The First Step to Speak Mandarin
The more we understand about language acquisition, the more we feel that there seems to be a contradiction in how to start. There isn’t, but it sure does seem like it. So what is it?
Learn to Speak Mandarin – Steps 1 & 2
1. Understand How to Say Every Syllable in Chinese (BTW, here’s how)
These are both categorically true statements, but what the heck? Why bother learning pronunciation if you aren’t going to speak? There are two primary answers:
1. Pronunciation isn’t only about speaking
You can learn to speak Mandarin, but if you don’t understand what the people around you are saying it’s virtually useless. However, if you know everything about how sounds are enunciated in the language, then your listening comprehension improves.
For example, if you know that zhāng & jiāng have different tongue positions (curled against the roof of your mouth & against the back of your bottom teeth respectively), then it’s easier to hear which one a Chinese person is saying. The logic goes like this:
1. Pronunciation mastery promotes listening comprehension
2. High listening comprehension accelerates the acquisition of vocabulary
3. Acquisition of vocabulary gives you more potential things to say
4. You want to speak
2. Pronunciation has an element of muscle development
Getting all the muscles associated with your mouth & throat cavity to behave in brand new ways requires time and repetition. Of all the things you will learn how to do in your Mandarin learning journey, this step is the most like “going to the gym.” You do it repeatedly and become stronger. Simply put, you need to reach a certain amount of practice reps before you’ve built the necessary muscle memory, so start early!