Speechling has quickly become one of my favorite and most used resources for studying Chinese.
One area of learning Chinese that I’ve always felt disappointed by the resources available was for speaking practice. Mimicking native speakers is one of the best ways to improve your pronunciation and speaking fluidity regardless of the language you’re learning.
But, the act of mimicking isn’t as simple as it sounds.
First, and most importantly, you need to make sure your pronunciation is correct. There are several good resources to learn Chinese pronunciation.
Second, you need to find lots of material suitable for your level and you’ll need to mimic it repeatedly. Repeating one time will rarely be enough.
Third, you should at least occasionally record yourself speaking so that you can compare it to the original recording. This is a helpful way of hearing the difference between what you say and what you intend to say. But, as you’re still not proficient in the language, it’s hard to catch all of your mistakes.
Finally, you should try to get feedback on your recordings. This will help you find mistakes you weren’t even aware you were making. Sure, you could send these to a tutor but let’s be honest, few people will actually do that.
Speechling is an app and website that makes all of these steps (and much more) incredibly easy to do.
First, you select the language you’re studying and the language you’d like to see translations in. So far, they have Chinese (Simplified and Traditional), English, Spanish, and French. You can switch languages at any time. I love this as it lets me study Chinese by using my second language, Spanish. I can also practice my Spanish skills by changing the target language.
You’ll choose whether you want to mimic a male or female speaker. I can’t think of any other resource that lets you choose the sex of the speaker. This is important. I’ve found the majority of teachers and learning materials for Chinese are recorded by females. As a guy, I’d obviously prefer to avoid developing a feminine speaking style.
Then you’ll choose your module.
You can follow their curriculum which is separated into three parts: Beginner (A1), Intermediate (A2), and Advanced (B1-B2).
Alternatively, you can get sentences from their phrasebook which is separated by category. There are several of these including health, restaurants, weather, asking for help and more.
Last, and most difficult, you can record yourself answering a question or describing an image. This is a great way to improve not just your pronunciation but word choice and sentence structure as well.
The free version of Speechling is fantastic.
First, you’ll hear a sentence recorded by a native Mandarin speaker. Then, you’ll record yourself saying the same sentence. After your recording, the original recording will automatically play. I love this. It makes mimicking sentences an effortless process.
Previously, I’d used Glossika quite a bit as a way to get more speaking practice. I’d been a little frustrated because although Glossika was really helpful, I felt like it was overpriced and outdated.
Even though I have some Glossika materials I haven’t yet finished, I don’t see myself ever going back to complete it. I think the free version of Speechling is much better.
Even though I’ve known how helpful mimicking and recording my own speech can be, I found it to be too much of a hassle to do often. But with Speechling, this is much easier. Hearing your voice sandwiched between a native speaker’s recordings is extremely helpful in spotting your mistakes. Usually, I’ll practice a sentence several times trying to get my voice as close to the recording as possible.
Another cool extra feature is the dictation exercises. This reminds me of some of the exercises in ChinesePod’s Premium subscription package. This is a great way to improve your listening skills as well as typing characters.
You’ll listen to a sentence and then type in what you hear. Afterwards, you can check your answer and see where you made any mistakes. You can also mark a sentence to review later.
I wouldn’t consider this to be the main part of Speechling, but even this is significantly better than nearly every Chinese learning resource I’ve come across.
The Unlimited Plan costs $19.99 per month, though you can save 10% by using the promo code “ALR123”.
The main benefit of the Unlimited Plan is getting feedback on your pronunciation. With this plan, you can submit as many recordings as you’d like and get feedback on it from a native speaker within 24 hours.
Your recordings will be color coded to show if it’s correct or will need some work. If it needs work, you’ll receive a voice recording highlighting your mistake. The instructor will record themselves saying the part where you made an error and then the sentence as a whole.
This is extremely helpful because often times you won’t know where your mistakes are without getting feedback from someone. While you could find a tutor on italki for pronunciation feedback, Speechling will be more efficient and cost-effective. I’d rather use a tutor for conversation practice or to practice things that constantly give me trouble.
Reviewing your feedback is really easy to do as well. You can read the sentence, listen to the original recording, your own recording, and the teacher’s feedback. You can re-record the parts that you need more practice with and have them resubmitted for feedback. You can also share a link to your recording with a tutor if you’d like.
For subscribers, you’ll also have all your recordings saved in your Audio Journal. I imagine it’d be pretty interesting to use Speechling for a year and come back to look at the progress you’ve made from your first recordings.
You can get a 7-day free trial to the Unlimited Plan. This is cool. For motivated students, you could submit a lot of recordings in this short time period.
I love Speechling. It’s really new and I would be surprised if it didn’t become one of the most used and recommended tools for learning a language. However, there are a couple of small complaints that I have.
The first one will affect very few people – but I happen to be one of them. When I try to review my recordings and the audio feedback that was left, it can sometimes load very slowly (5+ seconds). This is because of some technical stuff I don’t really understand. But, it is only an issue for those that are both outside of North America and have a slow Internet connection. I’m in China and my Internet connection is terrible. Even with this issue, I’ve really enjoyed the unlimited plan.
The other problems I’ve seen are minor as well. There have been a couple small mistakes that I’ve come across. Some sentences were written slightly different than the recordings. For example, the text might say 什么时候 but the audio says 什么时间.
It’s not a big deal, just something I’ve seen a few times. You can report a mistake and I imagine eventually these errors will all get flagged and corrected. Speechling is still really new so there are bound to be some issues. But, the ones I’ve found are all small.
Something else worth mentioning is that they don’t show the pinyin for characters right away. You have to click a small button to see this. I don’t mind this, but the issue is that the pinyin is computer generated, so there are occasionally small mistakes. I haven’t actually used this function much. I use a pop-up dictionary browser extension (Zhongwen for Chrome, Perapera for Firefox, or Frill for Safari). I find this helpful as it not only shows the pinyin but also the definition of any unfamiliar characters I encounter.
Speechling is Awesome
I’m a huge fan of Speechling. The Unlimited Plan provides a ton of value for the cost. Learning proper pronunciation and improving the flow of your speech is one of the most important and most difficult aspects of learning Chinese. Getting feedback is something that everyone will eventually need. The Unlimited Plan is the most effective and affordable option I’ve come across to solve this problem.
Even if you aren’t willing to spend any money, I’d recommend using Speechling. The Forever Free version is better than other popular and expensive products. It makes it very easy to improve your speaking and listening skills.