Five ways to improve your Chinese pronunciation

Chinese language learners are often worried that their pronunciation is not good, and that it is their pronunciation that causes many mis-communication problems.

On one hand, this concern has its ground. Many students are learning some sounds that do not exist in their own languages. They are often uncertain whether or not they have produced correct tones, because they can’t hear the differences.

On the other hand, the importance of Chinese pronunciation and four tones is often unnecessarily exaggerated. Tones are not absolute. Chinese people are capable of tolerating a wide range of different accents.

When there is a mis-communication happened between Chinese language learners and Chinese people, it is rarely because the students can not say the sounds right. The mis-communication is the result of multiple factors, such as, the speed, accents, preferences of certain words, or the familiarity of sentence patterns. 

A sensible approach is that that, while recognising pronunciation is not be be neglected, students do not need to be overwhelmed by boring and lengthy pronunciation drills. 

Below are five effective ways to help students improve their pronunciations.

#1 Instead of over-correction, use short and targeted drills

Students don’t need to be corrected constantly.

Some Chinese teachers like to correct students whenever they have a pronunciation issue. This makes students very vulnerable and subjects them to constant and unnecessary pressure. 

Over-correction of pronunciations puts too much emphasis on pronunciation and too little time for everything else, and it only exacerbate the problem. 

The solution is to use a series of short and targeted pronunciation drills. 

Students spend five to ten minutes at a time working on their pronunciations and the rest of the lesson doing other learning activities.

#2 Try a pronunciation game

Short pronunciation drills can take place in many different forms, such as repeating after a recording, the teacher. 

Alternatively, students can use a pronunciation game to spice up these few minutes with some fun. Students work in pairs or in a small group, focusing on a few difficult words while competing with one another. 

Here is an example of how to make pronunciation drills into a listening contest.

#3 Adequate listening input

Listening helps improve one’s pronunciation.

To improve their Chinese pronunciations, students need more listening resources which are at an appropriate level. 

Great listening exercises help students improve their pronunciations. While students are focusing on completing the tasks, their brains actively pick up and absorb tons of authentic Chinese pronunciation input, without them realising they are doing it.

Lower level students listen to different exercises from higher level students.

#4 To speak more

The most fundamental way of improving one’s Chinese pronunciation is to speak more.

Students need to hear themselves talking, and to adjust their pronunciation or correct their pronunciation accordingly. The more students speak Chinese, the better their pronunciation is. 

To achieve this goal, speaking activities must be sufficient. 

It is recommended to provide students with different interesting topics that are within their ability to discuss. 

During a Chinese class, students are encouraged to speak as much as they can. 

Speaking more Chinese is an important process for students to speak Chinese clearly

#5 To learn Chinese songs

Chinese songs are great learning resources. Beautiful music and lyrics delight us, give us energy, and bring us to a different emotional world. 

Learning Chinese songs help students improve their pronunciations. Many popular singers are their best Chinese teachers.

If students love to sing, that will be great. If they don’t want to sing, it is not a drawback either. There are people who rather listen to songs than sing along.

Either way students will benefit from the pronunciation input, and get a little bit about the Chinese culture along the way. 

Just be reminded that it’s hard to discern tones in songs. That makes Chinese songs not the best learning materials for tones.


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April Zhang
Chinese Teacher
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