For Mandarin Chinese Newbies: What is More Important: Speaking or Listening?

By Sujanti Djuanda – LingoLearn Chinese Teacher

One newbie Mandarin Chinese student asked me, “What is more important: Speaking or Listening?” He has been taking Mandarin Chinese lessons about seven weeks and still has about three months for lessons before going to job training in China.

As we know, for having a good communication, listening and speaking have the same importance level. However, if you are forced to choose one of them because you are still in newbie level and have to go to China, I will say, your speaking level should be better than your listening one. Why?

If you can listen but cannot speak Mandarin Chinese, the conversation could be ended after the speaker said something. Because though you understand what he/she said but you cannot express your thought, you can just use the sign language, such as “nod your head” means “you are agree”, “shook your head” means  “you are disagree”, “you shrug your shoulder” means “you don’t know”, and so on. Or, if you can say some short Mandarin Chinese words, you just can say, Yes (是的(shì​de)), No (不(bù)), I don’t have (没有(méi​yǒu)), or Not 不是(bù​shì).

Otherwise, if you have spent time to memorize amount of frequently used vocabulary and understood the basic grammar then you can speak many daily commonly used sentences. If you don’t understand what Chinese people said, you can ask him/her, for examples:

1. Excuse me, what are you saying?


2. I don’t understand what you said.

我(wǒ)不(bù)懂(dǒng) 你(nǐ)说(shuō)什么(shénme)。

3. I don’t understand what you mean.


4. Do you mean …?


5. Please say it again.


6. I didn’t hear clearly


7. Can you speak a bit slower?


8. I can speak a little Mandarin Chinese.


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