • Audio books
  • Textbooks

Anything that you’ve been working on to improve your listening ability will work.For listening resources, check this article or Hacking Chinese Resources (select the listening tag).

The 10 best free listening resource collections for learning Chinese

Setting a reasonable goal

The above process looks complicated, but it doesn’t have to take that much time. If you spend 20 minutes per day on average for the rest of the month (that’s 7 hours for the whole challenge), you should be able to deal with 10-15 sentences or so without too much trouble. This of course depends on your current level and what level of perfection you’re striving for, but you can always adjust the number of sentences as you go along.

My challenge

I finished listening to 死神永生 by 刘慈欣 during last month’s listening challenge. This means that I’ve now listened to roughly one hundred hours of audio by the same narrator. Just like many other audio books in Chinese, I find the style overly dramatic, but I thought it would be fun to mimic him for this challenge.

So, my goal is to mimic the opening chapter of the first book. I don’t know how far I will get, so I won’t even try to set a goal in terms of sentences, but let’s say 7 hours in total. I’ll also try to post something where I try to speak like the narrator on my own, without mimicking.

Your challenge

What are you going to mimic? Leave a comment below, sharing your target audio as well as some thoughts about the challenge. You can of course log your study time for the challenge as usual, and I’m looking forward to seeing how close you can get to your target by the end of the month!

More about improving your pronunciation

Unless you pronunciation is already very good, you’re likely to come across sounds you find difficult to produce. To help you out, here are some articles I’ve written previously about improving your pronunciation:

Learning Chinese pronunciation as a beginner

The Hacking Chinese guide to Mandarin tones

How learning some basic theory can improve your pronunciation

A guide to Pinyin traps and pitfalls: Learn Mandarin pronunciation

Standard pronunciation in Chinese and why you want it

24 great resources for improving your Mandarin pronunciation

Learning to pronounce Mandarin with Pinyin, Zhuyin and IPA: Part 1

Further reading

Kjellin, O. (2015). Quality Practise Pronunciation With Audacity – The Best Method! [Tutorial]. Unpublished. doi:10.13140/RG.2.1.3617.9281



Preliminary challenge schedule for 2020

Here is a preliminary list of challenges for 2020, but I’m always open for ideas. Based on user participation, surveys as well as my own opinion, reading and listening challenges are particularly helpful for a large number of people, followed by those focusing on vocabulary. These will recur more often throughout the year, with other, more specific challenges spread out in-between.

Challenges will last for roughly three weeks. They always start on the 10th each month and lasts until the end of that month. Three weeks is enough to get a significant amount of studying done, but not so long that people lose focus. This also leaves ten days of breathing space between challenges.

  1. January: Listening
  2. February: Writing
  3. March: Reading
  4. April: Vocabulary
  5. May: Listening
  6. June: Pronunciation
  7. July: Reading
  8. August: Translation
  9. September: Listening
  10. October: Vocabulary
  11. November: Reading
  12. December: Speaking

Tips and tricks for how to learn Chinese directly in your inbox

I've been learning and teaching Chinese for more than a decade. My goal is to help you find a way of learning that works for you. Sign up to my newsletter for a 7-day crash course in how to learn, as well as weekly ideas for how to improve your learning!


  1. fay says:

    wow! upon first reading the email announcing this challenge early this morning, I felt trepidation… so, jumping in I intend to master a minimum of 5 sentences per week for a minimum total of 20 sentences by investing 30 minutes/day mimicking. sources and methodology yet to be determined! I am sure the great resources Olle has posted will give me plenty of pathways to choose from! Thanks for the push!

    1. Olle Linge says:

      Why trepidation? 🙂 Mimicking is fun!

      1. fay says:

        Trepidation only because speaking is my biggest challenge and I was the type that and am getting better at not speaking as fast as I could to mask the fact that I didn’t know the tone!! I am also in China with my parents and we have only spoken English to each other my entire life so our habit is to speak English. When I do speak in Chinese, more often than not I get, “What??”

  2. Casey Burridge says:

    Mimicking, like shadowing is a great way to improve your Chinese pronunciation for sure…

  3. AliciaMSA says:

    Hi! very excited about the challenge… I want to use this anime I’m currently watching (and hooked to!) 我是江小白. The action is set in Chongqing, I wonder if anyone knows if the Chinese spoken there deviates too much from standard?

  4. Andrei says:

    Hi Olle!
    I am currently reading book 1 of the Three Body series. I just wanted to suggest another artist who recorded the audiobook (傑克), including the 3rd part you are working on. I agree that the original narrator is overly dramatic and it kind of ruins the experience. This another guy is much better in my opinion. The only thing is that the titles seem to be in traditional Chinese so potentially there may be some discrepancies with the original simplified version, but hopefully the audiobook still sounds the same as simplified one. You can find this version in Youtube by searching for something like:
    《三體3:死神永生》- 第01集 – 有聲小說(傑克 演播)


    1. Olle Linge says:

      Hi Andrei,

      Thank you for the recommendation! I kind of got used to it after a while, and many other audio books I’ve listened to in Chinese sound like that too. For the mimicking part, I’m doing this mostly for fun, so I’ll probably stick to the version I listened to (I hope the result will be entertaining more than useful). I’ve listened to the guy for more than 100 hours, so I feel we’re friends now. 🙂 However, for other people, it’s probably a good idea to mimic something more natural sounding!


Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.