20 Ways to Improve Your Mandarin Speaking Skills FAST

learn to speak chinese fast

Reaching fluent conversational Chinese is the ultimate goal for most learners. While it takes commitment and practice, there are techniques you can start applying now to pave the way for awesome spoken Chinese abilities.

To kickstart your path to exceptional Chinese speaking prowess, I will share 20 actionable techniques. These methods are designed to improve your ability to speak Mandarin efficiently and quickly.

Alternatively, you can check out the partner video in this blog post, which has a few extra tips included.

Whether you’re just starting or looking to polish your skills, these tips are your stepping stones to becoming a confident Mandarin speaker. Get ready to dive in and accelerate your learning to speak Chinese Mandarin!

Related Reading: Is Chinese Hard to Learn?

1. Fill gaps in your pronunciation

To speak Mandarin effectively, it’s essential to ensure your pronunciation is clear and accurate, leaving no room for misunderstandings. Always start by assessing your skills to identify any obvious errors in articulating words and phrases.

Understanding and producing the distinct sounds of Mandarin, including the four tones, is the cornerstone of Chinese speaking. 

It’s not just about avoiding mistakes. It’s about laying a strong foundation for your language skills and setting yourself up for a faster and more reliable path to fluency. While resources like pronunciation guides can be helpful, the key is consistent practice and a sharp ear for the nuances of Mandarin pronunciation.

Related Reading: The Importance of Pronunciation in Chinese

2. Build your reading and character knowledge

Building your reading abilities and character knowledge is an essential component of learning to speak Chinese Mandarin effectively. To grasp the language in all its complexity and richness, aim for a foundational understanding of at least 3,000 characters.

reading and character knowledge

This benchmark isn’t arbitrary. It’s simply the average number a native Chinese speaker knows and will allow you to understand the majority of content in Chinese.

For those who are more ambitious, recognizing between 5,000 and 6,000 characters is typical among educated native speakers, enhancing your Chinese speaking and comprehension abilities even further.

The pursuit of character mastery is about more than just reading, it’s about unlocking a vast array of resources to boost your Mandarin skills. When you learn to speak Chinese fast, reading plays a pivotal role because it’s a form of input that’s often more understandable than listening, which can be more challenging and time-consuming to develop.

Recognizing a wide array of characters equips you to engage with Chinese media, like watching Chinese TV shows with subtitles or diving into graded readers. Plus, pairing reading with listening, such as following along with a podcast transcript, enriches your understanding and makes your learning experience much more effective.

This multi-faceted approach is key to enhancing your Chinese speaking proficiency, providing a solid foundation to build on.

Related Reading: Does Reading Help You Speak Chinese?

3. Listen to Chinese daily

Immersing yourself in Chinese through daily listening is crucial for anyone learning to speak Chinese. While reading is an invaluable part of the process, listening holds a special place in the journey towards fluency. By engaging with audio that’s both understandable and interesting, you pave the way for a more native-like pronunciation and speech rhythm.

Listen to Chinese daily

Listening to Mandarin Chinese every day, even for just 30 minutes to an hour, can significantly enhance your language skills. It may take time to achieve comprehension and start speaking Chinese with the ease of a native speaker, but the effort is worth it. 

Think of it as planting a seed that will grow over time. For those still working towards recognizing 3,000 characters, a substantial portion of study time should be dedicated to that goal. But once you reach that milestone, you can balance your study routine between immersion and active speaking and writing practice.

The principle is straightforward. To speak Chinese effectively, your input — what you listen to and read — directly influences your output. So, focus predominantly on absorbing comprehensible input. 

Related Reading: How Chinese Films Can Help Language Learners

4. Let go of your ego

Letting go of your ego is an invaluable piece of advice for anyone learning to speak Chinese fast. Understand that when you’re conversing in Mandarin, people are generally not fixated on your mistakes. 

If you miss a tone or stumble over a word at a social event, it’s okay. A slight giggle from others can be taken in stride — just laugh along. Taking yourself too seriously can hinder your progress in learning how to speak Chinese.

Obsessing over errors is unproductive (a bit of a life lesson there). It creates unnecessary pressure and distracts from the joy of learning. Remember, even native Chinese speakers can struggle with certain topics or make mistakes, just as a native English speaker might not be fluent in discussing specialized subjects like 18th-century Russian warfare.

So, when practicing your Chinese speaking, be kind to yourself. You’re not expected to be a master in every subject, and that’s perfectly fine. The key is to keep practicing and enjoy the process of becoming more proficient in Mandarin.

Related Reading: Why Learn Mandarin Chinese?

5. Slow down your speech

Talking more slowly can be a powerful technique in improving your ability to speak Mandarin. Aim to reduce your speaking speed by about 20 to 30 percent. This adjustment gives you the necessary time to think about what you’re saying, ensuring your tones and pronunciation are accurate. 

It’s not about whether speaking quickly is easy or difficult for you, it’s about clarity and precision in your Chinese speaking.

Slow down your speech

Even if you’re reciting a sentence or phrase you’ve said countless times, like introducing yourself, maintain this slower pace. It might feel a bit unnatural at first, but it allows your brain the chance to catch up and prepare for the next sentence, which might be less familiar to you.

This practice doesn’t make you sound as strange as you might think. Even native speakers naturally have a more measured pace of speech. By consistently applying this slower speed, you’ll find that your fluency in speaking Mandarin will improve, as will your confidence in your language skills.

Related Reading: Basic Chinese Sentence Structure.

6. Add pauses when needed

Adding pauses to your speech is a strategy that complements the previous tip about slowing down, and it merits its own discussion. When learning to speak Chinese Mandarin, you might notice that even articulate, fast-speaking Chinese speakers insert small pauses in their sentences.

This isn’t just a breather for the speaker. It’s a moment to gather thoughts and ensure clarity.

You can adopt this technique, especially when tackling longer sentences with complex grammar. By allowing yourself to pause, you’re not just preparing for the next part of your sentence, but you’re also giving your brain a chance to process and your mouth the opportunity to articulate words more precisely.

For instance, take the sentence “我想吃晚饭了” (wǒ xiǎng chī wǎnfàn le). Instead of rushing through it, you could break it down with pauses: “我想… 吃晚饭… 了.”

These strategic gaps don’t detract from your speaking; they enhance it. They give you the chance to focus on pronunciation and intonation, which are essential for learning how to speak Chinese fluently and understandably.

So, next time you find yourself in a conversation, remember that pauses are your ally in clear and effective Mandarin communication.

Related Reading: Debunked: Common Myths about Learning Chinese

7. Use fillers

Incorporating fillers into your speech is a fantastic tip for those learning to speak Chinese. As learners, we often don’t leverage the small tools that native speakers use naturally. Fillers are these tools. They’re the little words or sounds that give you time to think and continue to sound natural in conversation.

In Chinese, fillers like “嗯” (en), “这个” (zhège), and “那个” (nàge) are the equivalents of “um” or “uh” in English. Native speakers frequently use them and they can be combined for even greater effect, allowing you a moment to gather your thoughts without breaking the flow of conversation.

Use fillers

For example, you might hear a sentence in Chinese filled with these sounds: “我想,嗯,这个,那个…” (wǒ xiǎng, en, zhège, nàge…). It’s common to hear these fillers scattered through speech, and while it’s good to use them, it’s also wise not to overdo it.

Just like in English, using one or two strategically placed fillers can work wonders.

Another common filler is “啊” (a) at the end of a sentence, which can buy you those crucial extra moments to formulate your next thought. Using these fillers as you learn to speak Chinese fast can be incredibly beneficial. As you practice your Mandarin, sprinkle them into your sentences to make your speech flow more naturally, just as it would for a native speaker.

Related Reading: 120 Basic Chinese Words and Phrases to Help You Survive

8. Learn conversation connectors

Learning conversation connectors can significantly enhance your fluency in speaking Chinese. These connectors are not mere sounds but fixed phrases that native Chinese speakers frequently use to seamlessly bridge thoughts and ideas. They’re a step beyond fillers and are incredibly useful in making your Mandarin speech more coherent and natural. Some examples of English conversation connectors would be:

  • But
  • And
  • Furthermore
  • However
  • Finally.

Another practical tip is to occasionally use English words when the Mandarin equivalent escapes you. Educated and younger Chinese individuals often have a good passive understanding of English due to extensive education in the language and exposure to Western media.

So, if you’re stuck, an English word surrounded by Chinese conversation connectors and fillers can still convey your message effectively.

By slowing down your speech, adding pauses for complex grammatical structures, and using conversation connectors, you give yourself a substantial advantage in learning to speak Chinese fast. 

These strategies help build a bridge toward fluency, allowing you to communicate more effectively while continuing to improve your language skills. The combination of these elements creates a robust framework for anyone committed to learning how to speak Chinese.

Don’t forget you can download our guide, 418 Phrases to Make You More Fluent in Mandarin, for more help. 

9. Focus on phrases, not just words

Focusing on phrases rather than isolated words is a pivotal strategy when learning to speak Chinese Mandarin. When acquiring a new language, context is king. 

Instead of memorizing single words with their English or Chinese definitions, immerse yourself in the language as it’s naturally used. This means learning phrases and sentences that give words meaning and function.

For example, instead of just learning the word for “eat” (吃, chī), you might learn a phrase like “我想吃中餐” (wǒ xiǎng chī zhōngcān, “I want to eat Chinese food”). This approach not only teaches you vocabulary but also structure and usage, which are critical in learning how to speak Chinese.

 Focus on phrases

Using tools that allow you to collect and review sentences, such as language learning software combined with spaced repetition systems like Anki, can be very effective. While vocabulary cards can still be useful (particularly if they’re supplemented with high-quality example sentences), the real value lies in understanding how words fit together in chunks of language.

This method reflects natural speech patterns and can greatly enhance your learning experience, giving you more “bang for your buck” as you work towards fluency in speaking Mandarin. 

By studying phrases and sentences, you’re not just learning to speak Chinese fast, you’re learning to speak it well.

Related Reading: How to Order Chinese Food in a Chinese Restaurant

10. Don’t neglect writing

Not neglecting writing is crucial, especially when you’re focused on learning to speak Chinese fast. While speaking Mandarin is a dynamic skill that demonstrates your language abilities, writing reinforces the same language processes in a more deliberate, thoughtful manner. 

Simply put, writing allows you to carefully construct your thoughts and perfect your sentences, which can help in reducing errors and avoiding the reinforcement of bad habits.

Approach writing with the goal of making no mistakes. Allow yourself to look up words and review grammar as needed.

This meticulous attention to detail can translate to more accurate and confident speaking. For those who may be introverted or feel anxious about speaking to others, writing can be a particularly beneficial practice. It’s a way to refine your Chinese speaking skills in a less pressured environment, preparing you for more fluent and natural spoken communication.

Whether you’re learning how to speak Chinese from scratch or aiming to polish your proficiency, don’t underestimate the power of writing in supporting your overall Mandarin learning journey.

Related Reading: SRS: How to Use Spaced Repetition Software to Learn Chinese Effectively

11. Shadow and repeat out loud

Speech shadowing, chorusing or parroting, is an excellent technique for anyone eager to learn to speak Chinese fast. This method involves listening to Mandarin and speaking along with it, aiming to match the timing as closely as possible. 

Engaging in this activity daily can dramatically improve your Chinese speaking abilities.

The process is more than just repetition. It’s an immersive exercise that can be done throughout the day, even while performing other tasks like walking or doing chores. This multitasking trains your brain to produce Mandarin naturally, without requiring your full attention — much like having a conversation in real life.

Shadow and repeat out loud

Shadowing while moving also benefits you by increasing oxygen flow to your brain, which can enhance cognitive function. Alongside shadowing, reading out loud is another valuable practice. It ensures that you’re not just passively listening but actively engaging with the language. 

When shadowing, choose the material you’re familiar with, where you understand all the words, to ensure full comprehension as you mimic the speaker. Aim to replicate everything—tone, intonation, stress on syllables — to refine your Chinese speaking skills. 

This precise imitation will help you sound more like a native speaker and increase your Mandarin speaking proficiency.

Related Reading: How to Use the Speech Shadowing Technique to Hack Chinese (or Any Language)

12. Warm up before speaking

Similar to how athletes stretch before a game or singers vocalize before a performance, warming up your language faculties can prepare you for smoother and more fluent speech.

A quick and effective warm-up technique is to shadow a Mandarin audio clip for a minute or two before starting a conversation, whether it’s with a language exchange partner or an iTalki tutor. This primes your brain and mouth for the activity ahead, aligning your speaking rhythm with that of native speakers.

Another method to warm up and simultaneously improve your articulation is to practice Chinese tongue twisters. By regularly practicing tongue twisters, just like athletes maintain their physical fitness, you can keep your articulation sharp and ready for live conversations.

Incorporating these warm-up exercises into your routine not only prepares you for immediate speaking tasks but also contributes to your long-term ability to speak Mandarin clearly and correctly. This preparation is an integral part of your journey in learning to speak Chinese fast, ensuring that your mouth and mind are in sync when it’s time to communicate.

Related Reading: The Surprising Benefits of Learning a Language from a Non-Native Speaker.

13. Tell stories repeatedly

Telling stories over and over again is a strategy closely related to shadowing and is a powerful tool for learning to speak Chinese Mandarin. The repetition method, observed in children learning their first language, is a natural and instinctive learning mechanism. This approach can be applied to language acquisition at any age.

When practicing Mandarin, focus on depth rather than breadth. This means listening to and repeating the same sentences, paragraphs, or pieces of content multiple times to reinforce your understanding and speaking abilities. This repetition helps embed the structures and rhythms of the language into your memory, making it easier to recall and use them when you speak Chinese.

Tell stories repeatedly

Of course, it’s also beneficial to challenge your brain with new material. Occasionally introduce unfamiliar content to test and expand your shadowing skills. This prevents you from becoming overly dependent on familiar phrases and allows you to adapt to different contexts and vocabularies.

For instance, you might obsessively listen to and repeat a single piece of material, aiming for dozens of repetitions. Then, to keep your skills sharp and versatile, switch to something new. This balance between repetition and variety is key to building comfort and flexibility in your Chinese speaking practice. It’s a strategy that improves fluency and enhances your ability to learn to speak Chinese fast.

Related Reading: Can You Learn Chinese in 5 Minutes?

14. Review sessions with tutors

Having regular sessions with tutors or language exchange partners is an invaluable tip for those eager to improve their ability to speak Mandarin. Investing in a tutor from a platform like iTalki, if you have the budget, can be highly beneficial. 

iTalki is renowned for its ease in connecting students with quality teachers. While I have no affiliation with them, it’s a resource worth considering for anyone serious about learning to speak Chinese fast.

For those who prefer not to spend money, platforms like Tandem or HelloTalk offer excellent opportunities for free language exchange. Many learners find great success in developing their Chinese speaking skills through these interactions. 

It’s all about putting in the effort to cultivate and maintain these language partnerships.

If you feel anxious about speaking with strangers online, remember that it’s perfectly acceptable to turn off your video or simply divert your gaze to another part of the screen. This can ease the pressure and help you focus on the conversation.

Regular practice with a tutor or exchange partner is crucial in learning how to speak Chinese. It provides real-time feedback, cultural insights, and the practical experience necessary to enhance your fluency and confidence in speaking Mandarin.

Related Reading: How to Learn Chinese Easily

15. Use activities to keep tutoring fresh

Speaking activities are a fantastic way to keep your tutoring sessions engaging and productive. One of my preferred methods is to discuss a magazine or online article with my tutor. This aids in learning to speak Chinese Mandarin and keeps you informed about contemporary issues and topics.

keep tutoring fresh

Another dynamic activity is using random question generators, which can be found on platforms like Tandem. These generators prompt discussions on various subjects, sparking interesting conversations and providing diverse practice in speaking Mandarin. 

Even random image generators can be a fun tool. Depending on your proficiency, you might describe the image in detail or even create a story around it, which is a great exercise for learning to speak Chinese fast.

Post-session reflection is also key. Take the time to review the session, consider the feedback from your tutor, and look over any notes taken during the lesson. If your tutor provides direct feedback on mistakes or difficulties you encountered, make sure to go over these points carefully. 

Keeping a journal, digital or traditional, can help you track your progress, reflect on your successes, and note any areas for improvement. This reflective practice is essential in learning how to speak Chinese more effectively.

16. Talk to yourself

Talking to yourself is an incredibly effective method for practicing Chinese speaking, particularly for introverts or those who may not always have access to a teacher or language partner. It may seem unusual, and you might get some odd looks if overheard, but there’s a simple solution: earphones. Pretending to be on a call can give you the freedom to practice out loud without drawing attention.

This solo practice also allows you to identify gaps in your vocabulary. As you try to articulate your thoughts or describe your surroundings in Mandarin, note any phrases or concepts you find challenging. Then, you can utilize a reliable translator like DeepL to find the Mandarin equivalent of what you’re trying to convey. These translations can then be turned into flashcards for review.

This self-talk strategy not only helps in reinforcing your learning to speak Chinese but also boosts your confidence in using the language spontaneously. By actively trying to express various thoughts and observations, you’re not just learning to speak Chinese fast, you’re also cultivating an ability to think in the language, which is a critical step towards fluency.

Related Reading: Chinese Characters: Learn them as soon as possible

17. Think in Chinese

Thinking in Chinese is a transformative approach to mastering the language. This technique aligns with talking to yourself and focuses on constructing your internal monologue in Mandarin. 

Think in Chinese

By immersing yourself in Chinese daily, you’ll accumulate the linguistic fuel necessary to formulate thoughts in the language, moving away from the inefficient process of translating from English to Chinese.

The advantage of thinking in Mandarin is significant. It avoids the pitfalls that come from direct translation, as many concepts or expressions in English may not have direct counterparts in Chinese. Getting into the habit of thinking in Chinese can prevent moments of confusion and encourage you to express ideas in ways that are natural to the language.

For instance, instead of looking for an exact translation of a phrase like “what a good find,” you might learn to convey the sentiment by saying something like “找到这个真幸运” (finding this is really lucky), which is more authentically Chinese.

A practical way to develop the habit of thinking in Chinese is to narrate stories about your life. Repeating a personal anecdote in Mandarin helps cement vocabulary and structures in your memory. 

Of course, listening to stories and then retelling them in your own words isn’t only an enjoyable activity but also an excellent practice for learning to speak Chinese fast. It allows you to engage creatively with the language and express complex ideas more fluently.

Whether you’re practicing with a tutor, a language partner, or recording yourself, storytelling is a powerful tool for improving your Mandarin speaking skills.

Related Reading: The Definitive Guide to Chinese Proverbs, Sayings, and Quotes

18. Use a monolingual dictionary

Using a monolingual dictionary is a strategic step that can enhance your understanding and use of Mandarin. Once you’ve reached a certain level of proficiency in reading — about 1,000 to 2,000 characters — it’s beneficial to transition from a bilingual to a monolingual dictionary. 

This switch will ensure that the explanations and descriptions you’re reading are entirely in Chinese, which reinforces the habit of thinking in the language.

Modern technology, such as Siri, Alexa, or the Google Translate app, can also help in this process by allowing you to test your pronunciation. This can be an effective way to practice speaking Chinese and check your accuracy.

By using a monolingual dictionary, you not only challenge yourself to understand Chinese definitions, but you’ll also encounter new phrases and learn alternative ways to use familiar words. 

This practice can inadvertently lead to discovering new vocabulary and expressions, which is an added benefit to your journey of learning to speak Chinese Mandarin. It’s an excellent tool for learners who are serious about becoming fluent and want to learn to speak Chinese fast.

Related Reading: Understanding Chinese Characters: the Basics You Need to Know

19. Plan ahead when possible

Planning can make a significant difference in your ability to use and improve your Chinese speaking in practical situations. If you anticipate situations where you’ll be using Mandarin, such as visiting a repair shop, shopping in Chinatown, or handling transactions at a bike shop, take some time beforehand to prepare the relevant vocabulary and phrases.

For instance, if you’re going to be talking about cars, like when I bought a car in China, even if you’re fluent, you might not know all the technical jargon related to automobiles. Watching a video review of the car in Chinese and studying it can equip you with the necessary terminology and confidence to handle the conversation effectively.

bought a car in China

This focused, targeted preparation ensures that when you’re in the situation, you can speak Mandarin more fluently and understand the subject matter better.

By taking the time to familiarize yourself with the specific language used in these contexts, you not only prepare yourself for the immediate need but also expand your overall vocabulary and ability to speak Chinese fast. This proactive approach is a practical aspect of learning how to speak Chinese, as it aligns your learning process with real-life experiences and needs.

Related Reading: Tips for a First-Time Visit to China

20. Push through the discomfort

Embracing discomfort is possibly the most crucial advice for anyone determined to learn to speak Chinese fast. The reality is that mastering Chinese speaking is a journey filled with challenges, and there’ll be times when it feels like you’re not making progress, especially when encountering new vocabulary or complex situations.

Feeling out of your depth is a natural part of the learning process. It’s essential to recognize that these moments of struggle are growth opportunities. Pushing through the discomfort, rather than avoiding it, is what leads to improvement. It’s about perseverance and the willingness to make mistakes, learn from them, and keep practicing.

The key is to maintain the course: repeat, immerse, and persist. This mindset will ensure continuous advancement in your Mandarin skills. The discomfort will lessen over time, and your confidence and proficiency in speaking Mandarin will grow. So, embrace the challenge, keep repeating and immersing yourself in the language, and you’ll see daily improvements in your ability to speak Chinese.

Unlock your Mandarin potential

These top-tier strategies are designed to elevate your Chinese speaking skills. By incorporating even a handful of these tips into your study routine, you’re setting the stage for a remarkable improvement in your Mandarin proficiency.

Remember, the essence of speaking better Chinese lies in consistent, comprehensible input—immersing yourself in the language through listening and reading, and then actively using the language through speaking and repetition.

To truly tailor your learning experience and take the next step towards fluency, I encourage you to complete the Mandarin Fluency Scorecard. It’s a quick and personalized way to assess your current Chinese skills and discover how to move forward efficiently. 

By answering 12 simple questions, you’ll receive a custom report detailing your strengths and weaknesses, along with immediate action steps tailored to your unique learning journey.

Carry out this quick, insightful assessment and get your free PDF guide to mastering Mandarin. It’s crafted by Mandarin experts to pinpoint exactly where you are and how to enhance your learning. 

So why wait? Take the 60-second scorecard challenge now, and start speaking Chinese with the confidence and skill you’ve always wanted. It’s free, fast, and could be the key to unlocking your full potential in Mandarin.<Take the test!>