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Can Westerners become fluent in Chinese?


david1978
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I've hear him on some commercials but I swear they all sound dubbed and not at all like what his voice should sound like. I've seen him use English before on a show and the two are so different there is no way the commercials are him. The voice reminds me of movies dubbed in the early 90's from Cantonese in mandarin using really whining operatic type voices.

Is that really what he sounds like?

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I think a good definition of fluency for our purposes here would be having roughly the same communication ability in the second language as one has in the first.

I buy this. I was thinking along similar lines when I said earlier that a person with poor communication skills in his native language is unlikely to achieve fluency in Mandarin. Nevertheless your definition of fluency as the proportional correlation of abilities between one's first and second language is a highly useful and appealing one.

I like this too. This goes back to why I said I don't care what is perceived as fluent as not, because we are going to have our own standards, albeit I imagine they are not as different as some people perceive them to be.

That doesn't mean I need to be able to speak fluently about astrophysics in either language.

Well, any time we are talking about something we know of, but are not say like an expert in or something, we will stumble. This is inevitable. So lets say you are into astrophysics, read about it a lot but don't really talk to people about it, you just enjoy learning about it, but no expert by any means. One day some dude unexpectedly asks you a question about planetary orbits or something...you hesitate, you understand but you don't where to begin, it eventually comes out but you just need some time to form you thoughts, during this time you are stumbling with words, looking for concepts and aspects to speak from. This stumbling and mucking about is very natural, it is apart of the expression process.

But what I want to see is you stumble and muck about in a Chinese way, in a way that only from the aspect of how you express yourself, a Chinese would not be able to tell you’re a foreigner. Yes pronunciation is so important, but if we just respond with a few words or express ourselves like a child using like memorized phrases, hell yeah we could all sound as authentic as we want to be! All you gotta do is drill a lot and train yourself to when you hear something, bam! You say the memorized phrase without even thinking (just like knowing the next few words of a familiar song) and you become a fluent speaking laowai. Lol. This is why I hate actors and speeches, and everyone going crazy about their language capabilities. They prepare for so long for these things; of course it is going to sound awesome! Come on, it is a show. Remember that famous 10 year black kid singing 民歌? You think he can speak fluid Chinese?

This is why I am more impressed with people like 石磊 and just everything he does, and I once saw an interview of some Russian lady that had opened a bread shop in Beijing. I remember being impressed with that. The link of the Da Shan interview, yes, that is exactly what I am talking about. I am much more impressed with these kinds of things. Notice the way Da Shan was pausing and finding what to say, notice how long he was pausing for, notice his movements and how he stressed the main points of what he was expressing, finally listen to what he is actually saying, how he responded to the questions presented. Communication is just as much about presentation, as it is pronunciation. When I look at 石磊, I see an American who speaks really good Chinese. But that’s just it, he acts (perhaps even speaks) like an American, but it’s cool because it gives his whole presentation a nice fresh feel, which appeals to his fan base. But the guy can’t muck about in Chinese like Da Shan (as well as the pronunciation, but there is no need to state the obvious). After all, 石磊 has only been here for a little over A YEAR. Lol. He will become the next Da Shan, you will see. Perhaps even on a whole new level.

I would say that you are fluent when in conversation with a native speaker, the native speaker feels that it is as easy to talk with you as with another native speaker. I.e.the native speaker can speak at full speed without worrying that you don't understand, and the native speaker understands anything you say without straining.

I like this take as well. I think people need to remember that Chinese is just a tool to DO THINGS. Go out and just use it (do whatever it is you do). There are so many foreigners in America that know just enough English to do what it is they need to do, and there is nothing wrong with that. Even if you are a so called perfectionist, first make sure you can do whatever it is you want to do, and then think about all this “what is the standard fluency level.”

HJ

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Thanks to the wonders of this page, which will decode any encoded JScript, we have the following links to Dashan's interview:

High-bandwidth version

mms://nv.sina.com.cn/ent/2006/06/14298309.wmv

mms://nv.sina.com.cn/ent/2006/06/14892608.wmv

mms://nv.sina.com.cn/ent/2006/06/14487426.wmv

Low bandwidth version.

mms://nv.sina.com.cn/ent/2006/06/14595458.wmv

mms://nv.sina.com.cn/ent/2006/06/14190155.wmv

mms://nv.sina.com.cn/ent/2006/06/14784667.wmv

It's mms and wmv so you might still have trouble on your Mac depending on what kind you've got, but at least it's a start.

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Here's a link to the same interview that will work on Macs (works for me with both Quicktime+Flip4Mac or VLC). It seems existing streaming software on the Mac doesn't take into account redirect messages in the MMS protocol, hence it was failing to open the above listed files which were getting redirected.

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  • 1 year later...

Hi everyone, I have been studying Chinese on and off for 10 years and I have recently been wondering what the meaning of "fluent" is in regards to learning a foreign language. I wrote about up my thoughts and I would love to here your feedback about it. Here is the blog post I wrote In summary, I don't believe I am fluent in Chinese Mandarin yet :( , but maybe many of you already are? :)

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My non-expert working definition uses the most basic meaning: able to flow like a fluid (it shares a root with the word "fluid"). Thus, if the accent and vocabulary are merely usable in practice, but speaking and listening and replying flow like the wind, like riding a bike, then that satisfies the definition I choose.

This word should be accompanied by a horizon: fluent over what portion of an entire language? So, you could say that a child is fluent in his native language within the range of his experience and learning so far. This is the practical definition of fluency that I can still work toward in Chinese.

Edited by querido
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I know a American friend who is very fluent in Chinese Mandarin and we have conversations in Chinese all the time, but the thing is, he speaks with a western accent. I think that unless your first language is Chinese, you can still be fluent in it, but just not completely fluent speaking it because of the foreign accent.

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Can westerners become fluent in Chinese? = Can Chinese become fluent in English?

I am a Chinese person and have been struggling to be fluent in English for more than ten years. Last year, I even spent 14 months in Sydney to improve my English speaking ability. I did improve quite a lot according to my Australian friends. They said "Your English sounds very natural and you sounds just like a native English speaker." I know this is quite flattering and my English doesn't deserve this in lots of cases.

But yes, I have been trying hard to get rid of my Chinese accent, and it seems to work:-)

Most importantly, I try to use more facial expressions and body language to assist my feelings when I speak English.(These are not so much valued or used in Chinese culture)

Westerners have a very different way to Chinese people when they express agreement, excitement, disappointment and other feelings. I mean the tones, the voice volume, the facial expressions and hand gestures, all of them, are so different to us. Personally, I think these details sometimes can be vital to a second language learner if your aim is to sound like a native speaker.

Therefore, vise versa for westerners who want to sound exactly like a native speaker of Chinese. You need to acquire a Chinese disposition. For example, I have seen many westerners, especially Americans (no offense to them:mrgreen:), they tend to say the phrase "dui bu qi, wo bu ming bai " with a very western way of looking - frowning, nose and mouth twisting, shrugging shoulders and lifting both hands. Something like this :conf

No matter how good one's pronunciation is, he/she would be immediately distinguished from Chinese people. There are quite a few other examples, like the way we say " En..." "Er..." " you...(have)", "hao..." etc, etc...needs to be considered by westerner learners.

Therefore, if a westerner want to be perfect in Mandarin, one needs to pay attention to these small things. Oops(ai ya), I seem to be completely off the topic:roll: But this is just something off the top of my head when I saw this topic. Would like to share it with you guys!

Good luck!:clap

Shuang

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Quote:

Originally Posted by Shuang

Last year, I even spent 14 months in Sydney to improve my English speaking ability.

How did you spend 14 months in a year?

Haha, thanks for the correction! :D

I meant I arrived in Sydney in 2007 and spent 14 months there.

I thought about making excuses for myself by saying 14 months is possible in a year because according to Lunar Calendar, there could be 双闰月。 but no, don't want to act like a smart ass:)

by the way, how can I quote things from other posts? I just copied and pasted... can't be the right way. anyone can kindly teach me this? I'm a new comer8)

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Hope it works...

For quoting, see this thread: http://www.chinese-forums.com/index.php?/topic/2-favourite-chinese-musician2490

For quoting, see this thread: http://www.chinese-forums.com/index.php?/topic/2-favourite-chinese-musician2490

For quoting, see this thread: http://www.chinese-forums.com/index.php?/topic/2-favourite-chinese-musician2490

I tried all of the four buttons, haha:mrgreen:

Thank you imron:D

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What is a "Westerner"? Sometimes I find this about as vague as the definition of a "fluent" speaker. In a Chinese context, the English word "Westerner" is often used as a direct translation of waiguoren - anybody non-Chinese, or anybody who is assumed to be an English speaker (by the Chinese) because of looks, cultural practices etc. The language and cultural backgrounds of these people are so diverse that it's really hard to make meaningful statements about, say, how likely they are to become fluent in Chinese. Where do they live? Do they have Chinese family? How old were they when they started learning? etc.

As for "fluency", I think a functional approach is more practical than the holy grail of being "indistinguishable from a native speaker". Can you do most things as effectively as a native speaker? Deliver an impromptu speech at your friend's wedding? Cold call a prospective employer and ask for a job? Write a dissertation on your PhD subject? Publish a short story?

Accents, facial expressions, cultural traits etc are certainly important if you're trying to make an impression of a native speaker, but the fact is that passing as a native is a complex social phenomenon, where language is only one of many factors at play. So if that's your goal by all means go for it, but I don't think every fluent speaker of Chinese has to have no foreign accent or actually like chou doufu. :D

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I have been trying hard to get rid of my Chinese accent, and it seems to work:-)

Accent and fluent are not related. You can be fluent with an accent, or can have very limited speaking ability and no accent.

Interestingly, did you notice, native Mandarin speaker when speaking English often sound "American" to me. They get naturally closer to that US accent.

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Accent and fluent are not related. You can be fluent with an accent, or can have very limited speaking ability and no accent.

This applies to many ABC's... Speak native sounding but very limited Chinese.

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yeah, or Obama's Indonesian, for that matter. See here (in English) and here (in German).

Indonesians, who have interacted with him, rave about his Indonesian abilities, but he is on record speaking only the most basic sentences, but apparently he has retained a native-like pronunciation and prosody.

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Interestingly, did you notice, native Mandarin speaker when speaking English often sound "American" to me. They get naturally closer to that US accent.

This is because in Beijing (maybe all over China) we have so many American teachers in schools comparing to those from Britain, Australia and other English speaking countries, especially in Beijing. I don't know the reasons.:conf

In a Chinese context, the English word "Westerner" is often used as a direct translation of waiguoren - anybody non-Chinese, or anybody who is assumed to be an English speaker (by the Chinese) because of looks, cultural practices etc.

I think the translation for Westerners should be "Xi fang ren". Wai guoren refers to anyone who is non-Chinese, like Japanese, Koreans, Indians, etc.. but yeah, sometimes, Chinese do use Waiguoren to refer to Caucasians, which is quite an incorrect generalization. :wink:

As for "fluency", I think a functional approach is more practical than the holy grail of being "indistinguishable from a native speaker"

This is a good point!:) Everyone is learning out of a different purpose. Some want to be a second Dashan and sort of being perfect in Mandarin, but others might be happy with getting around by simple daily Mandarin. These are all good reasons. However, each type of learners may follow different approaches. No one is to blame on this issue. :) So the whole discussion of "fluency" could be subtitled under "Learning purpose", I think.

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Interestingly, did you notice, native Mandarin speaker when speaking English often sound "American" to me. They get naturally closer to that US accent.

This is because in Beijing (maybe all over China) we have so many American teachers in schools comparing to those from Britain, Australia and other English speaking countries, especially in Beijing. I don't know the reasons.

This was a joke, right? There US teachers in HK too, but English in HK sounds.... well... not perfect. BTW, Mandarin too...

No, it's the rolling "R" that Northern Mandarin has. That gives a typical US sound.

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