There are many ways to practise Chinese speaking ability. Provided that you are already doing okay when it comes to vocabulary and listening practice, simply communicating in Chinese will improve your speaking ability rapidly.
However, in some situations, speaking directly face-to-face with a native speaker is not practical or desirable. For example, you might not have any native speakers nearby or you might not feel like talking to random stranger online.
It might also be the case that you think it’s a little scary to practise Chinese speaking directly with a native speaker, even if it’s online.
A stepping stone to better Chinese speaking practice
Just as text chatting in Chinese can be a stepping stone both to better writing and reading ability, using voice messaging can have the same function for speaking and listening.
Most modern chat apps allow you to record audio. This includes WeChat, Facebook Messenger and most other alternatives. Instead of texting your messages, you push a button and record your own voice. The other person can respond in the same way. You can play both your own and the other person’s messages by clicking or tapping a button.
Voice messaging is great for language learners
This has several advantages for language learning:
- It decreases the pressure both when you record your own messages and when you listen to what the other person says because it’s not live. If talking face to face with a real native speaker scares you, starting with this kind of asynchronous communication is great!
- You can prepare your message before you send them. You can even look up words you don’t know how to say or otherwise plan what you’re going to say, something which is impossible in a normal, face-to-face discussion.
- You can record again if you think that you pronounced something incorrectly or fumbled the word order. This works differently in different programs, but in most apps, you simply push the button to talk, then swipe away from the recording button to cancel recording. This allows for multiple attempts before you’re okay with the result.
- You can listen many times if you don’t understand the first time. Just play the message many times until you think you know what the other person says. You can even look up words if you can write them down in Pinyin.
- Conversations are saved for later, which means that you can play your messages again or you can have someone else do so to to help you with your pronunciation, grammar or word choice. This is great for benchmarking purposes.
- Messages can be recorded and listened to whenever you have time, no need to schedule a time to talk. Record a message when you’re waiting for a friend, listen to another message when you’re on the bus.
Naturally, this is not a substitute for live communication, but it’s a powerful complement to it. It is indeed a stepping stone for people who find it intimidating or impractical to talk with native speakers online or elsewhere.
A great way to practise Chinese speaking for more advanced learners too
Note that many of the advantages mentioned above can be very useful for people who can already speak Mandarin well and do so regularly.
For example, listening to your own messages can give you valuable clues about where you need to improve your pronunciation. You can also take your time and really understand what the other person is saying instead of just getting the gist.
Whom to talk to
You can of course talk with anyone you normally talk or chat with. This includes your friends, tutors, teachers, co-workers, team mates, language exchange partners and so on. If you have a private tutor, you can suggest that this should part of your homework and ask your tutor to work with you on the problems you have identified.
In summary, voice messaging is a powerful way to practise Chinese speaking and listening ability. Combine it with other methods to create the study routines that work best for your goals and life situation!