Imitating a Foreign Accent in Chinese
I'm not sure if the title is the best way of expressing what I'm driving at. I was thinking of the old language power struggle and the ploy to pretend you're not an English speaker. That may be a little harder to pull off here in Australia. Ni hao mate, wo shi faguoren is probably not going to cut it. So obviously we should be aiming for accent reduction if we want to get closer to speaking like a native. But in the interim, if you want to be able to practice your Chinese and not find that the convo always ends up defaulting to English, how to sound like your speaking Chinese with say a French accent? Have any Poddies tried to pull this off...not only claimed another language but tried to put on an accent to go with it? ...if so, how did it go? Also, any good examples to listen to of Chinese with Foreign accents other than English? I have some idea of how I would try and sound, but it would probably be an appalling attempt not having heard any examples of it, hehe. I'm also wondering how likely you are to get caught out. That is, apart from English, how widely spoken are other languages in China? [I actually wouldn't mind if it did then go to a French convo if they were at a basic level...at least it would be better than English and could be fun and interesting]. Any thoughts on this topic would be very interesting to hear.
darkstar94July 30, 2011, 12:24 AM
Well I've only just tried this on QQ just saying I can't speak English to avoid them trying to use me and also trying it in tourists spots by saying 听不懂 when they speak English to me. I have also tried in Dalian in winter wearing my hood, face mask (口罩) and scarf so you can only JUST see my eyes and just speaking in Chinese making sure they can't see me. The only thing this avoids is the foreigner stare, but I don't actually remember if it worked or not. I think I could do a New Zealand, American, British and maybe Australian accent speaking Chinese, but others I don't think I could.
"I think I could do a New Zealand, American, British and maybe Australian accent speaking Chinese"
..impressive ! I'd love to hear everyone speaking Chinese normally and then speaking trying to put on these various accents. And then I'd like to hear the real deal to see how they compare. I think it'd be both interesting and fun.
I've never heard a New Zealand accent in Chinese. Come to think of it, I'm struggling to think of hearing anyone speaking Chinese that wasn't a native. If you're feeling generous, you could post a short mp3 as a new post in this new group I've set up today:
..even better if we could hear your impersonations of the other accents.
On that note, I had a funny moment of recognition the other day in class when I slipped into my good ol' Kiwi accent when saying 林. To the teacher it sounded more like 冷 (or something else with the pinyin 'e' vowel), since apparently I'm pretty guttural with my vowels. It reminded me if the whole "fush and chups" vs "feesh and cheeps" joke, and gave me a chuckle.
andrew_cJuly 30, 2011, 01:02 AM
I don't think Chinese people are so nuanced in their mental classification of 老外 and their accents. Even if you're French, they'd still rather speak English to you than have to speak Chinese to you.
Here's how I would approach the situation:
If I'm not in China, I would get a tutor or only rely on close friends who understand your situation. I don't think there's any substitute. I would continue to try speaking Chinese in Chinese-speaking contexts (Chinatown, restaurants, etc) but with very low expectations.
On the other hand, when I was in China, I just repeated 什么？ until people spoke Chinese to me. Those who were blatantly racist and rude, I just told them 你烦死了 or when in Shanghai 农烦死特了. That tended to resolve the situation. If not, I just walked away mid-conversation if needed.
Andrew, 好久不见啊！ Great to see you mate.
"and their accents"
...oh yeah, I meant to throw that in to my question...just how clued in are they to Foreign accents? Of course this is a big generalisation and I guess will often come down to the individual. But am I right in thinking that domestic tourism dwarfs foreign tourism amongst Chinese? I guess it will come down to how much exposure they've had to the various accents. I wonder if they stick out as much in Chinese as they do in English.
"Even if you're French, they'd still rather speak English to you than have to speak Chinese to you"
...I meant a non-English speaking French person, if there be such a thing these days.
bababardwanJuly 30, 2011, 01:57 AM
Actually I find the whole language power struggle thing of huge interest. But aside from the ploy of making out to be a non-English speaking foreigner, I'm also interested in just how to sound like say a French person speaking Chinese for it's own sake.
I've heard a few French speaking people speak Chinese and from my perspective, they just seem to have less of a foreign accent than English speaking people. That's not to say a French accent and a Mandarin accent are the same, just that I think some of the Mandarin sounds are easier for people who speak French, such as zh, and the umlauted u.
"Just listen to some French people speaking Chinese?"
...good idea in theory, but while there must be heaps of them, I've never met any round these parts [ I wonder how many native French speakers there are in Brisbane who have started learning some Mandarin...probably not that many I suspect]. Maybe I just need to get out more, hehe. I'll try googling it later.
bweedinJuly 30, 2011, 01:15 PM
The thing is that in China I encountered so few people who could speak English, the language power struggle was a non-issue. Those who could, it's not like they could tell what accent I had, and they still prefered to speak Chinese to me. Maybe once or twice I said I only speak Spanish or Chinese, take your pick.
Even still, I think most accents just sound "foreign" to Chinese people and not really that distinguishable. Same for me, before I studied Chinese or linguistics, I could not tell the difference between accents of various Asian languages.
Anyway, the only foreign accent I can do in Mandarin is a Japanese accent, thanks to my Japanese classmates in my Chinese classes. I can do a Cantonese accent too, but does that really count as "foreign"?
"the language power struggle was a non-issue"
..really? Was that in more rural areas? Is it more of an issue in the big smoke? Mind you, as above, I was really just sharing my musings and how I arrived at my question of how to imitate a foreign accent in Chinese. While it does interest me on the one hand, on the other hand I'm not concerned with language power struggle as I'm sure there's ample opportunity to practice in China.
"I think most accents just sound "foreign" to Chinese people and not really that distinguishable"
..interesting comment, though it somehow doesn't surprise me. In English, I usually have a very good idea where the accent is coming from [though I confess, I wouldn't be so flash on distinguishing some Asian accents either...I guess it depends on which one and how much exposure I've had and how strong the accent]. So I'm wondering if Chinese makes it inherently harder to pick the accent, or if there's just less awareness. Perhaps more the latter?
"I can do a Cantonese accent too, but does that really count as "foreign"?"
..I think any accent you can put on is cool. Whether you could pass as Cantonese may be a different question....depends how well you can pull it off I guess, but they're obviously much more likely to be clued in to that one.
Outside of some areas of Shanghai and ONLY Shanghai, the language power struggle was not an issue as far as mainland China goes. Hong Kong was a British colony, and people in Macau don't speak a lot of Mandarin. In Taipei I did have to put up a bit of a fight.
I say that accents just sound "foreign" to them, because When I would speak to my friend from England, they couldn't tell the difference between our accents. Also, an average Chinese guy asked me to translate an "English" song for him, and I couldn't, because it was in German. The separation between the West and China has been a pretty big one, my friend. You would be correct in guessing the "less awareness" option. Another thing too, generally speaking, English words may as well be what Chinese characters are to most Westerners. It's almost as if they think each word is a Chinese character and either you know it or you don't. They don't even try to sound it out.
speaking of awareness, I just barely learned to distinguish a Vietnamese accent when speaking Mandarin, Cantonese (sort of), or English. Again, only because I had a Vietnamese classmate last quarter who would speak all three.
ah, the language power struggle is can be particularly annoying. I did however find the intermediate podcast on the subject to be greatly helpful, because unless somebody is particularly enthusiastic about speaking english, they will generally, after a while, give up and speak back to you in chinese.
I am in Taipei, and the incidence of this struggle here is much more prevalent than what I experienced during my time in the mainland. However, I think just honesty about your purpose for coming to the county：不好意思，麻煩你我來臺灣就是為了學好中文，你可以說中文嗎？ and hanging out with locals are both well received and tend to help. I have foreign friends whose chinese is at such an level that they will only review complex articles in chinese, and I think at times he has told people 別小看我的中文能力。I have been pissed and almost asked 你怎麼假定你英文比我中文說得好？ but then I remember just how polite the people are here, and how they just want to help me.
Honestly getting pissed is useless, it's like getting pissed at all the scooters here for being annoying dicks haha, but I doing think sincerity will be well received.
I've thought a lot about this issue.
Some Chinese folks think that it's a sign of respect when they use English in conversation, whereas a lot of foreigners automatically assume it as belittling them. I think that kind of ego in a conversation is unnecessary.
I can speak 五彩缤纷雄辩滔滔 Mandarin but if someone is capable of using full blown playful English I'm more than happy to go along with that. The language is there
I have had a few people saying they want to make friends for the sake of learning English (once culminating in a rather angry rally of texts) but this seems to part of the modern notion of a friend economy and networking were relationships exist in the plane of merely having a usage or function.
I think a lot of people in China would love the opportunity to study English abroad but that doesn't have the chance to realised for everyone. So in the these conversations using the fact you're in China to study seems a little inconsiderate (and I find a good deal of the people the want to speak English are such students)
feixiangxiaoniao, I appreciate what you're saying, and I understand that many native speakers speak Chinese "to help" the foreigner who probably doesn't speak Chinese very well.
I do appreciate that, but I have a problem when I speak Chinese first, then the native speaker speaks English, then I speak Chinese again, then the native speaker speaks English again, and so forth. After all, in China or Taiwan, the native language is Chinese. In my opinion, if a foreigner can speak Chinese (even sub-par Chinese), it is disrespectful to continue speaking English to them when they continue to speak Chinese. I don't think anyone wins the English-Chinese back-and-forth tennis match. If you're in an English-speaking country, speak English. If you're in a Chinese-speaking country, speak Chinese.
I hate to admit it, but many Taiwanese do look at foreigners and see nothing but a big English target. I'm all for swapping English for Chinese with my Taiwanese friends, but I want to become friends with someone based on mutual respect and not on "what can I get from you?"
My short visit in Taiwan made me realize it wasn't the best place for me to study Chinese. Even at the starbucks in the Beijing airport they spoke to me in Chinese first, same for the airport in Shenzhen. snowball's chance in hell in Taipei.
but if one really likes Taiwan he or she can still be hopeful to get plenty of Chinese practice there. I did meet a lot of young people there who were relieved that I could speak Chinese and they didn't "have to" speak English.
simpletAugust 03, 2011, 02:34 PM
In my experience as a French person in China, it doesn't matter whatsoever what accents you try to imitate for several reasons :
- Chinese people have told me they don't notice any difference between the various flavours of 西方人 speaking chinese. They can differentiate between japanese accents, korean accents and so forth but a westerner speaks like a westerner.
-Chinese people don't care if you are french, spanish, german or whatever. They will speak to you in english regardless, either because they want to practice or because they are being polite (even if english is not your language).
-If you tell them you can't speak english they won't believe you. The idea that a westerner can't speak english seems completely foreign to a chinese person. I guess you could make them believe it if you insist but it would take somme efforts on your part.