How to Speak Chinese? SHUT UP!

How to Speak Chinese? SHUT-UP!

Want to Know How to Speak Chinese? Stop Trying to Speak Chinese.

OK, we recognize that the title of this article and first heading of how to speak Chinese comes off like the clichéd and over-used “turns out” pieces. “Everyone thought dietary fat was bad, but wait…gasp…TURNS OUT it isn’t so bad OMG IS YOUR MIND BLOWN?!?!” Will counter-intuitive truths ever be free of this trope? Probably not, so perhaps hear us out? Yes? OK great, get ready for some unadulterated “turns out.”

Naturally, a conventional language learning ‘truism’ applied to Chinese is: “Want to learn how to speak Chinese? Speak Chinese!” Such insight! Confucius & Lao Tzu better look out. Sadly, however, our old friend scrutiny doesn’t look too highly upon this statement.

Scrutiny: “It’s Hubris!”

Anyone who suggests that you should just “speak Chinese” must believe (perhaps unconsciously) that knowledge of how to speak Chinese is a latent program in your brain waiting to be activated. The height of hubris, good sir!

In the beginning, you have no idea what accurate Chinese is, so tell us, what exactly are you supposed to “speak”? What you think Chinese is? The stereotypes of what Chinese sounds like to westerners? Not only is this insulting, but it’s also counterproductive. You’ll be creating poor speaking habits based on things that have nothing to do with what Chinese is. 

Good News – Humility Will Take the Pressure Off

Humbling yourself before Mandarin Chinese will help you see the real first stage of Mandarin learning: Input.

Will "The Architect" Ferrell

Just like every child who ever went on to acquire their mother language, you must quietly take in the language for the first several months of the process. Input in the form of listening (good) and reading (better) as much as possible, and the more understandable, the better. (Caveat: You should still be practicing your pronunciation daily, but that’s different from speaking off the cuff in conversation.) Guess what happens next?

TURNS OUT: You want to Speak Chinese! 

See what we mean about not “trying”? If you input enough of a language that you understand, then when the opportunity comes to say what you’ve heard fifty times, what, you think you’ll shy away? Nonsense! You’ll be thrilled, proud of yourself, and probably speak too quickly because you’re so stoked about making recognizable progress. Additionally, you’ll be basing what you say on real Chinese you’ve heard and read as opposed to making it up out of thin air.

Putting input first and allowing for output to come naturally takes the pressure off and encourages a relaxed attitude. Shocker: Anxiety is the enemy of language acquisition. No longer force yourself to speak. Instead, say to yourself “what can I do to increase the likelihood that I will see and hear Chinese as much as possible.”

Of course, you need to start speaking eventually, but it’s never been more appropriate to suggest that the Chinese idiom 顺其自然 shùnqízìrán (‘let nature take its course’) is the best path forward along with immersing yourself into Chinese.

Read more about Immersion and how it can really help you learn Chinese faster in this post.