Learning to speak Chinese can be challenging for native English speakers. The grammar and vocabulary pose obstacles, to say nothing of the unusual sounds and the semantic tones.
The problems posed by the new grammar and vocabulary are more or less the same as those posed by learning any foreign language, so I’ll leave them aside for this post. But if you want to learn to speak Chinese, the unfamiliar sounds that exist in Chinese that don’t exist in spoken English, and the semantic tones that distinguish one word from another will be the most critical and difficult challenges.
One way to learn the new sounds is to practice assiduously, to enunciate them over and over, and to listen to them repeatedly until you can differentiate them. You can practice, for instance, the essential tight ü sound, over and over, with words like lǜ (green). And you can repeatedly practice speaking and hearing the differences between mā (mother) and mǎ (horse).
Practice is crucial to climbing the mountain towards competency and, eventually, fluency. But with only practice, you won’t get there. (more…)