Author: sockmonkey

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

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Post time 2006-12-5 13:44:58 |Display all floors
I find that one of the most noticeable things for both the Chinese person speaking English and the English native speaking Chinese that makes both sound unnatural is the way both groups speak as if they are reading from a book - one.....word.....at.....a.....time.

Main cause of course is poor quality teaching - on both fronts.

Crap like Crazy English that does nothing to improve the actual linguistics of Chinese students, or the hopeless backpacking non-teachers that have conned their way into so many schools, training centers and even universities in China that can barely speak English themselves and can thus only "speak....from....a.....book" thinking THAT is teaching.

Like the contractions you spoke of, saying groups of words as single units is perhaps the most natural thing any native speaker does.

I don't think I have ever heard, for example, a native Chinese speaker say Ni...chi....fan....le....mei....you? What I do hear is chifanlema? Chirlema? chilemeiyou? chihaolema?

This joining of words into a continuous stream is natural and the one....word....at....a....time is what is such a graphic indication of "un-natural."

By the same token, I don't think I have ever heard a native English speaker say: "How....are....you....today?" What I have heard is: "howryat'day" or just howrya. Same with "What....are....you.....doing?" being shortened to "whatchadoin'?"

So, whether trying to speak English or Chinese, think about how native speakers of either language join several words together to form a single thought unit. Perhaps that will help. -- Which, by the way, should be said "Perhaps....that'llhelp."

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Post time 2006-12-5 13:50:54 |Display all floors

Reply #15 canchin's post

So in the interest of playing around with the thread, here's a bit of text written in the way it is most commonly spoken rather than the way some might learn it:

Oneday...afterIgotup...Irealizedmydog...Buster...wasdead. Iwasheartbroken....andcriedforhours.

Mymom...notthenicestperson...toldmetoshutupaboutthedamndogandgettoschool.

Chagrined...andtearyeyed...Iobeyed.

Poor...Buster....gone....butnotforgotten.

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Post time 2006-12-6 12:41:21 |Display all floors
Freakyqi, my pleasure! Yes, I do know you've just landed in China. I've been following your adventures with great interest, on your other thread. I was in China for a while too, and am also a beginner at Chinese. Yes, keep going. You provide a most refreshing perspective on life in China.

Of course, we do have intonation in English, as you have observed, which is different from the Chinese tone system in that it is dependent on context and not fixed to syllables according to pre-determined rules. And, intonation can give away someone who is not really a native speaker of the language.

My personal feeling regarding intonation is that it is culture-dependent. In my opinion, people with cultures that have much closer interpersonal relationships tend to add a lot more intonation, because they attach that much more emotion to each word they say, which in turn arises from their sense of closeness with the person they are speaking to.  Whereas, it is a lot less in western culture where people have lots more interpersonal distances. English spoken by other cultures, especially Asian, can sound sing-song to westerners for this reason. It can be quite hard to change one's intonation habits, and can take lots and lots of listening and practice.

I have no doubt, as Canchin pointed out, that Chinese speakers too have their own conventions for smooth connected speech (that's definitely one of the reasons why I find it so hard at times to comprehend spoken Chinese :-) However, native English speakers trying to speak Chinese may not intuitively follow the same system of connected speech. In fact, they probably won't. They'll more likely try their own version of connected speech, fondly imagining that they are speaking like native Chinese speakers. Merely slurring your word endings does not make for connected speech.

English is a stress timed language, where the time durations between one content word's stressed syllable and the next are approximately equal within sentences, leading to a rhythmic production of word groups with unequal word lengths.The function words may barely be audible, which can make it hard for non-native English speakers to understand native English speakers. I don't think this happens in Chinese which is a syllable timed language (do you have things like strong and weak forms, assimilation, elision, juncture, intrusion, etc?). But native English speakers may be applying their own versions of these unconsciously, stressing on what they consider content words and going easy on the others.

You will also need to get used to differences in syntax; your word order. That could be a dead giveaway. For example, how does your placement of adverbs of time in sentences compare in Chinese and English languages?

Damn. So many things. Wonder if I'm ever going to make it.

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Post time 2006-12-6 12:58:38 |Display all floors
Just an additional comment on Canchin's remarks regarding backpackers conning their way into schools:

I feel that part of the fault lies with the Chinese employers (and parents of students) too. They tend to judge by appearances. In China, appearances can count for a lot. Parents, and therefore employers, have certain stereotyped images of ideal teachers, which are largely to do with physical appearance.

Not many people seem to know the difference between being impressed and being educated. Some teachers can impress you with their wit and antics, without being capable of imparting any real knowledge. Others may be better educators, but not very charismatic on stage. The former seems to be the category more preferred. Top it up with a bit of attitude, and you have the winning formula. I sometimes get the feeling that some of the most obnoxious individuals end up with the best deals.

Countries like Korea have now woken up to this fact, that they had been employing farmhands and illiterates indisciminately all along, based on looks and attitude. They now seek other things like qualifications and experience, and, in some cases, language skills. Perhaps the same thing will happen in China, once parents start realising that appearance is not everything.

[ Last edited by changcheng at 2006-12-6 01:08 PM ]

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Post time 2006-12-6 13:17:23 |Display all floors

Students too

It is not just the parents. Chinese students seem to expect (and even be excited about) being entertained by the funny foreigner. I've had them say to me "we have a great English teacher, he sings and does funny dances", but if he tried to teach them English in the way that a European college would teach us Chinese, they would probably skip his or her classes.

So farm hands are perfect as long as they look good and can sing.

:)
"We know it's weakness, but the weakness is so strong!"

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Post time 2006-12-6 19:17:46 |Display all floors
Panda, I wonder how those expectations by Chinese students came about. They have no expectations whatsoever from their Chinese teachers. I have sat through Chinese classes, and I've seen the students do whatever their teachers ask them to do.

It's quite possible that such expectations were created in the first place by farm hands and backpackers resorting to cute tricks in class when they had no idea what or how to teach. They went to classes unprepared, and got through the period applying whatever survival skills they had. Over a period of time, that became the norm. It just goes to show how many of that kind have passed through the country's education system.

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Post time 2006-12-6 20:02:38 |Display all floors

Point is.

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 ...


Don't care for whether you sound native, care for the manner and the accuracy of language while speaking.
Another problem may be the fact that your accent is too close to an anouncer when you are speaking in front of a herd of accented people.

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