I am from Hong Kong, so my mother tongue is Cantonese. Cantonese and Mandarin share the same set of characters, but the pronunciations are very different. It is not like just an accent different, it is more like a whole different dialect. People like me, we don’t have a chance to learn it when we were young. Back then, mandarin was not that popular in Hong Kong, and it was not taught in school.
Now with the rapid growth of china in the last few decades, it becomes one of the popular languages people are flocking to learn. As a Chinese and as someone having this geographically proximity to China, I feel the need to speak Mandarin really well.
Without further ado, my first tips is to speak as much as possible. Make use of your phone, Siri, or the voice recognition function in wechat. So instead of typing, these days, I always try to speak mandarin to the phone. You will be surprised that if you speak well, your phone can actually recognize that pretty well. Apart from gaining more opportunity to speak the language, you also get a sense of how well you speak. I just find that a game changer.
Second, if you have to type, make sure you are using the pinyin input method. Now, I understand that for non-chinese people out there, when you first learn mandarin, you are already learning pinyin. And you are all already typing in pinyin. In this case, I think this tips is not relevant to you. But for people like us in Hong Kong, we often don’t type in pinyin. Since I started to force myself typing in pinyin, I realised how wrong my previous pronunciation was. Learning the right pinyin can absolutely correct your pronunciation. I believe it is more about how our brain work. If we can associate our tongue muscle with the pinyin, it then becomes our second nature to just speak the word correctly. The sounds zh, z and j are very easy to mix up. It is hard to differentiate by just listening. But by looking at the pinyin, we can easily tell the difference.
All in all, learning a new language takes time and persistence. Take every opportunity in your daily life to practise. One day, you will see a significant improvement without even realizing it!