So right now I am going to teach you guys the cornerstone to foreign language learning and your Chinese success in the future. It is a technique that is so imba I am not even sure if I should share it with you. It's THAT good. And deceptively simple.
I'll sum it up in one words: listening. In fact, I'll sum it up better in another two words: listen tons.
Most language learners acquire nowhere near the appropriate amount of listening time in their practice. And, unfortunately , schools also don't teach this as a skill to be pursued in their programs. Listening is a lot like drinking enough water, the benefits are real, incredibly when accumulated, but such a small adjustment that many people forget to do it enough everyday.
There are many studies and opinions online that refute the validity of the passive aspect of listening: Benny from fluent in 3 months wrote an article diagraming the benefits and detriments to simply undergoing passive listening. And a lot of the points he makes in his article are legitimate. You will not learn a language from only passive listening. You especially will not learn how to speak from only passive listening. However, passive listening will teach you to listen comfortably.
All foreign language learners start out at a first stage of only hearing noise. I can recall my first day of Chinese class when I heard the pronunciation of the syllables for the first tone of the sound lü (like in 旅 or 吕) I thought it sounded strangely similar to those cylindrical toys that had the rubber noisemakers inside of them. I thought it was hilarious and did my best to mimic that particular sound for a long time after that.
The lv sound and many others in Chinese do not occur in English, so in order to hear and understand these sounds (let alone tones), you must explicitly practice focused for a long time. When learning basic pronunciation, practicing the basic sounds and tones diligently until you can repeat the phonetics and tones is feasible and a smart way to begin. I'll repeat, ACTIVELY practicing basic pronunciation and tones is a great way to hammer down the basics to Chinese language pronunciation. However, after you have learned and nailed down the basics, a deeper level of language acquisition must come into play, and basic pronunciation as a guideline can not deal with all of the 'situations' that arise in language spoken to native speakers.
This all sounds complicated, but the solution is simple. It's all about exposure.
He who exposes himself to spoken Chinese the most, whether it be through passive or active listening, will ultimately become better.