Freezing up in casual conversations in Chinese

March 31, 2013, 03:52 PM posted in General Discussion

Hey all,


I have this problem it seems, though I've been studying and living in China for over 2 1/2 years and have made a lot of noticeable progress through regular study and interaction with people here, I still find myself freezing up in casual conversation. Basically my mind goes blank sometimes in casual conversation and I just can't think of anything to say or what comes out is a little awkward.

I don't know if anyone has this problem or any suggestions about it. It can be frustrating because I am making great progress (I spoke little to no Chinese when I came and now I listen and practice mainly upper intermediate lessons and dialogues). I do make an effort to talk and make conversation but I just can't seem to get comfortable in casual conversation.

Profile picture
April 01, 2013, 12:22 AM

Join the club.  I am hoping that more practicing writing and speaking are going to do the trick. I'm undertaken learning how to read Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone in Chinese.  The theory is that the constant review, translation and learning of new Chinese characters and Chinese sentence patterns will force me to improve overall Chinese understanding.  Then, because I have to interact with Chinese people everyday, the spoken (apparently effortless) Chinese that the foreigners around me are speaking will be in my grasp. 



Profile picture
April 01, 2013, 12:55 AM

A few thoughts:

1. This may seem obvious, but I think the best way to learn conversation is by having conversations.  You may want to ask yourself, "am I regularly meeting new people?  Do I meet often with people with whom I have common interests?  Do I have a relaxed and unhurried environment in which to have conversations?"  If not you may want to look around for some clubs or social groups to join.   Churches, sports or outdoor activity groups, hobbyist groups are a few things that come to mind.

2. Have a glass of wine.  This is a great way to relax and loosen up your thought process and your tongue, while getting away from the anxiety of "oh no, I don't know what to say" or "oh no, I know how to express something but I don't remember the formulaic way to do it that we learned in class today".  One big health warning: too many drinks and you may wake up the next morning remembering how brilliant, witty and fluent you were in Chinese, while everyone else remembers an obnoxious boor ;)

3.  Hold coversations with other learners who are at or near your level.  I think one of the biggest missed opportunities is among language learners who think they should only be learning from native speakers.  Your fellow learners will have many experiences of having to master the same things you are striving for, and lots of tips.  Also, if you are in a small group, odds are higher that someone else will know the word that another person is looking for, so nobody wastes time flipping through a dictionary.  Look for (or establish) a group intended to allow Chinese learners to practice conversation.

Good luck, and poddie on, Adam.



Profile picture

Great tips, (love number 2) I would also suggest; listening to full sentences (noting sentence intonation, words that are emphasised), repeat full sentences, record yourself doing this and compare.

For 10 minute investment a few times a week this is an amazingly effective way to boost speaking (both confidence and ability), in my experience.

Profile picture

i cant stand the sound of my voice in english, I don't think I could bare it anymore in Chinese but thanks for the suggestion. I do memorize and practice reciting sentences especially from the review portions of chinesepod lessons.

Profile picture

I have zero research to back this up, but I have heard that a single drink can enhance the perception of music, and that seems to have been my experience with listening to classical music. Whether it helps in listening to spoken Chinese I don't know.

I guess I have induced a lot of fear in Chinese people who see me coming and begin to tense up . . . I can just see them thinking "oh no! I am going to have to speak English". Sometimes I have to get several Chinese sentences out before they realize I am not speaking English. (I choose to blame their anxiety for failure to comprehend, (instead of my own bad pronunciation ; ) ! ))

Next up: drinking beer while watching television as the secret way to fluency.

Profile picture

"I have heard that a single drink can enhance the perception of music"

I have found that smoking a joint is the only way to appreciate Shostakovich.