Speaking Chinese Effeminately (as a male)
I have been accused on more than one occasion that I "sound like a girl" when I speak Chinese. Needless to say this is a little embarassing and I would like to rectify the problem. I know the major reason is that most of the Chinese I have learned has been from female speakers, whether in person or in Chinesepod lessons.
So I'm wondering if any other guys out there have unintentionally developed this effeminate way of speaking Chinese and if so what did you do about it?
It does lead me to one suggestion for Chinesepod though, and that is to have more lessons voiced by a (native-speaking) male, not only the ones where you need male characters for the storyline. Also some lessons that directly tackle the topic of femenine vs. masculine speach.
xiao_liangApril 06, 2011, 10:02 PM
Oh totally - Jenny said they're really frustrated because for every 1 male candidate, they have 10 women, and they haven't found a male that suits yet.
We suggested male and female speech patterns as a lesson topic a while back, and John said that he'd noted it. I have noticed a few times they've identified in lessons what's used by men and women more, but I'm still really hoping for a short qing wen series on different patterns of male and female speech :(
chrisApril 06, 2011, 11:46 PM
I couldn't agree more. My wife is always cringing when I speak Chinese out and about because it's so girly. Taxi drivers have also made the same observation - but more politely, e.g. were you taught Chinese by a girl? I've also recently really got into the whole 是啊，对啊 thing, but really emphasising the 啊。Apparently, this is not a particularly manly thing to do... I am often accused of sounding "娘娘", which I understand is a colloquial way of saying effeminate.
tingyunApril 07, 2011, 02:58 AM
I would guess the problem is mostly in your average tone level being too high. Females have a much higher average tone level than men - often the bottom of their 3rd tone is about where a male 1st tone should be.
However, I think the main cause of the problem is not listening to female voices, but rather arises from a learner's desire to emphasize the tones and make everything super clear (which in particular shoots that 1st tone into the atmosphere), though if one almost always mimics female voices, then it is likely in play to a smaller extent. You mentioned 对啊 type expressions - overemphasizing the 啊 is probably lifting it up way too high.
However, I do think mimicking male voices can be the cure, or at least the first part. What worked for me (I used to have the same problem) was to listen and really concentrate on the lowness of their voice while mimicking. I used the 三国 recent tv series, particularly the 曹操 actor as the principle material (he has a really low voice), and the problem was gone after a few weeks of effort. You could pick any good low male voice and it should be helpful. However, this is only partly about mimicking a male voice - it is probably more about learning to relax naturally into speaking, in the following two ways:
1) Stop over-concentrating on pronunciation, stop trying to make everything clear and distinct, and really let your voice start to flow naturally and less clearly, which will help it slide back into a more natural range.
2)An important thing to recognize is that the average tone declines GREATLY over the course of most sentences - ie a 1st tone at the end of a sentence is often lower than the low point of a 3rd or 4th tone at the beginning. Most learners don't let this natural process happen - so their end of sentences are way too high pitched, again causing a girly tone to it (though, females have the exact same declining trend, its just it starts higher so is still decently high at the end). Work on letting yourself naturally mimick this process (it really should be easy to acquire, since I'm fairly sure English has the same phenomenon).
Do you mean that tone level goes down over the course of the sentence? I just noticed it at some point. Its pretty evident in any natural speech, though it disappears if the speaker is emphasizing speech and trying to sound unnaturally clear (or of course if their meaning dictates lifting the tone level at the end of a sentence, ie if they are asking a question).
Or that learners lift tone levels way up? That also just observed, though I became more aware of it after I spent some time analyzing what was going wrong in myself. I knew I was speaking unnaturally high, and then experimented with lowering my tone, and discovered that the problem was only there when I was really concentrating and thinking about tones and pronunciation, and that solving it was mainly a matter of relaxing down into my natural speech. Then it was just a matter of breaking my mental habits of unnaturalness.
Honestly I think imitating Caocao's deep voice was much like Dumbo's feather, but it did afford me an opportunity to practice. Though I'm not saying some imitation of male voices is not a good thing - sometimes I think overly exclusive imitation of females might be a smaller contributing factor.
Anyway, I would encourage everyone to not flee from female voices, as I think its a mistake to take that as the primary source of this problem. At least I can say, now that I've relaxed my speech, even when I immitate females, my tone levels stay properly low. Besides, I was raised by my mom and older sister, and yet when I speak English I don't have an unnaturally high voice. It really is more a matter of relaxing into your natural state (though this can also be really hard to do, I admit, while maintaining good pronounciation).
watyamacallitApril 07, 2011, 08:27 AM
I am going to recommend this site:
Firstly, most of the podcasts are spoken by a man.
Further, they are not rapid-fire dialogs, but slow and deliberate narratives. I think they give great practice in decribing situations in Chinese.
For both reasons, they are far removed from the girly feel you get in Chinese Pod dialogs.
The only problem - they start at the Elementary level, and their Elementary level is considerably higher than Chinese Pod's Elementary level. But for people like me who are entrenched in the Intermediate lessons here, it is just about right. And then they have their own 'Intermediate' level.
Oh that is just SUPER awesome, thanks so much for the link! I've been desperate to find some simple Chinese reading material I could work through to improve my shoddy reading. What a great site!
Yes, it is a great site. And I can't believe this guy can offer it all at no cost. He says he quit his job to concentrate on this site, so I don't know how he is surviving. He is even taking about a major upgrade in the pipeline, although I don't know what this will entail.
I am confused because when I looked at the site you mention, there were 'pronunciation errors' that I pointed out to the guy - it turned out that he was from taiwan - so I am not sure he is a great model for a manly delivery.
Perhaps things have changed
tsuluApril 07, 2011, 12:41 PM
The suggestions for over-coming sounding like a girl might come from the interest in women. However, more and more male actors are using a higher pitch, so I do not believe that is the solution or the problem. It is just good to have male friends to hang out with. My wife is not Chiense. I have lots of Chinese male friends. I have never been accused of sounding girly. My friends' wives often ask why so many foreign men sound like girls.. probably becuase they are so busy trying to catch a partner for life in a woman that they have no time or interest in male friends.
I have found in Japan that is the issue for sure. I teach both Japanese and Chinese and I have to correct my students' speech all the time. Moreover, the foreign women sound like men for the same reason. English has the same issues for my Chinese friends with American wives, they sound like girls in English and yet so manly in Chinese. It just takes some trianing and good friends of the same sex to hang out with and imitate.
Good luck, all!
putonghualoverJune 04, 2012, 04:23 AM
If you've learned your Mandarin in Taiwan, that's understandable. Taiwanese Mandarin seems to sound a little higher-pitched than what's considered to be the standard in Mainland China nowadays.
Just pick up a northern accent. :P :)