Some of you will have noticed that I post a lot of questions regarding translations. In general, I believe this is a good exercise, but I've come to realize that in many cases, Chinese people don't speak like how I speak Chinese.

When I speak Chinese, particularly with more complex subjects or simply subjects I haven't been exposed to, I often have to rely on a "translation box" in my head. I have to think of how I would say it in English, then translate it. With simpler and more everyday speak, I've learned to mimic what native speakers say, and so in that sense, I've picked up a more natural way of speaking.

However, I'm beginning to grow quite weary of this strict translation. Part of this is my vocabulary, but I would like to speak more naturally. The issue is, if I don't rely on a strict translation, I don't know how else to express myself.

What are some ways I can learn to speak more naturally like a native speaker?

  • You need to build expressions and phrases vocabulary. Read a lot, listen to radio programs, etc. The problem with acquiring vocabulary from dictionaries and flashcards, etc. is that these sources tell you almost nothing about the context, style and usage frequency of vocabulary items (words and phrases). That is not to say you should not be using a dictionary, but when you do, always check how the words can be used, in what context. Jukuu, Iciba have example sentences that can help you in this, or even a simple web search might be helpful. – imrek Sep 6 '15 at 6:48
  • 2
    This is a universal question for "how to speak a foreign language like a native speaker". A foreign language learner would probably face the same "translation box" problem – just like running a "foreign language system" in a VirtualBox without actually installing it – so it's slow. I think it's possible to install multiple systems at the same time if you was a child and lived in a multi-lingual environment, so if have plenty of time, you can try to practice it like how you learn English as a child (mapped things in the world directly with names, utilized sentence structure intuitively). – Stan Sep 6 '15 at 7:10
  • I recently took a MOOC called Biligual Brain. I think it's very hard for someone to master a language as well as a native speaker if the person has never been exposed to it early on in childhood. Google keyword: Age of Acquisition – RexYuan Sep 8 '15 at 11:27
  • From my personal long, long experience of learning English, Japanese and Cantonese, it's impossible to speak Chinese like native unless you do at least two of the following items: 1) Work or study in a place where Chinese is the dominant language. 2) Spend years in China. 3) Have many Chinese friends and hang out frequently. 4) Get a patient Chinese girlfriend or boyfriend. 5) Become a Chinese. Western faces with a native Chinese tone can easily be famous and popular. Hope you can speak Chinese like a boss. – John Sep 9 '15 at 1:34

This question equals to How could a Chinese speak more naturally / like a native English speaker. When I was learning English, someone gave me two hints. Now I'd like to translate them to you:

  1. About the grammar. Forget your mother language, do not try to every English sentence directly into Chinese. Think as Chinese people do, then you'll speak in the way they do.
  2. About the accent. Watch Chinese movies, talk with native speakers. Just mimic the way they speak.
  • I felt the same. I would add one more: ask others to correct you or let them show you the native way of expressing your idea. Don't be afraid of making mistakes. Just try to express yourself intuitively. – Madwyn Sep 7 '15 at 15:05
  • I agree. The native way of expressing is most important. – speakupchinese.com Sep 9 '15 at 3:24

There are two aspects you should pay attention two. The first one is, try to mimic Chinese people. The best way to do this is to use movies. Watch one sentence at a time and mimic the sentence of the speaker. The second one is, try to put your emotion in. Watch Chinese speakers and try to pay attention to the language they use when they want to express a specific emotion. The best place to start doing this is practising how to swear!

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