Hacking Chinese

A better way of learning Mandarin

Chinese pronunciation challenge, October 2022

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 offer 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 phrases 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 three weeks (the duration of this challenge) won’t solve all your pronunciation issues, but it is enough time to make progress in a clearly defined area.

Win a slot in my upcoming pronunciation course

I have built a pronunciation course, perfect for learners on all levels, from those who want to learn the basics to those who want to polish their accent. Learn more about the course here:

Hacking Chinese Pronunciation: Speaking with Confidence

To encourage participants to work on their pronunciation in this challenge, I will randomly give out one free pronunciation course (value $97) to an active participant who contributes to the challenge. I will also give personal feedback on three other participants’ pronunciation, giving advice on what to focus on.

The pronunciation course will open for registration again in November! You can sign up on the waiting list here, which will keep you up-to-date with course information.

Hacking Chinese pronunciation challenge, October 10th to 31st

Tune in to the Hacking Chinese Podcast to learn more about Hacking Chinese Challenges:

Available on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcast, Overcast, Spotify and many other platforms!

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. Find the current challenge and click “Enroll!”
  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 the 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!

Setting a reasonable goal

Three weeks is not a long time to make substantial gains in pronunciation, unless you’re a complete beginner. 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 20-40 minutes per week is reasonable for someone who is serious, but doesn’t study full time.

Choose one problem to focus on! It should be as specific as possible. Simply “improving my pronunciation” is not specific enough. It is very unlikely that you have no issues, but 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! Possible goals include fixing a certain tone problem, figuring out what’s going on with a sound you’ve had trouble with and improving your prosody on the sentence level.

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, then work on ironing out any issues.

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

How to learn Chinese pronunciation as a beginner

The Hacking Chinese guide to Mandarin tones

How learning some basic theory can improve your pronunciation

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

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 Mandarin sounds and tones

A guide to Pinyin traps and pitfalls: Learning 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


Preliminary challenge schedule for 2022

Here is a preliminary list of challenges for 2022, 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 last for roughly three weeks. They always start on the 10th each month and last 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: Speaking
  5. May: Listening
  6. June: Vocabulary
  7. July: Reading
  8. August: Translation
  9. September: Listening
  10. October: Pronunciation
  11. November: Reading
  12. December: Vocabulary

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  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

  2. DMED2020 says:

    I’ll be reading aloud as I am going through 笑傲江湖, with a goal to improve my rhythm, character/tone recognition.

  3. Rattigan says:

    I’m going to wotk on my weakest spots, specifically my “qi” and “yu” sounds as well as the fourth tone and it’s combination with other tones.

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