Class in the forest

Our text adventure games, on the surface, are reading and listening activities. Yet, these same games can be easily transformed into speaking fluency exercises.

The games games have a default mode of practice, namely you read the game narrative, listen to the voice recordings, and look up words you don't know.

But this doesn't help you improve your speaking fluency. In fact, nothing that WordSwing currently offers directly helps you practice speaking. But that doesn't mean you can't turn the table and make your own speaking fluency practice out of our text adventure games.

Here's one such methodology:

  1. Play through a couple choices in the game, looking up any words you don't know in the built-in dictionary and listening to the audio.
  2. Stop when you have a comfortable amount of text on the screen, perhaps after 5-10 items of text have been added to the game conversation window.
  3. Go back and see if you can read through a line of text without looking up any words. If you can't, listen to the audio and try again. If you forgot what a word means, look it up again.
  4. Speak the line out loud. Pretend you are an oral storyteller. This will require you to speak it smoothly and in a compelling and engaging way. Speak it out loud at least three times. Each time, try and increase the fluency of your speech, but be sure not to sacrifice your tones too much.
  5. Continue to the next line when you're ready, and repeat this exercise for each line in the batch.

Upshots of this style of practice

Obviously there's a lot more to speech fluency than is embodied in this exercise. You need to have the vocabulary at your fingertips, be able to formulate your thoughts into sentences, and speak them out smoothly and clearly.

The value of this exercise lies in isolating just the last part: speaking smoothly and clearly. This allows you to ignore mastering a sufficiently large vocabulary to have a conversation; instead you just need to learn the words in the exercise sentences. And you don't need to know how to form error free sentences; you are provided with a good one to work with.

This leaves all of your attention at the disposal of practicing your speaking, freeing up brain power to focus on tones, and cadence, getting the sounds to flow smoothly off your lips.

Another major advantage is you can do this activity entirely privately. If you're not that comfortable having conversations with others in Chinese, you might not actually get that much speaking practice.

But why not just read aloud to oneself? Why go to all the effort to practice the same sentence many times?

The answer is simply that your progress would be too imperceptible. If you had some trouble pronouncing a certain phrase, say it had an awkward tone transition or phoneme combination, it might be a long time before you encounter that again. By then you might make the same mistake again or not improve. But by practicing the same sentence several times in a row, you can observe very clearly your improvement in speech fluency throughout the few repetitions.

You can identify problem spots and work to solve them. Very soon you will see the dividends of this deliberate practice on your unscripted speaking efforts. The gains from this entirely artificial exercise will carry over into natural speaking.

Let's give it a go

Now, I'll embarrass myself by trying to do this with the first two sentences in the game, Wandering Cat.

Here's the sentence:

你正在家中看书。你妈妈正在一边看手机,一边喝茶。这时,门铃响了。

nǐ zhèngzài jiā zhōng kàn shū. nǐ māma zhèngzài yībiān kàn shǒujī, yībiān hē chá. zhè shí, ménlíng xiǎng le.

And here's me embarrassing myself:

And here is the second sentence:

一定是你舅舅来了。我忘了跟你说了,他之前说过要来。

yīdìng shì nǐ jiùjiu lái le. wǒ wàng le gēn nǐ shuō le, tā zhīqián shuō guò yào lái.

Which I try here:

(keep in mind that yībiān is pronounced yìbiān with the appropriate tone sandhi change and yīdìng becomes yídìng)

Conclusion

By isolating just the task of speaking a sentence with fluency, you can make rapid gains for isolated sentences. But very quickly these fluency gains will begin overflowing into your everyday, unconstrained use of Chinese.

I'm sure you've noticed by now, that this activity is not particular to our text adventure games. All it requires is line-by-line audio. Many of our other activities like our comics and dialogs can also be repositories from which to mine practice sentences.

If you like this practice idea, you can even use WordSwing's study habits to try and make a routine of it.