Why can't I speak...?
I have been learning Mandarin for about 3 years now. Although I can read, write, and listen a very high level, I can't organize my thoughts and get words out of my mouth when I want to speak...why is this? I have good pronunciation, tones, and I love the language, but I can't speak..
markMay 28, 2011, 08:33 AM
Speaking takes its own kind of practice. I spent a long time getting stuck when I couldn't think of the word I wanted. Now, I have gotten pretty good at finding circuitous ways to express myself when the right word is not available, but I still lack the native speaker's ability to reach into the hat and pull out just the right thing to say. That is after five hours of speaking practice a week for six years, or so.
acattMay 28, 2011, 08:52 AM
Thank you very much for your story. If anyone else has a story of their own that they would like to share regarding their own experience with learning the language, feel free to post it here. I will be checking this page frequently, so please share your story with us! What has been the most difficult part of Chinese for you? What study methods do you find most beneficial to your second language learning? Thanks everyone.
To be honest, I have used ChinesePod off and on for about 3 years now. We implemented some of the lessons into my morning class when I was in school. I eventually stopped using it but over the past few months I have created a new account and tried to start over again. If I knew how to put the podcasts onto my iPod my life would be a whole lot easier hahaha. Anyways, I study Chinese everyday, however most of the time it is not ChinesePod. What about you zhenlijiang?
Nearly two and a half years on ChinesePod. The last half year I haven't had as much time to actually study the lessons though.
I've been studying Chinese for over 4.5 years now (!), but getting no speaking practice at all the last year. I can't speak either. I don't think it's at all surprising that you "can't speak" even though you feel you're doing everything else at a high level. Speaking is much harder than reading, writing or listening comprehension. I would think you just need more frequent opportunities or situations in which you are forced to speak. Three months in an immersion environment maybe?
bodaweiMay 28, 2011, 10:55 AM
Hey dragonbrothers, I am a little nonplussed how you 'can read, write, and listen to a very high level', without developing your speaking skills. I am curious about how you learnt Chinese. Formal learning environments I am familiar with require you to develop speaking along with reading, writing and listening. If you were in school did you just not attend 口语 classes? At the very least it must be unusual to get to a high level of language ability without speaking. In fact, in most learning environments you start with speaking, then gradually develop other skills. Did you not speak in class? Actually .. how do you actually get to a high level of pronunciation and tones without speaking? In my experience most people only develop these skillls by listening and speaking (practicising) - both inside and outside the classroom.
BTW I would say that my speaking ability is terribly unsophisticated (roughly in line with my reading, writing and listening ability.) But that doesn't stop me speaking, maybe it should. :)
Do you mean that occasionally you are tongue-tied? Or are you being modest?
I have tactics for speaking, I don't know whether they are much help but here goes:
- preparation. If I know ahead what I want to do I often check words and phrases
- like Mark above, I often need a 'get around' - just keep trying different ways of saying the same thing
- find the simplest way of saying things, typically that is the most natural. A common mistake is finding sophisticated words and phrases that sound terribly unnatural.
- mimic what you hear native speakers say. I do this all the time. If I don't understand exactly I will ask for an explanation, find out any words I don't know and learn them. The try them out at the next opportunity.
- dedicate some speaking time with a native speaker. Just do not use English for a set period.
- find yourself a special topic, something you are passionate about. Learn everything you can about it and practice the phrases. Every opportunity you get just talk on this subject (preferably not with the same person all the time!)
Good advice from both Mark and Bodawei on the "work-arounds" for when you get stuck. I am always doing this. However, it frustrates me because the work-around is invariably a very simple structure, but I want to get beyond the simple structures with my spoken Chinese and start to use all these great patterns we learn on CPod, but in a natural way. For example, I don't think I've ever used the shi......de pattern in my spoken Chinese, yet I've known it and recognise it on CPod lessons for several years now. Another is the ba3 pattern. I love this pattern when I frequently come across it on CPod, but I never seem able to use it naturally in spoken Chinese. Of course, there are often more simple ways of saying what you want to say, but I want to use the good stuff!
Hi @bodawei, re: your comment, "Formal learning environments I am familiar with require you to develop speaking along with reading, writing and listening."
I think that dragonbrothers problem is very common, and not just for Chinese learners. Look at how many Chinese students can't speak English?
I would agree. I live in Taiwan (2-1/2 years) and of reading, writing, listening, and speaking, speaking is by far my worst area. I have also studied six semesters at Chinese University (Shida). Unfortunately, even in a small class of 6 or 7 students, speaking opportunities are not as great as they need to be.
I think that one of the problems is that for most foreigners (even those that live in China, Taiwan, etc.), we practice speaking the least. Not only that, I think many Chinese are afraid to correct the flaws in our speech.
Do you think it would have been better to learn Chinese 20 years ago, or to learn it now? Of course now we have a million more tools we can use, with the internet, iPhone apps, etc., and all of that makes learning Chinese so much more accessible. However, 20 years ago, fewer Chinese spoke English, making it easier for foreigners to practice speaking Chinese. Almost every time I step out in Taipei, I have the "battle of the languages", where I speak Chinese and the other person speaks English.
IMO, the key to *really* learning how to speak Chinese well:
1. Move to China or Taiwan.
2. Find a Chinese girlfriend/boyfriend who does not speak English.
3. Do not teach English. Find a job where you have to speak Chinese.
Doing all three of those things is nearly impossible for a foreigner who does not already have a decent grasp on the language. Not saying it's impossible, but it certainly isn't an easy thing to do.
I'd love to hear from those who have already checked off all 3 of the above!
That is true about Chinese (and Korean and Japanese) learners I agree - this is usually put down to two (probably related) things: 1. the education system which focuses on other things, probably constrained at least in China by large class sizes, and 2. a cultural reluctance to expose yourself in front of others, losing face if you get it wrong. But in the West (I was mainly referring to my own experience in Australia but also learning Chinese in China) there is more opportunity (eg. smaller class sizes) and a different educational philosophy, which means that students are spending at least as much time class time practising speaking as reading, writing etc. When I said 'require' I guess I was talking about assessments - we were required to stand up and either give a monologue or have a discussion with fellow students on a particular topic.
Maybe context is a significant factor - living in China I often come across foreigners who speak pretty well but have not attempted to develop reading and writing. Some assert that they are not interested in either reading or writing.
I'm not denying it is a problem, I guess I was just surprised that dragonbrothers posted that he has high level functionality in everything but speaking - 'cannot speak'. Maybe my surprise was heightened because for me listening is more of a problem than speaking (but of course you need listening for speaking.)
I agree with his/her comments below that everyone is different. Interesting for me that zhenlijiang says she cannot speak although her listening is good. (Made me think about my Japanese classmates in Hangzhou - listening, writing, reading, way ahead of mine, but a reluctance to speak in class.) He/she also says that they are being modest .. :)
我听力不好啊。 I'm only doing transcripts through much re-playing, trial and error. My writing is very limited but it's more functional than my speaking. Reading is obviously easiest for all kinds of reasons, not meaning I'm at a high level there either. 又不谦虚。
If I were in a class of foreign learners in China I wouldn't be reluctant to speak; I'd hate to waste the opportunity to practice in such a (the only) "safe" environment. That's me though. I do tend to try to hog the teacher's attention in class.
' I do tend to try to hog the teacher's attention in class'
:） I understand completely. But my classmates were not like you, except their reading was much much better than mine.
BTW I admire your efforts with the transcripts here; it must be satisfying. I don't have the desire, or energy. I am so used to communicating without 100% comprehension. When it gets below 20% I am in deep trouble. My aim is to just (very) gradually pick up natural expressions. I try to replay sometimes but this can lead to amusing mis-understandings; sometimes the person I am speaking to does not comprehend that I don't understand, so I have to go through a long explanation about why I am replaying. Then in most cases they can't remember exactly what they said that I want replayed. You can only do this effectively with people you know. Strangers are really not that interested in my Chinese learning experience. Teachers need to be compensated to listen to my blabbering, which is entirely reasonable. :) A good teacher knows how much to interrupt, how much to correct.
Also, and this is a tangent, none of my Japanese (and Korean) class mates in HZ spoke English. Any! It was only after we graduated and left the country, then communicated with a couple by email that I learnt that they could read and write English to some extent. Ok, there was one exception, a middle aged Korean guy who was quite extroverted; he wrote me text messages in English while we were classmates.
The reason I am surprised is that in Australia I come across lots of Koreans and Japanese and of course they can speak English.
Hey everybody! I'm really liking the turnout for this discussion. I will be going to Seattle with my girlfriend in about a week (yes she speaks english, and yes that's all she wants to speak with me) haha. Quick question, can anyone help me with putting ChinesePodcasts into iTunes? Many thanks.
Go to Home, find the cog in the top right hand corner. Open and see Subscriptions. Select and copy the feed address below. Open iTunes. In the menu bar, find "Advanced » Subscribe to Podcast". In the space provided, paste in your feed address. Click "OK".
I'm jealous of the opportunities you have to hear and speak, to communicate, every day Bodawei. It always sounds like you have so much fun at it, though I didn't realize at times it could be going on at about 25% comprehension!
Yes I find transcribing satisfying in the end if tedious too at times. One thing it certainly doesn't involve is communication on my part.
Maybe your Japanese and Korean classmates in HZ were just desperate for a break from sweating in a foreign language. After all English would be a respite for you but it wouldn't be for them. All Japanese (kids in the Japanese school system that is) have to take six years of English before graduating high school--and now they've started earlier so it's even more years--though it's mostly taught very badly. I would expect most Japanese who would go to study Chinese in China to have at least basic ability to communicate in their school-learned English. The ones who go to Australia for extended stays would be keen to use it, would be the ones for whom the school teaching has managed not to turn them off English for life.
Hi Calkins, as far as your list goes:
1. Check, moved to China last year, plus had short stints in Taiwan and Mainland China in the 1980's.
2. Check, wife is Chinese and communicate exclusively using Chinese.
3. Semi-Check, my current job requires a lot of spoken Chinese, but my written Chinese is not nearly high-level enough for business level. Also, my main value to the business is my U.S. contacts which, naturally, require English. Also, during a lean period, I confess to teaching English for food... Hmmm, maybe quarter-check
Anyway, I think that your list is basically valid. However, you might consider adding a fourth item: Don't just hang with Expats and English-speaking Chinese. Make friends with non-English speakers.
acattMay 28, 2011, 12:20 PM
darkstar94May 29, 2011, 12:10 AM
Not speaking from personal experience, but it seems like that if you just keeps on speaking to people, you get more comfortable and your brain gets used to that type of thinking. I guess the best way to do this is immerse yourself like Zhen Lijiang said before, I guess that option isn't available to everything though I suppose.
If your listening is fine, then try to observe the ways that native speakers sound natural, pick up patterns and things from them in order for you to gain that fluency.
Do you speak Chinese to most Chinese people you know?