Role-playing!! The Crazy Way to Practice Speaking Chinese

Do you ever blank out when you speak with a native Chinese speaker? Don’t have opportunities to engage in real conversations to get over that? Or, you just want to practice speaking Chinese however you can? Try role-playing.

I’ve seen a Chinese friend of mine blanking out numerous times when she tries to converse in English with English speakers. Even if she could understand a sentence offline, she would have trouble understanding it when the sentence is said to her, or have trouble speaking the sentence in a real conversation.

I think that’s a pretty common experience for beginners or even intermediate level language learners. It takes a lot of practice to get over it, but it’s not like we all have native speakers to patiently practice with all the time.

Now, let me suggest a method that could help solve this problem: Role-playing in Chinese.

To begin with, try something with a script.

Role-playing is usually done with a partner (I bet you’ve done this if you attended in-person Chinese classes), but you can do it by yourself too. You just need to be a bit crazy.

The more you pretend as if you were actually engaged in a conversation, the more effective this method would be.

There is only a fine line between genius and insanity!

Step 1. Select a Chinese conversation

Peppa Pig is full of natural dialogues so you can start with Peppa Pig! I reviewed the episodes I’ve written about and here are a few segments that you can experiment with:

  • S01E04 Part 1: Conversation between Granny Pig and Peppa about their new pet
  • S01E46 Part 6: Mummy Pig discussing with Peppa and George what they’ve forgotten at the beach
  • S01E07 Part 3: First half is about who should fix the computer.
  • S01E46 Part 4: The second half is some back-and-forth between Peppa and Daddy Pig about a hat

Otherwise, pick another Chinese show or conversation to try this out, as long as you have the audio recording.

Step 2. Pick a role you want to play

Depending on the conversation, there may be one, two, or more participants in the original script. If you have a partner (or more) to practice with, you can each pick a role. Make sure you swap roles so that you get to practice on both sides of the conversation. You can observe each other and learn from each other.

Otherwise, you can pick a role for yourself, and you can practice multiple roles over a few rounds of role-playing.

For example, I am going to pretend to be Peppa in S01E46 Part 6.

Step 3. Pretend you’re in a Chinese conversation

If you have a partner to practice with, this is straightforward. You just read out, or better, recite the transcript and pretend as much as you can that you’re engaging in a real conversation. It’s like your grade school drama class.

I know, I know, it’s not the same as a real conversation where you have to come up what you have to say, as I am suggesting here that you follow some script.

However, since you’re practicing as if you’re in a conversation, you still get to experience the natural back-and-forth flow in conversations. This is good preparation for you to become successful in a real conversation, and perhaps it’s more interesting than straight-up repeats.

If you don’t have a partner, and you’re trying to practice speaking Chinese alone, you can try this out with a video / audio clip that you’re familiar with.

  • Pause the video clip before a sentence is said by the character you are pretending to be.
  • Say the sentence and record yourself saying it
  • Immediately after, continue to play the video/audio, you will hear the native speaker’s speech in the show. (You can use this recording to improve your pronunciation as well!)

In this exercise, you’re not repeating after, but you’re speaking Chinese in sentences in a conversation (pretend it’s real!). Ideally, this can be done after you’ve done the regular repeat-after exercises.

I recorded a short demo as Peppa in S01E46 Part 6.

You may think this is overkill but I do think changing things up while doing speaking exercises is important and can keep it interesting. Try it out!

I am a fan of practicing speaking alone because it forces you to focus more on yourself and be accountable. Learning a language isn’t a teacher’s job, it’s yours!

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