Learning Chinese pronunciation can be a challenge for many new students, yet it is something that is vitally important to get right.
Therefore, we at Learn Mandarin Now went in search of some great tips about how to overcome such a challenge and arranged to speak with Vladimir from Forever a Student. He has a Bachelor’s Degree in Chinese studies and speaks fluent Mandarin.
1. We know you speak several languages including Mandarin Chinese and we are very impressed! Why don’t you tell us a little bit more about your language learning experiences?
I grew up in a multilingual environment in southeast Slovakia and spoke three languages natively as a child (Slovak, Hungarian and Czech). Still as a child I spent some time in the US and Austria and learned both of these languages almost to a level of a native speaker, so at the age of 12 I spoke 5 languages (almost) natively. Later in college I spent one semester in Italy and since then I started learning languages purely out of interest and currently speak 8 of them at a C2/C1 level (Slovak, Czech, English, German, Russian, Italian, Hungarian, Chinese), two at B2 (French, Spanish) three at B1 (Polish, Serbian, Portuguese) and am a beginner in Farsi. I also have a good knowledge of Classical Chinese (文言) but since it is a dead language, I don’t count it among the languages I speak.
2. You speak really fluent and standard Mandarin Chinese. What are your top tips for others who want to have perfect Chinese pronunciation like you?
Thank you for the nice compliment. I think there still is a lot of room for improvement, but if after 8 years of studies I wouldn’t speak good Mandarin, I would be doing something terribly wrong. Trying to improve my pronunciation is my everyday reality, and pronunciation improvement is a very complex task in any language, especially tonal languages like Mandarin, so it’s quite difficult to say what really worked and what didn’t
I think a lot of input, especially listening to vloggers talk about their daily lives, has helped me tremendously to build a good solid model of what correct pronunciation sounds like in the back of my mind that I could refer to. Learning words by not writing them down or consciously thinking about their tones has helped me a lot too. I also tried to constantly observe what I was doing and tried to improve things here and there almost every day.
3. We know you have been living in Taiwan for quite some time. If people want to go to Taiwan to study Mandarin Chinese, what are some of your top pieces of advice for them?
Probably become an English teacher, teach just enough hours so that you can comfortably survive and spend the rest of your time hanging out with your friends. In my opinion, Chinese is too difficult to be learned in a classroom, you have to learn it on your own and the best way to do it is to talk to people as much as you can.
4. Are there any online Chinese services and courses, which you have you tried and you feel, contributed to your success? If so, which ones do you recommend?
I used to listen to a lot of chinesepod podcasts at the beginning of my studies, before I went to Taiwan. It saved me a lot of time, because when I came to Taiwan I already understood a great deal of what people were saying to me and could concentrate more on speaking.
5. How many Apps are there in your phone to help you learn the language? Can you tell us about some of your favourites?
6. What are some common mistakes you see or hear people make when learning Chinese pronunciation?
Most teachers of Chinese are women and a lot of men, when they are in China, learn Chinese from women. As a consequence they have an unnaturally high pitch of their voice and in general talk like women.
Students don’t learn tones by using their ears, but by using their eyes looking at pictures where tones are represented as lines on a graph. As a result they are trying to pronounce something they see and not something they hear which is a big mistake and causes a lot of interference, making Chinese pronunciation much more difficult than it already is.
Students also often pronounce letters of pinyin as they would pronounce them in their native languages.
7. We know you are at a very advanced Chinese level but, if you still don’t understand some Chinese phrases you hear in daily life, how do you go about learning them?
Fortunately I’m at a level where I understand most things either directly or out of context (again, after 8 years of studies it would be really strange if I wouldn’t). If I don’t understand a phrase and I see that it is useful, I just ask what it means exactly, make a mental note of it and try to remember it for future use.
8. If for some reason you had to learn Mandarin Chinese from the start again, how would you go about it?
I would go to Taiwan from day one. I wouldn’t learn any characters until I would know how to speak the language well. I wouldn’t go to any Chinese class ever. I would spend much more time hanging out with my Taiwanese friends and watching Taiwanese vlogs. I wouldn’t try to apply my western language logic to Chinese and would learn entire sentence chunks not thinking about grammar at all. Instead of asking “how do you say XYZ?” I would ask “What would you say in this situation?”. I would learn tones based on the sound only approach method I developed.
That’s all very interesting, many thanks Vladimir. We at Learn Mandarin Now appreciate you sharing your suggestions and ideas about the best ways to learn Mandarin Chinese and hope that our students and followers can learn something from your suggestions.