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 the 10th 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:
Win a slot in my 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:
The course is currently closed, but will open for registration in May.
To encourage participants to work on their speaking ability in this challenge, I will randomly give out one free pronunciation course (value $97) to one active participant who contributes to the challenge. Furthermore, I will give personal feedback on three participants’ pronunciation, pointing out your strengths and weaknesses, suggesting what you should focus more on.
Hacking Chinese speaking challenge, April 10th to April 30th
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 (20-40 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 the 10th, 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 2021
Here is a preliminary list of challenges for 2021, 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.
January: Listening February: Writing March: Reading
- April: Speaking
- May: Listening
- June: Vocabulary
- July: Reading
- August: Pronunciation
- September: Listening
- October: Translation
- November: Reading
- December: Vocabulary
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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!