Have you listened to a recording of yourself speaking Chinese, only to find that your voice sounds unfamiliar and strange, like another person? Then you’re not alone!
If you think your voice sounds strange when you listen to a recording of it, it means that you haven’t spent enough time listening, mimicking and recording. Since I reckon that many readers answered “yes to the question if you think your voice sounds weird, I decided to write this article.
Tune in to the Hacking Chinese Podcast to listen to the related episode:
Available on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Overcast, Spotify, YouTube and many other platforms!
Listening to your own Chinese voice
Just to get it out of the way, everybody thinks their voice sounds strange when they hear a recording of it the first time. This is because the voice you normally hear in your head when you speak is not only transmitted through the air, but also directly through your skull. What you hear is a combination of these; what other people hear is just the part transmitted through the air.
The awkwardness of hearing yourself speak and sounding like someone else goes away if you listen to your own recordings a lot, though. I’ve listened through many hundreds of hours of my own voice, partly because of language practice and analysis, partly because I’ve edited more than a hundred podcast episodes and three video courses here on Hacking Chinese. Most of this is in English, but I’ve heard my fair share of myself speaking Chinese too.
Why recording yourself speaking Chinese is such a great idea
Recording yourself provides a convenient, enlightening and cheap way to improve your spoken Chinese, including pronunciation, which is hard to get at in any other way if you don’t hire a professional teacher to do it for you. Even with such feedback available, I would recommend listening to your own recordings regularly!
When you listen to your own Chinese, there can be two outcomes:
- You hear something which doesn’t sound right. If you know what’s wrong, try to fix it, but if not, dig deeper and figure out what you’re doing wrong. One of the advantages of mimicking is that you have a clear target to aim for. .
- You don’t hear any mistakes, and your Chinese sounds great. This means you need feedback on your pronunciation, because it’s highly unlikely that you have no issues; it’s just that it’s not always easy to hear them.
If you need help and guidance, it’s best to ask someone trained to teach pronunciation (I include feedback as an option in my pronunciation course, for example). If you can’t find that, any native speaker will do. Just ask them to highlight what you do wrong and have them say it for you to mimic. They may or may not be able to explain the difference. They may also try, but (unwittingly) give you the wrong explanation. You can also use this smart method to get more honest feedback.
For more about getting feedback, check How to get honest feedback to boost your Chinese speaking and writing:
How to get honest feedback to boost your Chinese speaking and writing
Record a voice diary, voice messages or read aloud
You can record anything you want; it needn’t be formal in any way, and you can talk about whatever you want. Here are some examples:
- A voice diary (which needn’t be interesting, so simply talk about what you did recently)
- Voice messages on your phone to a friend or a tutor (I’ve written more about this here)
- Your own speech in class (presentations, discussions, dialogues, text reading)
- Conversations with tutors or language exchange partners (but make sure they’re okay with it)
- Your own attempt to verbalise actions you’re performing (see this post for more about this)
- A text you’re reading or have read recently (pick something you’re familiar with, as reading aloud is hard)
Recording your Chinese speaking for benchmarking purposes
Recordings of your own voice can also be useful for benchmarking purposes. If you’re a beginner, your pronunciation will improve rapidly as you ar starting from knowing nothing at all about it, but when you’ve been learning for a while and reached the intermediate plateau, it might start to feel like you’re no longer making progress.
By recording your spoken Chinese regularly, you can check if this is actually the case. Naturally, if you’ve studied for two years, spending a few hours practising might not yield noticeable results, but if you keep at it for three months, you should notice improvements. That’s slow enough that you won’t notice progress subjectively as you practise, but if you compare a recording you’ve done today with one you did three months ago, you will notice differences much more clearly.
If you’re not in the habit of recording yourself occasionally, recording something today so you can return to it three months from now to see if you’ve made progress!
It’s time to get to know your own Chinese voice
Most people won’t feel comfortable publishing recordings of the kind discussed here, but you could do so if you want to elicit feedback from people online or if you want to make it easier to share. If you publish or not isn’t the point, though, the point is that you should listen to your own recordings and let the conclusions you draw guide your learning.
So, what are you waiting for? Decide on one of the methods mentioned above and get started! It will take a while to get used to your own voice, but the mild awkwardness you will feel during the process is well worth it.
Hacking Chinese Pronunciation: Speaking with Confidence
As mentioned above, I have a video course covering everything you need to know about Mandarin pronunciation, including all the sounds and tones, as well as how to learn. To see the full curriculum and all the extra content included, please check out the course information page here: Hacking Chinese Pronunciation: Speaking with Confidence
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Hah, my first thought when I listened to that video was ‘He sounds a bit like he’s from Minnesota’ (a lot of Swedish immigrants settled in Minnesota).
I’m not sure how to respond to that, actually. 🙂 I’m a bit surprised you associate my accent with the US in general, though. I’ve never been there and almost none of my previous teachers have been American.
I think it just may be I’ve heard a lot more people from Minnesota speaking in English than Swedish people speaking in English, so that’s what I associate the accent with.
Thanks for sending this link over.
It has a lot of good suggestions.
Also, I did listen to the youtube which you reference in the post. As to that, I must say, the apparent comfort with which you use English, being writing this blog or speaking on that video, considering it isn’t your mother tongue is quite impressive.
As to the post, in general your post here and the video, got me thinking… please tell me if you feel the same….
Do you think there is a lack of expat learners recording themselves in Chinese in the various situations you listed:
…read a text in Chinese
…talk with a friend
…talk in class
…hold a speech
…talk on the phone
And then post these online for others to listen too? Why does there seem to be such a proliferation of text based content, blogs, etc., and so little content of adult learners speaking Chinese?
Maybe no one else other than me would care to listen… but much like the 汉语桥 competition, I think there is something fun, interesting, dare I say educational to getting a chance to see/hear other expats talking Chinese.
When I watched this years hanyu competition, I remember thinking it was nice to finally get a good opportunity to hear DaShan speak, as he was co-hosting, not to mention all the other students.
I’m with you that stirring up competition isn’t the best, so it isn’t that I think we all need to enter speaking contents, however I think it is encouraging and educational to hear other expats talking Chinese, demonstrating in real life where they are with the language.
Maybe we all don’t want to show that “imperfect” side of us… hard to say.
Regardless, if you posted those files of yourself working on your Chinese, I know I would listen… if John Pasden and others did the same, again I would listen. Maybe I’m not alone either…
The key is unscripted conversations, like the situations you listed… ChinesePod and other scenarios doesn’t really give us a good feel for where they are with the language. A pod cast is a very controlled environment, as it is a set topic, set vocab list, etc., which is nothing like a real-world unscripted interaction.
Any who, those are my comments for now and I’ll be sure to get a response to the email you sent me about the nommoc app.
Thanks for responding, I was getting worried you weren’t going to respond… ; )
Bye for now! Thanks again for your hard work for the Chinese learning community.
I think you hit the nail on the head there. Even though I do my very best to be open-minded about receiving feedback and so on, I do feel a bit uncomfortable putting my own Chinese (and English) for that matter online. I think it’s a matter of editing. I put all my Chinese texts online (here), which feels much more okay for some reason. Voice and speech are more personal and harder to edit afterwards.
However, I think this is stupid, we really should be more open with what we do. I’m working on a “best performance” article and that will contain myself trying my best to read Chinese aloud. The reason why I hesitate to publish a random recording of myself trying to read or say something is that that would be very, very far from my best performance. I don’t want people to listen to that and say “oh, so if that’s the best he can do, his Chinese sucks”. If everybody else posts their best performance, the guy who posts his worst performance is likely to be perceived as not being very good at Chinese, whereas in fact, the opposite might be the case.
Still, this is incredibly stupid. Why care about what other people think? Exposing one’s mistakes online is an excellent way of receiving useful comments and help with how to progress. I’ll go work on that reading and see if I can’t get the article online before the end of the semester. Thank you for your comment and inspiration!
(Not studying Chinese: just interested in the way you use Audacity).
You seem modest about your English pronunciation, but as a (British) native speaker, may I assure you that it sounds fine. While it’s obvious you aren’t a native speaker, I wouldn’t say there are any “mistakes” as such. It’s very pleasant to listen to.
Thanks! I think accent is mostly about identity and intention rather than actual skill or knowledge. I have never lived in an English-speaking country and thus haven’t had many real people to use as pronunciation models. However, I’m quite sure that if I found a good model and decided to sound like that person, I could achieve it without too much problem. It’s just that doing so would feel… weird, like, not being me or something. I’ll probably experiment a bit with this once I care less about Chinese than I do now. 🙂
If one wishes to post recordings for getting feedback, which website or app would you recommend for this?
You can do this on https://www.hinative.com which is also available as an app.
You can use audioBoom or Yappie to upload voice recordings. After that you can contact someone at lang-8 (https://www.hackingchinese.com/using-lang-8-to-improve-your-chinese/) to get feedback.