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Jan Finster

Speaking more fluently

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Jan Finster

I wonder how long it took you to become fluent in Chinese? I do not mean fluent as in HSK X+, but how long did it take you to speak sentences with correct tones at near normal speed and "fluency"? 

 

When I speak slow, by Chinese teacher is mostly happy with my tones. But, of course at that rate it sounds retarded when I want to use it in real life. Apart from short sentences that I know by heart, my tones tend to get messy as soon as I try to speed up to near normal rates. 

 

How long did it take you to reach normal speed with longer sentences (not "natives-swallowing-syllabels speed", but comprehensible "News Anchor speed")?

 

Are there any particular techniques or exercises I could use?

 

 

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Wurstmann

I think speed will come naturally. If you play an instrument and want to learn a new song you begin slowly. After you practice a lot you will be able to go faster and faster while still playing correctly. If you force yourself to be fast from the beginning a lot of errors will probably become ingrained in your speaking.

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道艺黄帝

I'm nowhere near fluent, but through a year's worth of immersion practices, I've gone from zero to having full social conversations, meetings, negotiating contracts, and teaching English in Chinese. 

 

Tones though, definitely was a hump for me. I had to learn the rhythm of stringing together tones in sentences. The hardest two parts for me is remembering tones of rarely used words and the predictive skills of changing tones based on words to come. 

 

I'd say practice stringing together some mixed tone sentences and work on repeating them until satisfied. 

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mungouk

"Fluency" in speaking doesn't mean that you don't make mistakes, and it doesn't mean that you can speak at the same speed as a native speaker.

 

It just means that don't have to keep stopping and starting. 

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Moshen
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How long did it take you to reach normal speed with longer sentences (not "natives-swallowing-syllabels speed", but comprehensible "News Anchor speed")?

 

News anchor speed is actually pretty darned fast!  Most conversations consist of only 1-3 sentences at a time, whereas news anchors go on and on and on.  Getting those 1-3 sentences out without having to stop and start should be your goal.

 

I wonder if what's holding you back is needing to think through the whole sentence in your head before you speak?

 

With enough practice, you should be able to answer simple questions without having to say them in your head first.  Maybe a good way to practice this is to have your teacher ask you a series of related questions, where your goal should be answering right away and understandably - not getting things perfectly right.

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mackie1402
10 hours ago, Wurstmann said:

I think speed will come naturally. If you play an instrument and want to learn a new song you begin slowly. After you practice a lot you will be able to go faster and faster while still playing correctly. If you force yourself to be fast from the beginning a lot of errors will probably become ingrained in your speaking.

 

This is great! Very much how I see it. When you learn to play an instrument you have to practise it accurately and slowly to train your muscles. After a lot of practise you'll build muscle memory. I use sentence mining to build my Chinese muscle memory. 

 

I think you can be fluent in a range of subjects without being fluent in the whole language. For example, I believe I can deal with any situations at work fluently. I've never had a problem at work due to the language. However, sitting down with my wife's family at Chinese New Year makes me feel like a beginner! 

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Jan Finster
7 hours ago, Moshen said:

I wonder if what's holding you back is needing to think through the whole sentence in your head before you speak?

 

10 hours ago, mungouk said:

"Fluency" in speaking doesn't mean that you don't make mistakes, and it doesn't mean that you can speak at the same speed as a native speaker.

 

It just means that don't have to keep stopping and starting.

 

In my case it is really that I am physically unable to speak that fast with proper tones. So, for example, when I try to shadow a speaker at normal speed (with the transcript in front of me and "knowing" all the tones), I still cannot articulate as fast as them with proper tones. Again, I am talking about shadowing someone, who is comprehensible for advanced beginners/intermediates, not some machine-gun-style native speaker.   

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suMMit

@mackie1402 Does this sentence mean you mske flashcards like: 

 

feiji bi huoche kaui

 

and then say the sentence substituting words... beijing bi wuhan da, wo bi ni shuai

 

is that the idea behind it?

sentence mining i meant 

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Flickserve
3 hours ago, Jan Finster said:

 

In my case it is really that I am physically unable to speak that fast with proper tones

 

You don't need to speak 'that fast'.

 

When you practice, you are trying to shadow and read the transcript, you are trying to read , listen and speak correctly all at the same time. That's actually very difficult.

 

When I try to shadow, I don't emphasize on the reading. Listen, copy, check the words, use the pinyin to confirm tones. Listen again to where I thought I had the right tone but didn't. Shadow again.

 

Shadow short sentences and do a lot of repeated listening because the listening will help you get a feel for when your tones are wrong more quickly. 

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Moshen
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In my case it is really that I am physically unable to speak that fast with proper tones. So, for example, when I try to shadow a speaker at normal speed (with the transcript in front of me and "knowing" all the tones), I still cannot articulate as fast as them with proper tones.

 

If you consistently can't do it, then you are not ready for that exercise. Spare yourself the frustration.

 

In any case, what you've described is a really advanced skill and, in my opinion, completely and utterly unnecessary.  I'm actually not sure I could do that in any language in which I can speak and be understood, including my native English.

 

You only need to be correct at your currently natural own speed.  Who cares if you sound like a "retard" if people understand you??

 

The purpose here is communication, not living up to some artificial performance standard.

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suMMit

@mackie1402 I looked up "sentence mining" and i now pretty much get it. What would be the difference between that and say, going through all the expansion sentences on chinese pod?

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mungouk
10 hours ago, Jan Finster said:

I am physically unable to speak that fast with proper tones.

 

Is that because you're thinking about the tones to make sure you get them right? You don't have time to do that when speaking. 

 

When I started out my teacher advised me not to worry too much about tones and that they would just come. 

 

Obviously you need to pay attention to them when learning vocabulary — in the same way you would learn the gender of nouns when learning French or German, for example. 

 

For me, what made a big difference with learning the tones was having native-speaker audio recordings of the vocab available, which allowed me to hear it in my "mind's ear" initially when reviewing it using memrise or stickystudy or similar software. And then it just gets burned in somehow with practice.

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Jan Finster
13 minutes ago, mungouk said:

Is that because you're thinking about the tones to make sure you get them right? You don't have time to do that when speaking. 

 

When I started out my teacher advised me not to worry too much about tones and that they would just come. 

 

Obviously you need to pay attention to them when learning vocabulary (in the same way you would learn the gender of nouns when learning French or German, for example), but for me they more or less have "just come".

Yes, I am thinking about the tones. If I don't, then I speak monotonal 😂 To be honest, my tones are best when I draw them with my hand in the air while speaking (like a conductor) [talking about sounding retarded and looking ridiculous🤣].

 When I speak fast (= at normal speed) my teacher is not happy with my 2nd tone (not clear enough) and I am sure many other tone related aspects. In real life, Chinese would not understand me, if I spoke fast (= at normal speed) . So, currently I prefer to speak slow, but comprehensible [and do the hand movements below the waist line 😅). My speaking skills are really much behind my comprehension, but, I hope I will get there....

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Moshen
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Yes, I am thinking about the tones. If I don't, then I speak monotonal

 

So that indicates that you're not thinking of the tones as an integral part of the words and not learning them that way.  That might be the problem.

 

When I think of the word 好, for instance, even if I am not voicing it, it has a third tone built into it.  Therefore when I say it it comes out automatically correctly.

 

It sounds to me like in the way you're learning, the tones are something added on to a words and not part of the words themselves.

 

No wonder it's hard for you.  You can never just think of a word, you have to think of a word plus its proper tone(s).

 

Even in English, imagine if each time you thought of a longer word you also had to remember - separately - which syllable to emphasize.  What a nightmare that would be.

 

And by the way, my intention is not to criticize you but to help you identify where you might be tripping yourself up, so that you can get that out of the way and learn more easily!

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Dawei3
On 8/10/2019 at 12:34 PM, 道艺黄帝 said:

. I had to learn the rhythm of stringing together tones in sentences. T

A key to avoiding this is learning full sentences or phrases.  Memorizing individual words is like trying to learn to sing by memorizing how to sing each word individually - and then trying to sing the song.  Learning whole sentences makes the tones & phonetics much more fluent.  

 

As others have noted, speed will come with practice.  I used to teach English in the US as a volunteer.  A speech pathologist who trained us noted that people tend to think if they speak quickly, people won't notice their accent.  However, the opposite happens and their fast speech is less intelligible.  I keep this in mind for myself, i.e., I sometimes need to slow myself down because although I may know what to say, I realize that the faster speed likely reduces my precision of speaking Chinese.  

 

Moshen's comment is also spot-on.  However, even though I learn the tone/phonetics simultaneously, my brain remembers the phonetics better than tones, with new words I can get my tones wrong.  As 道艺黄帝 noted,  this also happens with words I don't use frequently.  

 

 

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Jan Finster
8 hours ago, Moshen said:

So that indicates that you're not thinking of the tones as an integral part of the words and not learning them that way.  That might be the problem.

 

When I think of the word 好, for instance, even if I am not voicing it, it has a third tone built into it.  Therefore when I say it it comes out automatically correctly.

 

I appreciate the angle you are coming from. However, as Dawei3 said below (or above), my brain remembers phonetics better than tones.... This is not intentional.  

 

2 hours ago, Dawei3 said:

However, even though I learn the tone/phonetics simultaneously, my brain remembers the phonetics better than tones, with new words I can get my tones wrong.  As 道艺黄帝 noted,  this also happens with words I don't use frequently.  

 

 

 

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imron
11 minutes ago, Jan Finster said:

my brain remembers phonetics better than tones

It probably does at the moment, however, you can train your brain so that it remembers tones just as well.

 

If I told you to think of the tune to "Happy Birthday" or the tune of "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" you could probably hear those tunes in your brain without needing to hear them.  Likewise I'm sure you could do the same for your favourite TV or movie characters - you can hear them speak in your brain with all sorts of emotion and inflection in their 'voice'.

 

You need to figure out how your brain can remember the full sound for those things and apply it remembering the full sound of Chinese (where the full sound includes the tone) such that ā á ǎ and à are as distinct in your mind as a e i o u.

 

This 100% something that can be trained (and as evidenced by Happy Birthday, Twinkle Twinkle Little Star and your favourite TV show your brain has this ability), and if you don't train it then you are doing yourself a disservice.

 

How to train it?  Well think about why you can remember Happy Birthday and Twinkle Twinkle Little Star - you probably heard them hundreds and hundreds of times growing up.  Likewise with your favourite TV show/film - you've likely spent many hours watching it, and watching it intently.

 

That's what you need to do with the sounds of Chinese.  Listen to them over and over again, and listen to them intently, not paying attention to meaning, just paying attention to the sounds and their differences until you reach a point where you can recall the sounds in your head and 'hear' them in your brain.

 

Now when you learn the pronunciation you can use pinyin to figure out which sound, and then instead of remembering the pinyin, remember the sound that is now as ingrained in your mind as Happy Birthday.

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Moshen

I read an interview once with some actress - can't remember who - who had to speak a couple of sentences of Chinese in one of her roles.  She did not learn the language.  Instead, she got coached on it as if it were music - and it came out sounding like real Chinese, with authentic tones.

 

Imron's comments about Twinkle Twinkle and so on are spot on.

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Enjune Zhang

Fluency refers to one's efficiency through the language barriers when he is listening, speaking, reading and writing, so it should be involved with certain situation backing to the four abilities mentioned instead of being solely attached to partial aspect.One can read and write fluently like a scholar but the listening materials in exams may put his fluency to an end. Fluency in reading and writing may mean something helpful to listening and spoken language, but it could not fill in the blank left there by lack of practice in listening and oral communication. We call these people as language deaf or dump, and they are far from fluency if what they expect from themselves is a balanced and all-round barrier-free level in communication.                                  

 

Sometimes you may find that fluency in listening means little to fluency in speaking, since you need to be confident in your way of pronunciation and equipped with that volume of knowledge or info available to support you through the conversation. And this is nothing your listening could help if you listen in a passively random way. A great deal of listening practice won't see you through the fluency of spoken Chinese if you don't focus on how the way others speak and the wording they apply in the listening materials have something to do with your improvement in speaking.                                                                                        

 

Most people learning a foreign language may be fluent in reading and writing first while speaking and listening fluency lags behind, since they are exposed to written materials more frequently than audio materials. But if you ask someone who would like to learn French just for a quick travel in Paris, you will find the different. He may not write or read in French but he knows how to react to the daily greeting and manage to finish shopping and paying the bills alone. So the purpose and motivation behind a foreign language may give impressive impact to the aspect you could be fluent in it. Moreover, the degree of comprehension and the things accumulated available for self expression may further influence fluency in a certain language.

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Jan Finster
13 hours ago, imron said:

It probably does at the moment, however, you can train your brain so that it remembers tones just as well.

 

If I told you to think of the tune to "Happy Birthday" or the tune of "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" you could probably hear those tunes in your brain without needing to hear them.  Likewise I'm sure you could do the same for your favourite TV or movie characters - you can hear them speak in your brain with all sorts of emotion and inflection in their 'voice'.

 

I agree and yet I believe remembering Chinese tones is much harder than "Happy Birthday" as there are thousands on homophones.  There is nothing really remarkable ("memorable") about the tenth "fang" or "shi" (whatever tone they may have).

Also, listening is not my most natural way to learn. I was never good at listening to teachers, but rather needed to read things myself. I also, do not really have the voice of my favourite actor "in my head". Rather, I recognise him, when I hear him.

 

Having said all this, I definitely appreciate the advice and will spend more time listening!

 

 

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