A phenomenon that is usually associated with Chinese learners of English is that of becoming “mute English”, but is also a danger to learners of Chinese, too, is if speaking and pronunciation practice is overlooked.
Wikipedia describes this phenomenon as being…
…especially common in the People’s Republic of China, where people can read and understand English as a second language but cannot speak it well. Mute English occurs primarily due to the lack of native English speakers to emulate or practice with, particularly in a country as large as China.
What causes it
So why are learners of Chinese in danger of becoming “mute Chinese”? The reason is that a disproportionate amount of time is spent memorising individual characters, rather than learning how the words are used, and practicing how the words are pronounced. If this sounds familiar to you, then you might start to find that your comprehension of Chinese texts or recognition of characters is developing faster than your speaking and pronunciation ability. While it’s natural when learning a language for your speaking, reading or writing ability to be at different levels, though if you are finding that you are spending hours a day simply memorising characters instead of practicing other areas of Chinese then you are in danger of becoming mute Chinese.
How to avoid it
If you aren’t in a Chinese speaking country studying Chinese, or you don’t have the fortune of some Chinese speaking friends, then finding opportunities to practice speaking can be a bit of a problem.
The first thing you need to do is restructure you time to make sure that you are incorporating a more balanced set of study techniques in your routine. We always recommend recording yourself and then listening back to yourself speaking, this is an excellent way to improve your pronunciation, and you’ll be surprised at how quickly you will improve once you hear yourself making mistakes that you were previously unaware of.
Make sure you are checking back in to ChineseHacks a few times a week to our mini Chinese lessons that incorporate key vocabulary lists and, most importantly, real-world examples of how those words are used. Use the tip we mentioned above about recording yourself to read the news bites from the mini Chinese lessons aloud, and the listen back to yourself.
If you want more of a structured lesson with a teacher to talk to you could also book a lesson with one of our partner websites, ChineseTeachers. As you can make it a long way by yourself, but nothing beats the guidance of a teacher at regular intervals during the learning process.
The important thing is not to confuse learning Chinese with memorising characters, learning how to use and pronounce the characters/words will be more beneficial in the long run.
A post by Steve from Lingomi discusses why you should study less Chinese characters, Steve advocates focusing on pronunciation and not overlooking tone practice in favour of memorising characters.
How do you divide your time among the all of the areas of learning Chinese? Do you find yourself spending a disproportionate amount of time memorising words instead of practicing how to use and pronounce them?