How To Improve My Chinese Speaking Ability Using FluentFlix

For me, my Chinese listening, reading, and writing ability is much more better than my speaking ability. One big reason for that is that I have not unconsciously retained/practiced these sentence patterns through everyday conversation.

FluentFlix, which uses YouTube videos to improve Chinese vocabulary through English, Chinese subtitles encoded at the bottom of each video, has an automated transcript for each video, with English, Chinese characters, and pinyin, broken down by each line.

I thought: why not try to memorize these lines like an actor does? And repeat, and be an actor, and speak as smoothly as the people do in TV?

I thought about this idea because other language learners such as Luca, HackingChinese ,or Steve Kauffman have stated one should do something memorable that allows you to retain vocabulary/sentence structure, such as singing, learning words/sentence structure through memorable/repeated contexts. A memorable event is something somebody is likely to remember (i.e. your first crush, or when I learned words such as 认真,耐心,I thought of how my parents said those words in Cantonese when I was studying ), which is why I’ve never used Anki/flash cards. The process to me, does not work out because I don’t like the process of making flash cards. It’s too much effort, more than I need.

Here are my steps that I’m attempting. I will adjust as I go, as this is just a trial session for me.

Think of this as a detailed, step-to-step how to study post, because there aren’t that many posts available on how to study, but more posts on key themes that makes studying successful. This is especially true for FluentFlix, as it just came out last summer, yet nobody has really discussed on how to study with FluentFlix. 

How to improve your speaking abilities in Chinese using FluentFlix:

1) Choose a video and print out the transcript, with all the pinyin, English and Chinese subtitles in the transcript.  

I choose more conversational topics (nothing too extremely technical; i.e. news), or videos that allow me to use sentence patterns that I am weak at with vocabulary that I use everyday. Of course, this depends on your level.

For me, I want to be able to use the words and sentences comfortably, as language is not a means of study, but a means of communication. For example, I’d like to be able to discuss my opinions of a movie, be able to tell directions, ask questions about a person’s emotions/feelings/opinions of an event.  My listening is comfortable enough to understand by context what’s going on, but I would struggle with responding back.

2) Spend at most a week (depending on the length of the video) memorizing at most one script until you feel comfortable with the script. Expand on more scripts within a time frame as you get comfortable with the material.

Here are some phases within this area. I’m borrowing some acting/line techniques when I used to do acting in college:

  1. Memorize all the lines first, regardless of pace, or emotion. Don’t focus on emotions, as you want to get the basic structure down. Do it page by page first, and after finishing each page, start from the beginning and recite each line without looking at the script.
  2. Start adding the emotion in the lines by reviewing the video on the computer. Look at the scene in the video, or look at how the speakers use each sentence. This allows you to make each line memorable. Use hand gestures, walk around, speak loudly, etc. Note, I’m doing this by yourself, but if you have a willing friend to practice with, it makes it even more exciting. See how the sentence is portrayed in the video to input a image in your head.
  3. After looking at the computer, see if you can recite the same lines with the same emotions. Try to see if you can go at their pace. Keep repeating until you can reach their same intensity and speed.
  4. Simultaneously, review English translation with Chinese grammar and note any differences in grammar. Even if you know what the sentence means, it’s really important to practice being able to switch from English to Chinese, and vice versa, as you want to train your mind to be able to think in Chinese as quickly as possible. Circle phrases that you would consider using everyday, and repeat them for extra emphasis. 
  5. Find places where you can replace certain nouns/verbs/adjectives! This is important in retaining sentence patterns in your day to day spoken vocabulary.  Review the English translation if needed to note any difference between English and Chinese sentence structures to reduce 
  6. Continue memorizing until it’s natural. Spend at most one-two days focusing on just acting the entire piece out. Think of this as a performance in front of an audience.

Here you go. I must note that this is a work-out for your brain, for your mouth, in oral speaking. I discovered this method after realizing that my studying schedule didn’t seem that efficient (i.e. more input, reading, writing/typing on the computer than output; i.e. an imbalance).

I still believe input is important, as it is a good way of learning vocabulary, increasing comfort with understanding how words / sentence patterns are used in different situations, and helps you have a repository of different topics to talk about. One shouldn’t throw away input.

However, I believe it’s necessary to evaluate how efficiently you are using your time, and whether you have a good balance of input and output. For example, if you can understand a conversation about people’s opinions of a movie or a particular event, but you cannot discuss it yourself, you have dedicated too much time to input.

Again, this takes daily/weekly practice.  Like learning how to play an instrument,  you have to train your brain to be comfortable and proficient enough to use these sentence structures. For example, the phrase “千万不要让他把别的同学带坏“ (Don’t let him be a bad influence to other students) takes a lot of time for me to say naturally in Chinese, but being able to practice saying this sentence multiple times, replacing/readjusting the sentence’s nouns, verbs, adjectives as you practice the words, allows you to comfortably practice verbal output. It takes time to be good at output.

Thus, this strategy is one strategy I will be experiment to use my time effectively. This is key: Spread it out throughout time (a week is good), and do another script once you feel comfortable with the current script.  Don’t rush it; quality over quantity. 

Feel free to modify these steps as needed to adjust your needs and schedules. This is nothing set, as I’m trying to adjust these steps as I go on.

So, who wants to try this method? I’m going to post a progress report a week later to adjust if needed.

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