Changing one's accent

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Changing one's accent

Postby R_jay » 14 Jul 2012, 16:31

In my time here I've come across a few foreigners that theoretically have great Chinese. They can read, write, their listening skills are good, at least as far as I can tell. I can't be sure though, because their accents are so freakin' strong I can't understand a word they say, and neither can the locals. One guy majored in Chinese at a western university and has studied here for a while, Chinese is what is does, but goddamn his accent was strong as hell and he just gets blank stares when speaking to Taiwanese, you can't help but feel bad for the guy. French and Vietnamese especially appear to have this problem. I have the feeling that for some people it can't be changed, and thats the way it is. If there was something they could do I'm sure they would have done it by now. So can it be fixed?
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Re: Changing one's accent

Postby Dragonbones » 14 Jul 2012, 16:46

R_jay wrote:If there was something they could do I'm sure they would have done it by now.


You seem to be assuming that A) they know there's a problem, and B) they are motivated to change. In some cases I've seen, there's been no evidence of either. For instance, I overheard one French banker here about 15 years ago proudly telling others at a wedding banquet that the secret to his "success" in learning Mandarin was to just ignore the tones completely. (I also heard him speak in Mandarin, and between the strong French accent and the lack of tones, it was quite a struggle to comprehend much.)
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Re: Changing one's accent

Postby kau826 » 15 Jul 2012, 02:16

For me, it seems that the tones really matter and it decides whether the language could be well comprehended. But after that, I kind of enjoy the accent everyone has. It triggers amusing moments and interactions, especially when people here are friendly and are curious about you. So if it doesn't bother too much, why not have our own characteristic?
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Re: Changing one's accent

Postby darienpeak » 15 Jul 2012, 03:01

kau826 wrote:I kind of enjoy the accent everyone has. It triggers amusing moments and interactions, especially when people here are friendly and are curious about you. So if it doesn't bother too much, why not have our own characteristic?


Similarly, I find some forms of accented English enjoyable too; Singaporean English, for example, with its English influence, weird syncopation and borrowed words.

I am sure I cause plenty of amusement with my desperate attempts to get tones. My eyebrows are up, down, all over the place. Much to my embarrassment, I caused a group of Chinese students no end of delight when I said "Aodaliyaren" in front of them, which of course came out as "AhdaliYAAAAAH ren?????" complete with Nic Cage crazy eyes at the YAAAAAH.

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I think one trouble with Mandarin is that although most English speakers from multicultural societies are accustomed to hearing accented, second-language English, Mandarin speakers are perhaps less accustomed to hearing Mandarin spoken by non-Chinese.

If I can't understand someone's English, I immediately shift gears and try to figure out what they're saying based on context, the vocabulary I think they would be likely to know, echoing the sounds I've heard, and experience. I wonder if as many Mandarin speakers have these instincts as ingrained.

On the other hand, I didn't realize until I was in China that for many, Mandarin is actually a second language, after the local "dialect." I think my point stands, however, because of the tonal nature of the dialects as well.
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Re: Changing one's accent

Postby Chris » 15 Jul 2012, 10:58

Dragonbones wrote:For instance, I overheard one French banker here about 15 years ago proudly telling others at a wedding banquet that the secret to his "success" in learning Mandarin was to just ignore the tones completely. (I also heard him speak in Mandarin, and between the strong French accent and the lack of tones, it was quite a struggle to comprehend much.)

That's one thing that drives me nuts: non-native Chinese speakers/learners who claim that you can ignore the tones. You can't. They're key in making yourself understood. It's like deciding to ignore all consonant voicing in English: imagine talking about drugs when the listener thinks you're talking about trucks.

Though it's possible to understand atonal Chinese given sufficient context, most people who ignore tones end up pronouncing words not atonally, but wrong-tonally, and end up saying things like "background" instead of "Beijing".

Accents can be overcome, but it has to be a conscious effort.
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Re: Changing one's accent

Postby Mucha Man » 15 Jul 2012, 13:38

I'm glad to be back in Taiwan. I was effectively becoming mute my last few weeks in northern China. No one understood my accent and I could barely get theirs.
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Changing one's accent

Postby headhonchoII » 15 Jul 2012, 23:28

Haha that happens to me too. It's not only accent but vocab and phrasing.
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Re: Changing one's accent

Postby tommy525 » 15 Jul 2012, 23:39

Singlish? Grating to the ears and incomprehensible when they are angry ! I don't think I could stand being married to a girl speaking singlish. Give me pidgeon english any day over that shizzle.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3cZ3WoQe3nI

Plus some are becoming weirder and weirder people living in a small cramped "utopian" environment.

this kids commentary is understandable tho, maybe because of more American influence?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YjqZcdpF ... re=related
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Re: Changing one's accent

Postby Confuzius » 16 Jul 2012, 00:04

Chris wrote:
Dragonbones wrote:For instance, I overheard one French banker here about 15 years ago proudly telling others at a wedding banquet that the secret to his "success" in learning Mandarin was to just ignore the tones completely. (I also heard him speak in Mandarin, and between the strong French accent and the lack of tones, it was quite a struggle to comprehend much.)

That's one thing that drives me nuts: non-native Chinese speakers/learners who claim that you can ignore the tones. You can't. They're key in making yourself understood. It's like deciding to ignore all consonant voicing in English: imagine talking about drugs when the listener thinks you're talking about trucks.

Though it's possible to understand atonal Chinese given sufficient context, most people who ignore tones end up pronouncing words not atonally, but wrong-tonally, and end up saying things like "background" instead of "Beijing".

Accents can be overcome, but it has to be a conscious effort.


I honestly do not think it is so black and white: tones or no tones.

When I started studying Chinese here (around 6 months ago now) after the first lesson the laoban at where I get tutored said something really smart (since I was learning around 100+ vocab words a day at that point and struggling to get all the tones right) he said something along the lines of "don't worry about whether something is 1st, 2nd, 3rd or 4th tone necessarily, pay attention to how it sounds, its correct pronunciation and then say it correctly." (he can give a shoutout if he wants but I will not defame his character by associating him with me :roflmao: ). Of course, that pronunciation INCLUDES the tone, but it is not necessarily a piece of information you have to include on your mental spreadsheet for every single character.

And when I speak, people understand me without a problem! The only exception might be when I am teaching English and I throw in a random Chinese word out of the blue (ie the students do not expect me to switch to Chinese and there is no context) sometimes I have remember the exact tone and repeat the word enunciating the tones correctly. But when I am out on the street, conversing with people at coffee shops, at the Buddhist temple discussing the dharma or out apartment hunting and talking to security guards, potential neighbors and landlords, everyone always understands exactly what I say without a second's hesitation.

It seems (to me from my limited time studying SPOKEN Mandarin vs reading classical chinese) that the tones eventually become more intuitive than anything else. So its not so black and white...
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Re: Changing one's accent

Postby Mucha Man » 16 Jul 2012, 00:23

headhonchoII wrote:Haha that happens to me too. It's not only accent but vocab and phrasing.


Yeah, it's astonishing how many common words and phrases are different.
“Everywhere else in the world is also really old” said Prof. Liu, a renowned historian at Beijing University. “We always learn that China has 5000 years of cultural heritage, and that therefore we are very special. It appears that other places also have some of this heritage stuff. And are also old. Like, really old.”

http://hikingintaiwan.blogspot.com/
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