Speak Chinese: Step by Step

Today we’re going to take three tiny but important steps to rapidly improving your spoken Chinese.

Here’s a video to go along with the ideas in the article:

All three of these steps are totally free and will form the foundation of a great speaking practice habit.

These three steps are:

Step 1: Commit to Speaking from Day 1

Step 2: Download HelloTalk

Step 3 : Set up an iTalki account

Each of these steps takes less than 2 minutes to complete. Just by completing these three small actions today you’ll have set yourself up for success in your spoken Chinese studies.

Let’s look at all three and flesh out your action plan.

Step 1: Commit to Speaking from Day 1

“Speaking from Day 1” is a concept I’m cribbing from Benny Lewis, the Irish Polyglot.

One of Benny’s critically important messages for language learners is to get away from your textbooks ASAP and start speaking to native speakers.

In fact it’s only when you start talking to native language speaker that you can really start to learn the language. Everything else is either a waste of time or at the very best vastly inefficient compared to talking with native speakers.

Following this logic the best time to start speaking Chinese with native speakers is… Day 1!

And if you have been studying and haven’t yet started speaking with Chinese native speakers then the best day to start speaking to them is… today! Not tomorrow, not some time next week and certainly not “after I’ve studied more Chinese”. The best time is right now.

It’s only by making mistakes and receiving correction and feedback that you can ever hope to improve. This is in fact the definition of learning –  learning is really a process of getting stuff wrong, receiving a correction and doing better next time.

So right now I want you to commit to the idea of speaking to native speakers.

If you want to get over the blocks and fear you might feel when thinking about this then Benny Lewis has a free email based course that is worth your time.

It’s a series of daily emails to bust through the fear and get you talking, no matter your level. You can get the free email course here.

I bet you feel resistance to the idea of speaking with a Chinese person in Chinese today. In your head it’ll be rationalized as “I’m not ready” or “I need to study more” or “I won’t be understood”.

These are ways of your brain rationalizing the fear of trying something new, something that will be difficult. But talking with Chinese people in Chinese is the only way you are ever going to learn Chinese. The sooner you get over the resistance and starting the talking the faster you will reach your language goals.

Action #1

So your action point right now is to make the simple decision: “I will speak Chinese today”.

If you aren’t ready for this (you are, you just don’t know it yet) then your action point today is to sign up to get the free email course mentioned above.

That course will bust straight through your resistance and get you to a place of confidence where you can declare that “I will speak Chinese today”. Then and only then should you move to Step 2.

Step 2: Download HelloTalk

Now that you’ve made the decision that you will speak Chinese today you need someone to speak to!

If you have Chinese friends or family around you good job! Start talking to them in Chinese today.

If you don’t (or even if you do!) grab your phone and download HelloTalk.

You can download the app and set up a free account in a few minutes and have at your fingertips thousands if not tens of thousands of Chinese speakers looking for language exchange.

To learn more about the functionality and best practices for HelloTalk check this review/guide over on I Will Teach You a Language.

Once you are set up with the app, start speaking! And no cheating here – remember we’ve pledged that we will be speaking; not typing which is much easier!

In the bottom right of the chat screen there’s a small icon of a microphone. Tap that to bring up the recording interface. Tap record, speak Chinese, tap send and that’s it – you’ve successfully spoken in Chinese to a Chinese native. Job done!

The time from reading this article to successfully sending a voice message to a Chinese native can be done in less than 5 minutes.

Do it now. 5 minutes from now you would have achieved your goal of speaking Chinese today.

Technology has made it possible to talk to people anywhere in the world instantly so the excuse of “oh, well there are no Chinese speakers in my area” is no longer allowed!

Action #2

So your action point is to download HelloTalk on your phone, set up an account and send your first message.

Step 3: Set up an iTalki account

HelloTalk is amazing for short informal chats you can fit in during your normal life. But you’ll also need to practice speaking for more extended period of time. This is where the wonderful iTalki comes in.

iTalki is similar to HelloTalk in that it gives you access to thousands of native Chinese speakers who want to talk to you.

It’s different to HelloTalk in because the normal way of communicating is via a Skype call. This means the interaction is longer than simple voice messages sent back and forth on HelloTalk.

This extended interaction is a better way to practice your spoken Chinese because in most cases you’ll be using Chinese in extended conversations rather than 30 second bursts. Always make sure your practice matches your language goals!

iTalki is totally free to use for finding conversation exchange partners and very cheap for finding professional teachers ($5-10/hour).

Once you’ve set up an account and a profile the friend and language exchange requests will come flooding in – just take some time to go through them and arrange some times to talk. These extended Skype sessions with language exchange partners are the fastest way to get practicing immediately and reach communicative fluency.

Action #3

Your action point right now is simply to head over to to set up an account.


If you are serious about learning spoken Chinese these are the three single most effective steps you can take today.

Each will take less than 5 minutes and all are totally free.

Therefore the excuses of “not enough time!” and “not enough money!” no longer work.

Taking these three steps will put you on the path to Chinese spoken fluency. So, what are you waiting for?

Action #1 : Decide that you will Speak Chinese today. If you keep making excuses get the free email course mentioned above and break the resistance.

Action #2: Download HelloTalk on your phone.

Action #3: Head over to to set up an account.



  • Dawnnnnn2

    this is a perfect way to help, I wish I had it when I was so new all about these. fortunately, I am OK with speaking as I have been talking since the first day. More, I have been listening Chinese as a reply to my speaking but still I have problems with listening. I ask a question and don’t understand the reply. I don’t understand what is missing. vocabulary? lack of learning tones or hearing words? even the way they speak slowly I rarely get them. Whenever a Chinese talks the first thing I am trying to get is tones. Is that wrong? shouldn’t I follow the tones while listening? thanks for help

    • Kyle Balmer

      Speaking from the first day is awesome – that will put you ahead of those who spend the first few months just working from textbooks or in group classes. So you’ve already made the biggest and most effective step you can make!

      For listening it’s really a combination of the problems you mention. The trick with listening is to be able to understand the vocabulary being used at a fast speed. Really it is about exposure – hearing things, not understanding them at first but then slowly getting used to what you are hearing.

      Because you are already speaking what has probably happened is that you’ve been listening to native speed Chinese from an early stage. It might be helpful to reinforce this listening with some slower/less “native” listening from Pimsleur or Michel Thomas audio courses to help “tune your ear”. Alternatively Chinesepod/FluentU would be good ways to tune your ear in – just using their beginner’s content.

      These materials are a bit slower and use less vocabulary so are a good way to start building up your listening skills. But don’t stop speaking! Just try to integrate what you are hearing in your listening work with your speaking – try saying what you’ve learned from Pimsleur/Chinesepod/whatever in your speaking and see if you get back similar responses to what the audio programs give you. Sometimes you will, sometimes you won’t….but that’s OK – the more exposure, the more you’ll be able to make links and start to capture the meaning.

      • Dawnnnnn2

        thank you so much for resources and helping me ! I think I will keep on Chinesepod and FluentU . Now I can understand my two Chinese classmates! I can talk to them with having longer conversations, thanks a lot!

        • sensiblechinese

          I was thinking a bit more about your question. I’ve gone ahead and put together a blog article with some more suggestions. It’s here:

          Hope that also helps! If you are using Chinesepod and FluentU already though you can’t go wrong. Those are very valuable resources.