Before I jump into the question, a bit of context for my situation:

I'm in Mandarin 1 currently in HS, about 7 months in from the beginning of the school year, and I'm having some problems. According to my Mandarin teacher, I seem to be ahead of my class, as my vocabulary and grammar is a bit more complex (since I study a bit outside of class).

Though, while I can learn characters and definitions pretty well, I'm having a lot of trouble with my listening and speaking. I feel as if my tones aren't too differentiable, and I feel like I don't really keep track of tone usage when I try to speak. When I listened to my Mandarin teacher speaking a bit more quickly, even though it was a sentence I would've understood if it was slowed down a bit, I only picked up a few words, and I had a lot more trouble trying to differentiate the tones while listening to her speak.

Does anyone have any recommendations on how I can try to improve both speaking and listening? Thank you so much! :)


5 Answers 5


As said in a story:
2 men learn Chinese together. One learns by reading Chinese books and listening to Chinese radio broadcasts. The other one found a Chinese girlfriend and told her to teach him Chinese. The latter succeeded.
This shows that doing something you like will let you learn something faster. Try playing your favourite mobile games but instead, change the language to Chinese. Also, you can consider watching funny Chinese videos on YouTube. You can listen to Chinese while having fun. It might not come to effect immediately, but it will be helpful in the long term.
Remember that losing interest is the fatal cause of not succeeding in learning something. You need something to boost yourself to continue learning Chinese.
Hope this can help you!


Watch your favorite movie in Mandarin. watch it over and over, try to understand what they say. Your ears will get more and more familiar which how they speak. Here are some recommendations with subtitles(a television series): Legend of Condor hero: about a stupid kid that is pure and his pureness and kindness will develop this cool story: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E4crHldKx6c&list=PLJIYzNjvxw8v2TkPFnjYx-xD2IqOKjbYk red cliff(movie): a famous ancient story in China about wars between three kingdoms, I didn't find the first part: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t01RBOzYZu0 Next practice some basic set of sentences: learn them and speak it. it is like a spot, your muscle will remember what to do after you practiced a lot and you'll find yourself able to do cool surprising stuff afterward!

The tones are easy, there are really 4 tones: the first tone somehow feels like you are being monotone. the second tone feels like you are trying to rush the sentence. The third tone feels like you are slowing the sentence. And the last tone feels like a command type of tone. learn more about them here: https://chinesepod.com/tools/pronunciation/section/17

anyway, the point is there are two parts: first and most important part, listening to movies and radio and etc and you'll know how to speak as you'll have the understanding meaning part practiced, even though you may suck at speaking it(like Chinese teacher teaching your science class with their accents). 2) To get a better accent, you just have to speak with the correct accent more, again like practicing a sport, you might not even do 1000 pounds deadlift at first, but that's because you are too new to the sport lol.


I am also a fairly new student with similar problems. These are things that have helped me:

  1. When you learn new vocabulary, make sure you learn the tone at the same time.

  2. Practise tones out loud. Don't be afraid to exaggerate them a bit (or a lot). Chinese children over pronounce their tones when they learning as well. Practise single tones, then tone pairs. It might help to record yourself so that you know what you sound like.

  3. Get some audio of simple sentences, maybe from your teacher, from Youtube, from podcasts, etc. Listen and repeat, over and over. This will help get used to how tones work together. There is a (free) program called Audacity. It can chop up audio files, and slow them down, so that you can isolate the bits of a sentence you want to work on.

  4. Another practice technique is to listen to a recording, and listen just for the tones. Don't worry about the meaning at all. You can say it back, again don't worry about the actual words, just follow the intonation.

As for your teacher, if she always speaks fast, maybe ask her to slow down a little bit. If it's just sometimes, then don't worry about it. Hearing a mix of fast and slow will help your brain get used to how things sound. You don't have to consciously understand every word to still be learning. Also, sometimes your brain is just a bit slow, like she says something and you don't understand, but then a little while later you suddenly realise what she said. This is completely normal, and a sign that you are learning.


I would say time and repetition are the keys to get it right. Try to do small various types of repetition over a long period of time. Also, have sufficient listening exercise, which are not necessarily focused on tones. Listening exercises can help you gradually adapt to the natural speech pattern, which can be very different from the pinyin scripts.

Pinyin and tones are only a poor imitation of natural speech. If you focus on tones too much, you will loose the forest.

I have an article “The gulf between pinyin and Mandarin Chinese pronunciation”, trying to explain this: https://www.mslmaster.com/index.php/teaching-learning-resources/10-resources/54-the-gulf-between-pinyin-and-mandarin-chinese-pronunciation


Take a look to the Hangout N° 2 there :

It can help :-)

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