I'm struggling with improving speaking right now, which is far inferior to my reading and writing skills. The language is Mandarin Chinese and I live in China and attend language school.

But the biggest problem for me is that there is little or no opportunity to speak the language, even if I live in the country where the language is spoken. I speak the language only a few minutes in a day.

So I need the opportunity to speak the language but since I don't have the enough opportunity, I have no choice but to speak to myself, which some actually recommend. But I feel it is very awkward at least, and people around me start to think I'm a retard at most. I feel embarassed as well, and rather want to speak just in my brain (i.e. don't issue any word, just like daydreaming).

But I wonder if it is as effective as when I issue the words and sentences. Actually I'm dubious of the effectiveness of speaking to yourself; at least I'm sure the effectiveness is not even close to when you talk with others in person. But the base of the question is for those who have no such opportunity to speak with someone, so I would like to ask it in the context of speaking to yourself.

2 Answers 2


Speaking in your head is better than nothing, but speaking out loud is better. The reason speaking out loud is better is because you train your mouth to make the sounds of the new language. Your mouth needs a LOT of training if you want to develop a good accent and acquire a normal speaking speed.

You can certainly develop your speaking skills by yourself. A good method is called "shadowing" and is explained in great depth in this video.

Another technique is called "narration", which involves narrating everything to yourself as you go about living your life. For example, if you are cooking yourself dinner, then you can talk aloud in Mandarin and describe everything you're doing. You can do this is any context as long as you aren't too embarrassed (which is something you simply need to get over).

As a side note, since you live in the country you really should do everything possible to speak to the natives. You'll feel silly in the future for squandering such a good opportunity. I can say this because I did this exact thing. What a mistake I made!


Developing physical skills
Mastering foreign language is not only a mental, but also a physical skill - producing correct sounds and chaining them in understandable words requires exercising - just like learning to ride a bike or swimming (theoretical preparation is not enough). It is not uncommon to have a high level passive knowledge of a language, but not being unable to form a complete sentence outloud.

Developing reflexes
Learning to drive is another good analogy for learning a foreign language: it includes both theoretical preparation and actually learning to drive, which usually takes place after having passed the theoretical part. In other words, although already having theoretical knowledge, one needs to convert it in skills, so that one can use it without thinking, as a reflex.

Motor learning / muscle memory
Engaging motor skills in memorizing things or developing reflexes often helps to many people, since it engages different parts of the brain.

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