Author: sockmonkey

What makes foreigners' Chinese sound funny? [Copy link] 中文

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Post time 2006-10-17 15:24:59 |Display all floors
Originally posted by sockmonkey at 2006-10-15 10:09
Hey everyone! I was just thinking earlier about how on this forum, it's easy for native speakers of English to tell who is and who isn't a native English speaker. For example, non-native speakers d ...
Ur confusion ,I think it’s sometimes also difficult to native Chinese ,for there’re thousands types of dialects , these dialects are popular in relevant regions ,and other regions’ people can’t understand neither .

but mandarin is popular all over the country ,and almost all Chinese can get the meanings .

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Post time 2006-10-18 21:29:21 |Display all floors
Originally posted by chris_luo at 2006-10-17 15:11
I am in problem like you when I study enlish. I think the reason is "environment".
For example, there are two guys from china and can speak fluent enlish. One guy grows up in American. It is difficult to distinguish if he is non-native speaker or not when you just listen his talking. Other one grows up in china. Maybe you don not know where he from. But you clearly know he is not native speaker, Will you?

Another example. A couple of years ago I went on a short day tour to Guangzhou. The tour guide, an attractive young woman who was not originally from Guangdong, was telling us about the sights and history on our bus ride from Shekou.
The girl had an American accent. She told us she learned her accent from American movies and she had never been outside of China. Her accent was fairly convincing, but like you say, the environmental aspect plays a part. While she got her accent from American movies, she got her vocabulary from English films too and I noticed she used at least one word (fortnight) that you very rarely hear Americans use.

"他不是救星, 他是一个非常淘气男孩" - Monty Python

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Post time 2006-12-3 03:17:07 |Display all floors

Not just fortnight....which is English...

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Post time 2006-12-3 11:58:17 |Display all floors
I think you can study Crazy Chinese as many persons study Crazy English.

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Post time 2006-12-3 15:48:59 |Display all floors


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Post time 2006-12-4 15:08:00 |Display all floors


I guess one of the obvious differences would be the tones used in Chinese. Tones don't exist in English. There is therefore a fair bit of learning from scratch involved here. I know many people who just ignore tones, thinking they can learn them "later".  This is not a good idea. Tones cannot be applied to words like painting a house after building it. Tones have to be learnt as integral parts of words, not unnatural add-ons. There is the additional difficulty that some tones change in conjunction with other tones (what we call "tone sandhi"). The add-on approach could lead to very unnatural and self-conscious speech.

Next, pronunciation of individual sounds. We may tend to use approximations from our own native languages. But the differences would be immediately obvious to native Chinese speakers.

Next, native English is spoken not by pronouncing each word distinctly and equally, but as connected speech, where words connect with each other smoothly according to rules, and also, content words are stressed while function words are often barely heard. And within individual words, one syllable is stressed more than others. Native English speakers may be unconsciously incorporating all these into their Chinese. The existence of tones in Chinese would make this additionally confusing. Because, now you have word stresses, sentence stresses and connected speech from English juxtaposed with word tones and sandhis from Chinese. This could lead to some very interesting sounds.

Apart from the above, culture plays a huge difference. Differences come from personal boundaries, from how we relate to each other, and also from conventions we follow in communications.

A simple example: In many Asian cultures including Chinese, people give direct instructions and advice to friends as well as acquaintances. They may tell casual acquaintances or even strangers, things like "You don't look well. Don't go to work today. Come here, let me give you some tea. Just lie down here for a while. Here, use my bed".

There is a kind of closeness, lack of boundaries, between people of Asian cultures, that allows them to interact like this. People speak spontaneously, and no one gives a second thought to it.

Western cultures place lots of distances and boundaries between people. People do not give direct instructions or advice. Also, some people resent such advice if offered, displaying an attitude of  "you are not my father/mother. I can take care of myself".

Advice in western culture, if at all given in a similar situation, would be some casual, indifferent-sounding, lukewarm and insipid remark like "I'd take the day off", or "I'd take the day off if I were you".

The meaning of the above remarks is, "If I were in your position I would not go to work today. Of course, what you do is entirely up to you. This is just my opinion. Please don't take offense. I know I m not your father/mother and I know that you are capable of thinking and deciding what is best for yourself..."

Any statement of advice in western culture has to be crafted very carefully, with a great deal of thought put into it, in order to not sound "condescending" or "offensive".

A westerner speaking in Chinese could unknowingly be bringing such cultural differences into his sentences. He could therefore sound very uncaring and stand-offish even if his language were otherwise clear.

One's attitudes, values and beliefs influence language greatly.

Lot's more, but this should do for now

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Post time 2006-12-4 23:26:23 |Display all floors
Changcheng - Thanks for those "little" (actually big) cultural differences related to speech.
(I'm a foreigner learning chinese, very much a beginner)

I'd like to add my exerience with tones, though I know Sockmonkey is WAY beyond me in chinese.

It's not just that English doesn't have tones. As an english speaker I am not starting from ground zero, with no use of tones. Of course we do not speak monotonously. We use tones all the time, but they are linked to our emotions. They help tell how we feel in the sentence. I agree with Changcheng that we should definitely learn tones right along with the words, absolutely! But even if I say the tone right every time and only know the word that way, when I say a whole sentence (especially while thinking at the same time) I may very easily fall into the tones I'd use if it was english.

It's not just learning tones, it's UNLEARNING TO LET OUR EMOTIONS come out! It's true. It's weird. I've noticed it in myself. I might say a very simple thing and think "Oh my goodness what the heck tones were THEY? I know those tones but I didn't say them!" And I realize I was slightly upset inside, or happy, or trying to talk a bit too fast, and so my voice went all over the place! LOL.... So forgive us please! We have to learn to control our vocal emotions and let them out in a slightly different way. I know you (chinese speakers) can let your emotion out vocally, but it's different I guess, and not easy to change for some of us.

Oh, PS - I noticed immediately upon arriving in China that it doesn't help that all the street signs, and anywhere there is pinyin in public, do not include tones. I know lots of street names now but I don't know their tones.
I am not rich.  :L

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