Hacking Chinese

A better way of learning Mandarin

Chinese pronunciation challenge, June 2018

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, them 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. Naturally, if you’re only going to say things that are expected of you, most people can guess what you want to say based on context, but as soon as you enter into more open-ended exchanges, pronunciation becomes really important.

Focusing on pronunciation for just two weeks won’t solve all your pronunciation-related issues, far from it, but it is enough time to make progress in a clearly defined area. This month’s focused challenge encourages you to do just that! After I introduce the challenge, I will share some advice about improving you pronunciation in Mandarin.

Hacking Chinese pronunciation challenge, June 16th to June 30th

This how you 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!
  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 16th (Saturday), 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!

Setting a reasonable goal

Two weeks is not a long time to make substantial gains in pronunciation. Since time is the unit being measured in the challenge, decide how much you will be able to spend before the end of the month. A few sessions of 30-60 minutes per week is reasonable, so anything from two hours up to six hours in total.

Choose one problem to focus on! It should be as specific as possible. Simply “improving my pronunciation” or “speak with better tones” is not specific enough. It is very unlikely that you have no issues, so if you think that’s the case, your goal for the challenge should be to figure out some of your problems are and start working on one of them.

Feel free to share your goal in the comments, and if you do, don’t forget to post about the result at the end of the month!

How to improve your pronunciation

I have written a lot about pronunciation already, so I’ll just point you in the right direction. If you just want to get started and don’t have time to browse through articles, then just find a nice audio clip with naturally sounding Mandarin and try to produce your own exact copy of it, including everything. Become the native speaker. Ideally, get feedback from someone when you think you have accomplished this.

If you want to read more, there are a series of articles about basic pronunciation and how to approach the topic:

Learning Chinese pronunciation as a beginner

Learning tones in Mandarin is not optional

How learning some basic theory can improve your pronunciation

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

Learning to pronounce Mandarin with Pinyin, Zhuyin and IPA: Part 2

Learning to pronounce Mandarin with Pinyin, Zhuyin and IPA: Part 3

Articles about evaluating and finding problems with pronunciation

Second, we have a few articles about evaluating your pronunciation and becoming aware of the problems you very likely have:

How to find out how good your Chinese pronunciation really is

A smart method to discover problems with tones

A guide to Pinyin traps and pitfalls: Learn Mandarin pronunciation

Standard pronunciation in Chinese and why you want it

Other useful articles about improving pronunciation

Third, there are a few articles that don’t really fit in either of the categories above, but are still relevant:

Focusing on tone pairs to improve your Mandarin pronunciation

Improving pronunciation beyond the basics

About fossilisation and improving your Chinese pronunciation

Resources for learning and improving pronunciation

The best place to go for this is Hacking Chinese Resources, where are currently 24 resources listed with the tag “pronunciation”.  As it happens, I have also written an article about these and some other resources, so you can also check that one out:

24 great resources for improving your Mandarin pronunciation

This is a preliminary schedule for focused challenges in 2018:

  1. February: Listening
  2. March: Vocabulary
  3. April: Reading
  4. May: Writing
  5. June: Pronunciation
  6. July: Listening
  7. August: Vocabulary
  8. September: Reading
  9. October: Speaking
  10. November: Handwriting
  11. December: Translation
Do you want more practical exercises, audio versions of articles and Chinese translations? Check out my Patreon page!

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One comment

  1. Birgit says:

    I will use the anki deck “Listening Deck for Chinese 4th Year” (8000+ sentences) to practise pronunciation and listening until the end of July

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