Let me be blunt: if your answer to that question is “yes”, you’re doing something wrong. Since I reckon that many people who read this article actually answered yes, or at least didn’t immediately say “no”, I decided to write this article.
Listening to your own voice
First and foremost, everybody thinks their voice sounds strange when they hear a recording of it. 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 after a while though if you listen to your voice a lot. I’ve listened through at least a hundred hours of my own voice, partly because of language practice and analysis, partly because I’ve edited a video course and an audio book. I’ve also recorded a large number of Hacking Chinese articles for my Patreon page. Most of this is in English, but I’ve heard my fair share of myself speaking Chinese too.
Why recording yourself is such a good 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 (but even then I would recommend listening more to your own voice).
If you check your own recording and hear something which doesn’t sound right, try to fix it. If you listen to your own recording and don’t hear any mistakes, you need feedback from a native speaker. It’s highly unlikely that you have no issues, it’s just that it’s not always easy to hear them.
Someone trained to teach pronunciation is best, but 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. However, native speakers saying you’re not doing it right is pretty reliable.
Record a voice diary – or something else
I think a voice diary is the perfect or similar way to go. You can record anything you want, it needn’t be formal in any way and you can talk about whatever you want. Naturally, you don’t need to publish it if you don’t want to. Apart from a voice diary, here are some other things you can record:
- 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, a bit hard to summarise)
As I have pointed out earlier, using voice messaging to study pronunciation is also a good idea. Then you don’t need to record separately, because you can listen to the messages after you have sent them. You can also browse your history and listen to old messages.
It’s time to get to know your own 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.
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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!