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Can Westerners become fluent in Chinese?


david1978
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And I'm sure you have the hard evidence to refute the studies.
I must admit to you that as a professional linguist, I just can't afford to go round collecting nonsenses and proving that they're wrong. As always, there are simply just too many of them. :D
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david1978: I dropped this link into the other thread, but I'll repeat it here - according to the linguists there (including one author of the paper), the study doesn't really say anything about language learning at all:

The point is not in any way to debunk Dediu and Ladd -- I don't think that they would disagree with what I'm saying here' date=' and I certainly don't disagree with their conclusions, as I understand them from what I've read so far. Their results are suggestive, and well worth following up. Indeed, I think that the other few hundred top-ranked gene/language correlations should be investigated as well!

But unsurprisingly, the press response is full of headlines like "Speaking in tones? Blame it on your genes" and "Genes may help people learn Chinese". It's worth noting that if there's a causal connection here, it need not have anything to do with the relative ease of learning tonal distinctions. In the talk that he gave here, Bob Ladd speculated that perhaps there is a difference in the relative psychophysical salience of the "micromelodies" that are a universal and inevitable consequences of consonant and vowel articulations in every language, leading to differences in the propensity to create tonal contrasts by re-interpretation of segmental contrasts, as happened repeatedly in the reconstructed history of East Asian and Meso-American tone languages.[/quote']

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I must admit to you that as a professional linguist, I just can't afford to go round collecting nonsenses and prove that they're wrong. There are simply just too many of them.

Yeah! The above statement coupled with what I'm sure is your shockingly superior Mandarin skills puts all research on the connections between biology and language to rest.

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zhwj: thanks for pointing that out and I noted that. However, none of the articles, including the ones the authors pointed to, claim that it is impossible for a Westerner to learn Chinese, only that it would be more difficult than learning a second non tonal language.

All humans have the innate ability to speak either type fluently, but the research indicates that genes may make one class slightly easier to learn. This raises the possibility that over thousands of years these differences could have guided the evolution of local languages according to the genetic variants in particular ethnic groups.

http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/uk/science/article1851794.ece

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Yeah! The above statement coupled with what I'm sure is your shockingly superior Mandarin skills puts all research on the connections between biology and language to rest.
You seem to be very excited having found someone new to argue with :wink: , david1978! Anyway, try not to jump into any conclusion before you know a bit about something, because this will undermine what you're saying. For your information, Mandarin is my newest hobby and is self-taught, done from thousands of miles away from where the language is actually used, so it shouldn't amount to anything. But what does my Mandarin have to do with this thread? Have you run out of something reasonable to say? :tong
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@HashiriKata:

Let me give you the benefit to add something constructive to this thread. You originally said that these studies are "complete bull meant for the gullible." Please explain why the studies' findings are "complete bull" that only a "gullible person" would be interested in investigating further. I'm waiting eagerly for your reply.

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From my posts above, you should know what I'd say about going to prove that someone is wrong (unless the studies are presented to me for marking or refereeing, when it'd become my business). Anyway, the point in my original post (#19) is simply: please do not use something unproven to prove something else.

(If I really want to talk about these so-called linguistic-genetic studies, I'd have done so in the other thread about them.)

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Hi David,

Yes, I guess my post was meant for you. But I think after debating the genes or nuture, I think there are other advantages at looking at people who had reached that high level of language attainment. In my examples, apart from Language genius (who might of done it for fun) the others had strong motivations to learn Chinese. James loved Bruce lee movies and cartoons, Jack wanted to get out of NZ I think and keep his language scholarship, Ian was his major and need CHinese at that time to get the good job in Shanghai. (I think they were all sino-philes aswell.)

Plus all spent at least 2 years doing fulltime Chinese language study. In addition to other time spent in their home country studying etc...

Can you see other similarities in people you know who can speak fluently?

have fun,

Simon:)

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Sure, david1978, but two paragraphs below there's this:

This does not mean that people with one set of genes cannot speak the other type of language, or that you have to be any smarter to learn one of these groups of languages rather than another," Robert Ladd, who led the research, said. "What we have found, though, suggests that these genes might have a very small effect on individuals, and a larger effect on the populations in which they live. As the language is passed on culturally, it would then be more likely to develop along one path than the other."
If this is the case, then the effect is probably so small that counting the numbers of westerners who've successfully learned Chinese isn't going to tell you much at all, particularly when you consider other variables like teaching methods (European languages have a more developed pedagogy and there are more resources to be found) and whether the writing system takes time away from training in the spoken language.
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Retract claws everybody! Otherwise my not pretty face might get clawed and become even more unlikable.

I am familiar with the standard format that imron has mentioned and I would have to agree in terms of fluency that it is never about the absolute proper grammar (heck just look at my posts!). And you would disqualify everyone in Sichuan (or at least 90% of the people) if it was on perfect pronunciation. Granted you must have to be able to be understood but an accent does not determine fluency. It is about majority correct usage, ability to write, speak and all the other things that no one will take time to write down (aka everyday life, a limited amount of specialty words [ie transmission- how many americans have no clue what it is???] and no that is not a joke).

These all play a factor and heck even the most fluent native english speakers don't know all the adjectives that are in the dictionary and that is something that we can all learn more of and it does not affect fluency.

Another important thing is recall...but it is not entirely necessary. If I can't think of a word in English does it mean that I am not fluent? No, but my recall in other areas (preprogrammed responses) should be there 99.999999999999999999999999% of the time.

Basically I know many that are fluent but hey even writing being necessary to fluency is debatable. A bum that grew up in beijing can maybe speak perfect (just because he was raised there) mandarin (and yes I do know that in beijing there is a difference between putonghua and beijinghua) but can't write.

I hope to be fluent someday but dang if I am going to go by your definition I might as well give up now and kill myself because then I can never be fluent in any language. Maybe I'll go live with the apes in a jungle somewhere. I'm sure they won't discriminate against my non-perfect language skills.

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'Truly fluent'

In order to establish such - and other - evaluations,

shouldn't one be oneself at or above that level?

So I have met at least two Westerners being truly fluent

-IMO (and what's that worth?).

Genes - nature or nuture - the old question.

I see it already happen - s.o. isolating that gene and starting

'language-gene therapy'. (sh)

Not at all un-ethical in a self-test.

I'm more a believer/follower of the nurture side:

- hard, efficient work

- appropriate environment (good teachers)

- intrinsic motivation

- good feedback etc.

and you can learn any language of the world! :D

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One thing to consider is that going by david's definition, I don't think anyone in this thread qualifies as being "truly fluent" in English. If you get down to it, there are grammar mistakes all over the place in this thread, but I don't think this should preclude anyone from being considered fluent in his own native tongue. Sure, there are some backwoods morons in any country who hardly speak their own language, but I don't think an occasional grammar mistake should keep someone from being considered "fluent."

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One thing to consider is that going by david's definition, I don't think anyone in this thread qualifies as being "truly fluent" in English. If you get down to it, there are grammar mistakes all over the place in this thread, but I don't think this should preclude anyone from being considered fluent in his own native tongue. Sure, there are some backwoods morons in any country who hardly speak their own language, but I don't think an occasional grammar mistake should keep someone from being considered "fluent."

Perhaps a more apt question one ought ask is whether those with weak command of their native language can even dream of being fluent in a second language, let alone Chinese. My money is on no.

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Question: How many Western people have you guys encountered that are truly fluent in Mandarin?
Remember this?

This is something I have been meaning to ask, I don't care how people define one's proficiency in a language. We all are going to have differences in what is fluent and not fluent. But I am willing to say they are not going to be too different from each other. I mean sometimes you just meet those people with such good language capabilities and you’re just like....damn. These are the kind of people I am talking about. Yes, I have my own standards too. Though, I personally believe ones true mastery of the language can only be seen in written composition. I love Da Shan, and love it even more when people talk about him to me, but I want to see him write a 论文...just my 2 cents.

Anyway, according to your own standard, how many people have you met in person that can speak fluent Chinese? I am just curious. I'll go first:)

2.

The first was when I first arrived here, 2 years ago, I met an older woman who I think was from Pennsylvania, she had already been living here for five years as a teacher. Maybe it was because my Chinese was rather poor at the time, but I remember thinking: damn...if only I could get to where she is....

The second was also during my first year of stay here, her name was 娜佳, she came to Wuhan around the same time I did, 20 years old, a cute little blond headed girl from the Ukraine, a big heart and unbelievably refined Chinese skills. And she was just so modest too. She became the girlfriend of my good friend and roommate, so we talked quite a bit. Man, I remember just listening to her talk on the phone in the hallway, never in my life have I heard a foreigner speak that good of Chinese so smoothly in person.

It is one thing to impress people with reactionary phrases, like say some things using really authentic 方言 and just reacting in general like a Chinese with a few sentences, many Chinese seem to think this is just SO AMAZING. You say something in the local language quickly in response to something you hear and they are like OMGWTFBBQ!!!!!11, then go and tell their lao wai story on the internet. Go see for yourself.

You know what impresses the shite out of me? Talk to me about say the healthcare problems in China...continually, non-stop, in depth, all while expressing your views in accordance with Chinese 表达习惯 and 逻辑思维, analyze a rather intricate IT process for me on the fly.

娜佳 could do this. There was this one time during class last year, I was second year level then, she came in to say something with the teacher (she was third year level, but refused to go to fourth because she saw no point...and I have to agree with her), all of the students in class would stop talking just to listen to her. After she left, one of the Korean students was like, damn. And the teacher just smiled and said: "she talks as fast as we do."

Finally, she talked with a slight Beijing accent, but not like putting an 儿 on everything, or imitating weird phrases from like Beijing drama shows like I have seen so many students do, just inciting the snickering of the Wuhan people. Lol. No, in the words of my good friend and Chinese major, her accent is "perfect."

That is my story. Now I want to hear others!

HJ

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HJ, I think your post is suggesting what I'm suspecting to be true: the novelty of hearing a laowai speak fluently, despite so many Westerners desperately trying to learn Chinese, has not worn off. Why? Because the success rate is pathetically low. You can digest this empirical observation in two ways: 1) you can brush it off and dismiss those Westerners as not trying hard enough; or 2) You can try to see if there is something going on.

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The novelty hasn't worn off because it's a slow process, and not one that will change overnight, especially given the length of time it takes to become functional in Chinese.

Also, it's not that the success rate is so low, it's just that the number of Chinese speaking foreigners compared to the total number of foreigners is still so low. Don't forget that although there are more and more people deciding to learn Chinese, there are even larger numbers of tourists visiting China every year who have no intention to learn the language, and also some business people who take the attitude of "I don't need to speak Chinese, because I can always find someone who speaks English".

Given these factors, then outside of seeing various Chinese speaking foreigners on TV, it is still far more common for a Chinese person to encounter a foreigner who doesn't speak Chinese, than it is to encounter one who does. Hence the reason for the stereotype of foreigners not being able to speak Chinese, hence the reason for the surprise.

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and also some business people who take the attitude of "I don't need to speak Chinese, because I can always find someone who speaks English".

Those kind of people bug me.

it is still far more common for a Chinese person to encounter a foreigner who doesn't speak Chinese, than it is to encounter one who does. Hence the reason for the stereotype of foreigners not being able to speak Chinese, hence the reason for the surprise.

Hence why even so many foreigners are surprised when another one can speak decent Chinese (by that I mean functional, as in able to handle the basics of daily life).

I mean sometimes you just meet those people with such good language capabilities and you’re just like....damn.

I think I same "damn" to everyone that has better Chinese than me and I'm not bad. I think all these people keep me going. If your Chinese is better I go damn and keep studying because I see how much further I have to go.

So on the other hand, I have a great confidence builder for everyone out there. You just bring a relative or friend that doesn't know anything on a trip with you and they most likely will not stop talking about how amazing you are. Good confidence builder.

I have to say for those that have been on this site a long time and been in China a long time.... "damn". Even though you make me keep, I don't like you because your Chinese is better than mine. I know my Chinese can never be perfect and better than everyone else's, but I'm sure as hell going to try.

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