Studying pronunciation is hard. How are you supposed to do it anyway?
Here are some tips for improving your Mandarin Chinese pronunciation and tones.
- Practice listening first. A person is incapable of producing sounds they can’t differentiate. That means if you can’t hear the difference between mā and má or zhī and zī, you won’t be able to say these sounds properly either.
- Practice and imitate. Imitation is a tried and true method that has benefits for learners of all stages. Beginners should focus on imitating basic sounds and tones. Intermediate learners should focus on proper pronunciation and on understanding how words and sentences flow together. Advanced learners should use imitation to master flow and learn how to fluently use different terms and phrases.
- Use Lingomi. It looks like a shameless plug, but Tingxie helps you practice your basic listening skills, and Lingomi lets you can create custom Mandarin Chinese mp3s to download. Then you’ll be able to work on tips #1 and #2.
- Get a tutor. If you have access to a good tutor, then get one. Try to spend the first 5-10 minutes only on basic pronunciation drills and exercises. If you’re just starting out, try and make sure your tutor speaks standard Mandarin Chinese (I once had a tutor who mixed up ‘si’ and ‘shi’. It tripped me up for months!).
- Conversation. It’s fun speaking Chinese! Language partners, friends, and co-workers are all good people to converse with. If you ask, they may even help correct you when your sounds or tones are wrong. This is extremely useful if you can figure out which sounds, tones and words you have difficulty in real usage. Then you can focus on improving these sounds and tones.
Did I forget anything? Know of any good resources, sites or programs that helped you with your pronunciation? Let me know in the comments.