Since pinyin is so easy to get started with, and since with it you can expand your Chinese vocabulary in no time, why would you then bother put so much effort into learning correct pronunciation? Why not just add some grammar, vocabulary, a few idioms and settle with an average level of Chinese? That would impress most people anyway, wouldn't it?
Well, you might decide to do it that way. But if you intend to learn more than the survival Chinese for a single travel journey to China, then you will definitely not regret spending the needed effort on pronunciation.
Why is that?
Weightier Than Anything
When it comes to learning mandarin Chinese, the pronunciation is weightier than anything else. Naturally you would need to learn at least the most basic vocabulary, otherwise there is nothing to apply great pronunciation on. However, the Chinese can tell immediately whether you have good pronunciation, which they really appreciate.
The thing is, even if you know all the grammar rules and their exceptions, as well as a good deal of idioms, not to mention having a great vocabulary, what is it worth? If whatever you say, the Chinese guy has to muddle his way through deciphering the sounds you produce? Chances are, he will start thinking you're merely trying to say the most simple things in Chinese, so whatever depth you intended to express, gets lost in pronunciation.
Chinese people are also very much aware of how people from different parts of China pronounce things. They don't mind the grammar that much. If you step in the door with great pronunciation, then they immediately view you as being very proficient at Chinese - even if you only have limited vocabulary.
One natural reason for pronunciation paying off so much more praise than grammar for example, is that it requires the listener to carefully analyze your grammar in order to evaluate your proficiency in it.
Another thing is that if you are good with idioms (Chengyu) then you need to know how to pronounce them anyway. The Chinese listener will not expect you to speak idioms, so context is not your side. At the same time, you need to be lucky to know idioms appropriate for the situation. Use a wrong idiom and you have exposed yourself as an amateur in Chinese language. A pitfall when it comes to idioms is that if you're too keen with them, you may be frowned upon for showing off your Chinese skills. You may even score an own goal if you try and impress with idioms that the Chinese listeners don't even know. Do I say you shouldn't use idioms? No. It is just a lot easier to impress with good pronunciation.
Pronunciation weighs a lot heavier than grammar, vocabulary and idioms. Don't try to leap over where the hedge is lowest on this. Pronunciation is absolutely the easiest and best way to harvest praise.
Correct Pronunciation Gets You Tons of Praise
This is no exaggeration, correct pronunciation gets you tons of praise. If you have good pronunciation, you will easily get Chinese people praising you to the point where they insist that your Chinese is even better than theirs.
Of course, unless you easily get puffed up by such praise, you know that that can't possibly be true. If you start digging into it, you will find they are aware that your vocabulary and grammar might be far from perfect, but your pronunciation may be more "standard" than theirs - even in their most sincere opinion. If you put in the required effort, you would be able to achieve an accent-free mandarin pronunciation.
The Chinese are generally very generous with praise. It can get you into the Cycle of Praise.
Cycle of Praise
Who wouldn't feel great with so much praise?
You're probably not learning Chinese merely to receive praise, but it surely does make one feel good. Proper Chinese pronunciation is the key to that. What does all that wonderful praise lead to?
All the wonderful praise we get results in a real joy boost. Which instantly takes you to the next great feeling.
We don't need a scientific education to figure out, that the joy boost instantly transforms into great motivation to continue with our efforts.
The motivation we get leads us to the beautiful result, namely that we continue to study on. And what does that lead to? We improve our Chinese and become even better. So already it this point, we reap great benefits from the praise we like so much.
It is not over yet though. With improved Chinese we are going to receive even more praise, and so we have placed ourselves in the great and inspiring Cycle of Praise. Enjoy!
How did you like this walk-through of the 5th section of the great infographic on Chinese pronunciation and pinyin? You can see the whole section below, or click this link to see the entire infographic right here.
You may also be interested in the article about motivation - How to keep up your self-study project.