My Chinese tutor is always telling me I “need to loosen [my] tongue.” She says that I can learn to read and write, and even listen to Chinese without learning to speak it, if I don’t loosen my tongue. So we are always looking for sentences or subjects that can be used a lot so that I can practice saying them frequently. One good category of sentences for this are sentences that can be used during lessons.
For instance, she is not going to let me get away with asking certain things in English anymore. If I want to know how to say something, I have to ask
(wo3) (zen3 me.) (shuo1) (zhe4) (ju4) (hua4)
(I) (how) (speak) (this) (sentence) (speak)
How do I say this sentence?
If I slip into English, she will probably say something like
(bu4) (ke3 yi3) (lan3 duo4)
(not) (can, may) (lazy)
Don’t be lazy.
In the past, I have frequently used the phrase
(zai4) (yi1 ci4)
(again) (one time)
(Say it) one more time.
as well as this admission
(wo3) (bu4) (zhi1 dao4)
(I) (not) (know)
I don’t know.
And, occasionally, I actually get to say
(wo3) (dong4) (le.)
(I) (understand) (sound indicating completed action)
And I know that these three phrases roll off of my tongue so well that I have had Chinese speaking people start rattling off in Chinese to me when I say them. So that is encouragement that sheer repetition works wonders.
Now my tutor has also decided that she wants to be able to regularly talk to me about the weather. Her excuse is that everyone talks about the weather. I need to be able to answer with variations! When she says
(jin1 tian1) (tian1 qi4) (zen3 me.) (yang4)
(today) (sky air, meaning weather) (how or what) (like)
What is the weather like today?
I must answer with something like
(jin1 tian1) (tian1 qi4) (bu2) (cuo4)
(today) (weather) (not) (wrong, mistake, untidy)
Today’s weather isn’t bad.
or it might be a day to particularly say
(jin1 tian1) (shi4) (yin1 tian1)
(today) (is) (cloudy day)
It is cloudy today.
Before I know it, she has tricked me into saying things like
(jin1 tian1) (tian1 qi4) (hen3 hao3) (yong4 lai2) (pao3 bu4)
(today) (weather) (very good) (to be used for) (run)
Today’s weather is good for running.
Which usually prompts her to say more detailed comments about the forecast
(xian4 zia4) (gua1 feng1), (xia4 wu3) (ke3 neng2) (hui4) (xia4 yu3)
(now) (be windy), (afternoon) (possibly, maybe) (will) (rain)
It is windy now. It might rain this afternoon.
(jin1 tian1) (tian1 qi4) (yin1 yin1 de.), (wan3 yi1 dian3) (ke3 neng2) (hui4) (xia4 yu3)
(today) (weather) (dark cloudy grey), (later a bit) (maybe) (rain)
Today the weather is dark and cloudy, (so) a little later it might rain.
In the end, she will give me some homework and finish by saying
(wo3) (xiang3) (zhe4) (shi4) (hao3 de.) (yi4 jian4)
(I) (think) (this) (is) (good) (idea)
I think this is a good idea.
But under the guise of teaching me more vocabulary and how to play the adding words game using the same basic sentence structure she will suggest
(ru2 guo3) (ni3) (xiang3) (zhe4) (shi4) (hao3 de.) (yi4 jian4), (wo3 men.) (jiu4) (zhe4 yang4) (zuo4) (ba1)
(if) (you) (think) (this) (is) (good) (idea), (we) (precisely) (this like) (act) (sound meaning the sentence is being said as a suggestion)
If you think this is a good idea, we will do it like that.
She tells me that in speaking out loud, the most important thing is to have the tones of the words correct. Without the correct tones, it is unintelligible or worse. I know from listening to Chinese speakers in Taiwan, the ending consonants of words often slide away during speech, so context and tones are what there is left to go by. I can think of it as a single syllable actually being micro sliceed into nano syllables, over the vowel of the word. The vowels, in a sense, must all be sung sliding through all the right notes, in order and somewhat quickly, for the word to mean what I want it to mean. And I must conclude
(wo3 de.) (sheng1 yin1) (han4) (she2 tou2) (yong4 lai2) (shuo1) (zhong1 wen2) .
(my) (voice) (and) (tongue) (useful) (speak) (Chinese)
my voice and my tongue are useful for speaking Chinese.
Here is an audio of the Chinese phrases and sentences in this post, as read by my tutor: