For many students, speaking Chinese well is the main goal of learning the language. Speaking is the visible tip of the iceberg, the part other people notice and use to gauge how much Chinese you know.
I think most students spend too little time on the receptive skills of listening and reading, which make up the much bigger part of the iceberg below the surface; the time you need to invest but which is rarely visible to outsiders.
This is why there are many more listening and reading challenges than there are speaking challenges. However, focusing on speaking occasionally is not a bad idea. No matter how much you listen, you do need to practice speaking to become good at it. This includes fluency practice, pronunciation, grammar and more.
The challenge starts on October 15th (Monday) and lasts to the end of the month. Enrol in the challenge, set a goal for the period and start practising! Below, I will provide some suggestions for what to focus on and how to practise. First some instructions for how to join the challenge, which is completely free:
Hacking Chinese speaking challenge, October 15th to October 31st
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!
This how you sign up and join the challenge:
- Sign up (using your e-mail, Facebook or Twitter)
- View current and upcoming challenges on the front page
- Join the speaking challenge
- Set a reasonable goal (30-60 minutes per day depending on your situation)
- Create a plan for what to improve (see below)
- Report your progress on your computer or mobile device
- Check the graph to see if you’re on track to reaching your goal
- Check the leader board to see how you compare to others
- Share progress, tips and resources with fellow students
Please note: The challenge starts on October 15th, so even if you can join now, you won’t be able to report progress until then.
How to improve your speaking ability
Improving speaking ability is a complex task and it’s difficult for me to know what you need the most. Here are some useful activities I would recommend that you try out during the challenge. Pick one or two (some are possible to combine).
- Speak more – If you want to get fluent in Mandarin, you need t o speak more. If you already live in a Chinese-speaking environment and speak Chinese daily, you probably shouldn’t focus on pure quantity, but for people studying Chinese in their home countries, increasing volume is very important.
- Fix a known problem – If you have studied Chinese for a while and pay attention, you will probably have a number of problem areas you know you should work on. It could be pronunciation, word order, modal particles or something. This is the time to work on one of these problems.
- Find a problem – It’s very unlikely that your spoken Chinese is problem free. If you don’t know of any problems, you just haven’t found them yet. Work with a native speaker, record yourself and try to find systematic errors in your speaking. Then fix them.
- Mimic a native speaker – If you don’t know what to do and just want an awesome way of improving speaking ability that works for all levels, find a short audio or video clip of a native speaker and try to record your own version. It should be as close to the original as possible. Focus on each phrase until you get it perfectly, then record. This can take a long time, so select a short clip, perhaps just a minute long.
- Start a voice diary in Chinese – This could be with or without video, public or private, all depending on what you prefer. It’s similar to blogging in Chinese, and many of the same benefits apply, except you do it in speaking. If you want to focus on quality, make sure you share the result with at least one person who can give you feedback. If you just want to speak more, this matters much less.
- Use voice messaging instead of chatting in text – This is not really a method to practice, it’s just a useful way of turning typing into speaking. Most modern messaging apps support voice messages, which are awesome for language learning. It gives you more time to think, a record of what you and the other person are saying, as well as flexibility because you can speak with someone who isn’t online at the same time as you.
- Process speaking – If your overall goal is to improve quality rather than quantity, focusing on the process is key. By working with the same content over a period of time with cycles of feedback, you can improve a lot. This is particularly good for expanding into areas you don’t feel comfortable with, but need to be able to handle.
There are of course many more things you can do, some of which are explored in the speaking category here on Hacking Chinese. Feel free to share your plan in the comments below!
Preliminary challenge schedule for 2018
There will be one open and one focused challenge each month this year. The open challenge always starts the first each month, and the focused challenge starts on the 15th, running to the end of the month. Here’s a list of preliminary target skills for the focused challenges:
- February: Listening
- March: Vocabulary
- April: Reading
- May: Writing
- June: Pronunciation
- July: Listening
- August: Vocabulary
- September: Reading
- October: Speaking
- November: Handwriting
- December: Translation
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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!