Fluent vs native-indistinguishable speakers
My friends, I was wondering if any of you can shed some light on your experiences with fluent Mandarin speakers.
The past few months, through conversing with different work partners around the world, I've had the pleasure of speaking to many westerners (more to the point, non-CJKV-native speakers) fluent in Mandarin. What I became interested in is finding examples of people who have picked up a Chinese accent so strongly that they are indistinguishable from a native-speaker if you only listen and not see them. Are there many such examples, especially walking the multicultural cauldrons of cities like Shanghai?
The most obvious example of this is Mark Rowswell aka Dashan 大山, and other entertainers like Julien Gaudfroy. how common are they in China?
I would also put John Pasden in this category, although having said that I haven't actually heard a full recording of him speaking Mandarin only.
I know in Hong Kong, there are many such examples for Cantonese speakers (due to the British colony history of HK, I suppose). What about Mandarin speakers? Surely there are more Mandarin speakers these days.
pretzellogicApril 03, 2011, 01:16 AM
It's probably my lack of fluency, but the near-sounding non-native speakers all sound different to me than native Chinese speakers. Dashan sounds different to me also. Foreign born fluent mandarin speakers seem to have a clarity to their speaking that natives don't have. Its like being back in the States, and then hearing a person from the UK speak. It's not that they don't or do have an accent; it's more like when a fluent speaking American says something in mandarin, then I know I don't know what they said because I don't know key words, but I can repeat them back to him/her. When a native speaker says something in mandarin, I have trouble repeating what they said. Something like native speakers put so much slang, nuance, regional influence into their language because they can, and non-natives don't because they don't have the habit.
I know what you mean about the 'clarity' of foreign-born speakers. I assume it is because of the impact of relatively 'standard' Mandarin language education these days. The lingual gymnastics of native speakers with local dialects on the other hand is mind-boggling.
bodaweiApril 03, 2011, 05:00 AM
Dashan to me seems to have a Canadian accent - and John has an American accent when he speaks Chinese (see a recent Sinosplice item when he talks to a couple of women about an expression they use to describe the spiciness of food.) Jason also - we hear him speaking on BST - has an American accent. I come across a lot of foreigners who speak Chinese and they all seem to have an accent to me. The American accent seems to stand out more than others, I wonder why that is. Aussies (and the Brits) seem to leave less of a mark on the language - is that impression gained becuase I am an Australian listening to another Australian? I would be quite happy if people said I speak Chinese with an Australian accent. Like Kevin Rudd. :) I think that perhaps accent is not a huge problem for those of us living in China, from a communication point of view, but a good accent is appreciated. I get the feeling that when a Chinese person compliments your Chinese (after one or two sentences) they are complimenting accent as much as anything. In fact, taxi drivers sometimes rather than complimenting my Chinese say that they can understand me very clearly (they don't care if I can't understand them - that is not under consideration when they deliver their verdict.)
Having said all that I think it is possible to eradicate foreign accents, with a bit of effort. I try and imitate the locals and occasionally someone says 'oh, you can speak [dialect!].' But I can't, and have never tried to learn it. Most of the time I have no idea at all what I said that comprises 'dialect'.
Interesting both you and pretzellogic say foreign born speakers all have their distinct accents. Having never been in a place with a concentration of non-native Mandarin speakers, I clearly don't have the distinguishing skills for these "foreign accents". To me, if I never heard Dashan before and I am played a recording of one of his skit, I would easily mistake him to be an native speaker educated in Beijing. But then again, as a Cantonese speaker, Beijing Mandarin is a foreign language to me anyway! :-)
My starting point is the comparison with Cantonese examples. Cantonese is my mother tongueand I grew up in a pretty traditional Cantonese family. There REALLY are foreign-born Cantonese speakers in Hong Kong whom I absolutely cannot tell apart from native Cantonese speakers. Having said this though, their English is accented. So can't have everything I suppose.
I don't think there is such a thing in language and speech where a speaker does not have any accents. To me it is about which accent we pick up, and whether we can hide our accents by covering it with another.
Chinese people have asked me if I'm Chinese, and other Chinese people who knew better thought that I have a Cantonese, or Taiwanese accent, which is funny cuz at that time I had a roommate from HK and we frequently spoke Mandarin to each other so we could both practice.
So I'm really scared if you were to hear me speak Mandarin and then you tell me I have an American accent, and you would knock me straight off of my high horse! I wouldn't be able to handle it. gaaaaahhhh!
bodaweiApril 03, 2011, 05:32 AM
Another thing that occurs to me, perhaps a bit peripheral to the main topic, is that so many native speakers I come across seem unable to detect different accents in native English speakers. Apart from North-American (they don't in general detect any difference between Canadian and people from the US). The rest of the English speaking world is a blur. Okay, except Indian English - I have frequently been told that no-one (in China) can understand Indians speaking English. Which I find puzzling because I find Indian English easier to understand than Chinese English. I wonder if this has anything to do with the American accent most Chinese people adopt, versus the English influence on Indians speaking English?
Perhaps that is why so many non-native English speakers can get jobs in China teaching English? (Except Indians.)
When my friend from England would have a conversation with me, my Chinese ex-girlfriend couldn't tell the difference. She said, "都是英語“
This one guy who worked at a coffee shop wanted me to translate an "English" song for him, and it turns out it was in German.
ouyangjun116April 05, 2011, 05:20 PM
I've ran into some Korean people who speak really awesome Mandarin. Just the other week I was having a conversation in Mandarin with a gentlemen I assumed to be Chinese... halfway through the conversation I find out he's Korean. If he never told me he was Korean, I would've never known and would've assumed Mandarin was his mother tongue.
giannisApril 07, 2011, 02:12 PM
It's all in subtly. I blame pinyin! It is, sadly enough, inaccurate and misleading. Because it's the first exposure most people have to Mandarin, it gets stuck in your head and forms mental blocks.
For example, how many people think that b, d, and g sound like their English equivalents? Well, they don't. They are actually unaspirated p, t, and k respectively. (I'm not sure if "unaspriated" is the proper linguistic terminology). If you pronounce them that way, you will never sound native.
Another letter I hear people saying a little off is "h." People tend to pronounce it like h, when it is way more aspirated and harsh than a soft English h.
Third tone is weird, too. Not many non-native speakers know when to bring the tone back up (i.e., complete the tone) and when to keep it in the bottom, almost as a glottal stop. Also, the difference is -- astonishingly -- never taught. Or at least it wasn't back in my day.
Finally, I think the fact foreigners cannot (and may not want to) fully adopt a Chinese personality, habits, mannerisms, sense of humor, etc. will make it hard to seem exactly like natives. These are aspects people don't always think about.