1. Spice Up Your Vocabulary Through Chengyu (Four-character Expressions)
The first tip to raising your Chinese conversation level is to keep improving your vocabulary. Make sure you are learning words in categories that you plan to speak about in conversation. Dropping a few four-character Chinese expressions, or 成语 – chengyu, into your conversations will show your knowledge of Chinese culture and history.
Do not overuse them though, as you don’t want to come off as having just memorized fifty chengyu to impress others. Not every chengyu will be appropriate for conversation either, as some are more frequent than others.
Instead, subtly weave them into appropriate circumstances. Since chengyu usually reference a well-known story, you want to make sure you are using them in the correct scenario.
When learning chengyu, make sure you not only remember the chengyu itself, but that you also understand the story and context of how you can use it in a sentence. Knowing the background and sample sentences will make it far easier to memorize and incorporate into your daily conversation than simply repeating four characters together.
Below are just a few chengyu that you may find useful in your advanced Chinese conversation:
一丝不苟 yī sī bù gǒu:
The literal translation for this means “every thread is accounted for”, in other words, someone who is meticulous.
Example: 我做每件事都是一丝不苟. wǒ zuò měi jiàn shì dōu shì yī sī bù gǒu. (I am meticulous in every task I do.)
不可思议 bù kě sī yì:
The literal translation for this is “cannot be conceived,” and it means something that is unbelievable. You can use this to talk about anything from an action, event, or person.
Example: 他对我那么没礼貌, 真是不可思议! tā duì wǒ nà me méi lǐ mào, zhēn shì bù kě sī yì. (It is unimaginable how rude he was to me!)
2. Learn How to Use Different Words for the Same Meaning
This is true for any language, but the more you advance, the more vocab options you’ll have for expressing a single idea. You could probably get the same meaning across while sounding like an elementary school student and while using a more vivid way to describe the same thing.
You will want to be careful, because other times there will be small nuances, and different expressions may slightly alter the effect of the sentence.
Here is an example of this:
我的朋友很漂亮. wǒ de péng yǒu hěn piào liàng. (My friend is very beautiful.)
我的朋友漂亮极了. wǒ de péng yǒu piào liàng jí le. (My friend is extremely beautiful.)
我的朋友真漂亮! wǒ de péng yǒu zhēn piào liàng! (My friend is really beautiful!)
我的朋友太漂亮了! wǒ de péng yǒu tài piào liàng le! (My friend is too beautiful!)
我的朋友多漂亮啊! wǒ de péng yǒu duō piào liàng a! (My friend is so beautiful!)
我的朋友怎么这么漂亮! wǒ de péng yǒu zěn me zhè me piào liàng! (How is my friend this beautiful!)
As you can see, all the above sentences will translate to the rough idea of “My friend is beautiful.”
However, variations of meaning will slightly alter the effect. It is similar to comparing in English the difference in “My friend is pretty,” “My friend is gorgeous” and “My friend is drop-dead gorgeous!”
An awesome resource to use is Chinese Tools, where you can find a variety of synonyms for any expression. Use words you already know as a basis to learn other synonyms.
You will want to combine learning the synonyms with extra research (whether this is posting your question online or asking your language partner) to ensure you understand the context and slight differences of each word.
3. Connect Sentences to Tell a Story
Sentence connectives in Chinese are important to know, as they will not only improve your overall cohesiveness, but will also help your storytelling skills. Connecting sentences the right way also helps provide an explanation of why things happened, making you better understood.
You probably already use 又 yòu or 然后 rán hòu in conversations, similar to the English “and then” to describe sequential events. Try mixing things up by using the following alternative sentence connectors instead:
以后 yǐ hòu (after), 后来 hòu lái (later)
终于 zhōng yú (finally)
然而 rán’ér, 却 què (however)
于是 yú shì, 如此 rú cǐ (so)
接着 jiē zhe, 便 biàn (then)
4. Shorten Sentences for Clarity
Short sentences in Chinese are characterized by their simple grammatical structure and few words. There are two main types of short sentences. The first are short independent sentences that end with a period, and the other are grammatically self-contained segments that are separated by commas.
Short sentences are sometimes seen in written Chinese language, but are a primary characteristic of the spoken language.
Take these sentences as an example. They have the same meaning, but by slightly changing the grammar and adding breaks in between, the second sentence is easier to understand.
Zhōu wéi jìng jìng de shān lín lǐ lián niǎo de jiào shēng dōu tīng bù jiàn, cóng lín jiàn tòu guò de zǎo chén de yáng guāng zài cǎo dì shàng jiǔ xià le bān lán de sè cǎi.
Below is a much clearer way to organize the sentence to provide the same meaning:
周围的山林静静的, 连鸟的叫声都听不见; 早晨的阳光从林间透过的, 在草地上酒下了斑斓的色彩.
Zhōu wéi de shān lín jìng jìng de, lián niǎo de jiào shēng dōu tīng bù jiàn; zǎo chén de yáng guāng cóng lín jiàn tòu guò de, zài cǎo dì shàng jiǔ xià le bān lán de sè cǎi.
(The surrounding mountains are peaceful, you cannot even hear the birds chirping; the morning sun is shining through the forest, leaving behind gorgeous colors on the grass.)
A good practice is to say the sentence in your head and break it up into smaller phrases. Shortening your sentences for clarity is key because it offers the speaker a way to efficiently organize a sentence. It also allows your listener to easily understand the sentence.
When trying to form longer sentences in Chinese, the grammatical relations will often become too complicated. Short sentences bring a sense of rhythm and directness to the phrases and reduces a rambling feel.
It can be challenging to move from an intermediate level to advanced Chinese speaking. However, integrating these four tips into your Chinese conversation will help get you one step closer to your ultimate goal of speaking advanced Chinese like a pro!