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Can Westerners become fluent in Chinese?


david1978
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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.

It was not a joke at all. I know this by growing up here and going to the local schools, and also my other Beijing friends. The American teachers often outnumbered other foreign teachers in the English Department. If you look at the current popular English learning books or the textbooks used in Beijing, you will be surprised to find 80% of them are based on the American English, like the New Interchange, Crazy English by Li yang and lots and lots of others as well. Oh, even the most popular soap drama is Friends or Prison Break, etc...

I guess this is because the American culture is kind of dominant in the West. When it comes to English teaching, it sure has its special influence on the Asian market.

Sharing that "er" accent is another reason. That's true. And Beijingers tend to overuse that 'er' in English.....

Let's not talk about English teaching or learning cos this is a Chinese learning discussion place:)

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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..

Literally, yes. In practice, non-Chinese are often assumed to be English speakers by the Chinese, who themselves tend to miss out on the details. Take Russians in Beijing, for example. There are whole ethnic groups that become Westerners the second they set foot in China. From a geographical point of view, fair enough, they come from the left side of the map. But putting them in the same linguistic and cultural bracket as an American seems like a stretch.

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.

It's not just a question of being happy with your purpose, but also an issue of aiming for something that is achievable, so that you know when you are there and can measure your progress. My wife, a native speaker of Mandarin, once in a while gets mistaken for a foreigner by other Chinese -- granted it doesn't happen often, but being "indistinguishable" is such a tall order that even native speakers fail sometimes. On the other hand, a 4-year old is "fluent" in his native language, because he can do anything 4-year-old kids normally do in their native language. The "peer group" is crucial to any definition -- but being indistinguishable from a peer group and being equally fluent are clearly *not* the same thing.

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I guess this is because the American culture is kind of dominant in the West.

No, American entertainment is dominant in the west. Music, movies, TV shows.

Not culture.

Let's not talk about English teaching or learning cos this is a Chinese learning discussion place

It think it's a relevant discussion, since we all get mistaken for Americans (and are expected to act like Americans) when we're in China :mrgreen:

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Yeah, it's waiguoren, but the first question is always whether I'm a waiguoren from Meiguo or waiguoren from Yingguo :mrgreen:

In general, I feel that many American customs are projected to all "westerners", but this is due to the prevalence of American pop-culture and relative absence of, say, French, German or Latin American pop-culture in China. So from that point, it's undestandable, especially since many aspects of the culture ARE indeed similar between Germany, France and the US, especially from an Asian perspective.

Still, I'm very much against the concept of "westerners". For example, the question in this thread. A European is far more likely to be bilingual than a US American. This sort of thing also affects language-learning abilities.

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Don't want to encourage this rabbit trail too much but I as an american don't like the image pop culture gives me as an "american" and i don't like it how it is assumed that other "western" nations are assumed to have similar characteristics. Basically I agree with renzhe

edit: and to make my post relevant I still hold to the view that anyone can become fluent. For some it may take 20 years some 5, all depends on whether they are a 天才, how hard they work, the environment they are in ect. But I believe anyone can become fluent. Take it or leave it.

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I'd be careful to be talking about "Europeans" as well, for that matter. But it's a tad betteer than lumping all Westerners together as 西方人.

Disclaimer: of course there's some political validity to using Westerner or European or what have you. But I think often when talking about cultural differences, these categories are not overly useful.

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I'd be careful to be talking about "Europeans" as well, for that matter.

I remember a dinner I had in Germany with a bunch of exchange students from South America who were trying to convince me that "Europeans" don't have a sense of humour and are too serious.

Also with me were an Englishman, a Romanian and a Spaniard. We tried to imply that they might just be overgeneralising a tiny little bit.

But to get back to the point, I have never met anyone who grew up in a non-Chinese environment who speaks Mandarin fluently at a high level. But this has a lot to do with the number of people studying Chinese, how seriously they study, and the fact that Chinese is simply a difficult language to master. A non-Chinese non-westerner wouldn't necessarily find it easier. But I'm sure that they are out there.

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I guess this is because the American culture is kind of dominant in the West.

No, American entertainment is dominant in the west. Music, movies, TV shows.

Not culture

.

hmmm.....This is something good to know. :roll:

However, maybe it's just because the American entertainment is dominant in the West , it leaves the impression to the Chinese people that American culture is dominant in the West. Which aspects the word "Culture" includes might be hard to define, but these aspects sure exist in life. Aren't Music, movies, TV Shows a reflection of life and therefore culture( well, not always, but in most cases)

and to make my post relevant I still hold to the view that anyone can become fluent. For some it may take 20 years some 5, all depends on whether they are a 天才, how hard they work, the environment they are in ect. But I believe anyone can become fluent. Take it or leave it.

yeah, I agree that being fluent in Mandarin is totally achievable, no matter you are Waiguoren or Xifangren:) So have faith in yourself !!!:)

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Aren't Music, movies, TV Shows a reflection of life and therefore culture

American TV shows, music and movies, while popular all over the world, are primarily a reflection on American culture. They are popular in Europe, but they don't necessarily reflect the everyday life of most Europeans. There are certain cultural similarities, and some aspects of American culture are also becoming common in other parts of the world, but there are still big differences. And that's a good thing.

And, as muyongshi points out, the media often show a distorted reflection of American culture.

Of course, there are many different cultures in the US as well, the south is different from the north, east from west, etc. etc.

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I have never met anyone who grew up in a non-Chinese environment who speaks Mandarin fluently at a high level.

One friend of mine is native speaker like fluent. He studied Mandarin in Taiwan, then later stayed some time in HK and CN, later married a girl from Dalian that couldn't speak English, and never learned it later. He worked a few years for a PRC company in HK too. He adopted the Dalian accent. His Mandarin is way better then most locals. Keep in Mind that just 60% of Chinese speak Mandarin to some extend.

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"to some extent"?

you do know that 60% (which amounts to a figure of more than 800 million speakers) is the percentage of NATIVE speakers of Mandarin in China, right? How well they have learnt Standard Mandarin depends on their education level and so forth, but they're native speakers of Mandarin nonetheless....

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you do know that 60% (which amounts to a figure of more than 800 million speakers) is the percentage of NATIVE speakers of Mandarin in China,

No, that's the combined figure of people that speak Mandarin as 1st, 2nd, 3rd. xnd language. I presume that very few people speak Mandarin as native language, for most it's the 2nd language. I guess there are maybe 5-10% native speaker.

You probably feel that Mandarin goes very strong coz you are in a big city, but you go to the countryside you will hear way less Mandarin.

I read in a Chinese newspaper that 40% of locals speak no Mandarin up to a useful level.

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Mandarin refers to all the Mandarin dialects, not just Standard Mandarin.

Look at a language map of China, it runs from Sichuan to Dongbei...

This has got to with linguistic facts, not with where I'm located at.

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I don't doubt that a lot of government officials don't master Standard Mandarin, but 普通话 and Mandarin are not the same thing....

I know that Mandarin is ambiguous between 普通话 and 官话 in colloquial English, but I don't think you should lump speakers of nonstandard Mandarin dialects together with speakers of non-Mandarin Sinitic languages.

However, in academic usage, Mandarin and Standard Mandarin are clearly defined in English to match 官话 and 普通话, and since flameproof seems to like to keep calling everybody's attention to the fact that not many people in China fully master Standard Mandarin, I wish he'd do this in a less ambiguous manner, lest that other people get confused about the linguistic situation in China.

Edited by chrix
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I don't doubt that a lot of government officials don't master Standard Mandarin
The article is not just mentioning officials. The opening paragraph states: "我国刚刚有超过一半的人口可以用普通话进行交流"
However, in academic usage, Mandarin and Standard Mandarin are clearly defined in English to match 官话 and 普通话,
In academic usage maybe, but in general usage I don't think things are so clear cut and that Mandarin/Standard Mandarin/Putonghua as seen as one and the same. It's not just flameproof, but when most others in this thread have mentioned Mandarin and learning Mandarin to a high level, I'm fairly sure they were all talking about Putonghua. I know that when I talk about Mandarin, I'm almost always talking about Putonghua and not the larger set of all Mandarin dialects.

In fact such usage is widespread enough that Wikipedia states: (emphasis added)

In English, Mandarin can refer to either of two distinct concepts:

* In everyday use Mandarin refers to Standard Chinese or Standard Mandarin (Putonghua / Guoyu / Huayu), which is based on the particular Mandarin dialect spoken in Beijing. Standard Mandarin functions as the official spoken language of the People's Republic of China, the official language of the Republic of China (Taiwan), and one of the four official languages of Singapore. ‘Chinese’ — in practice Standard Mandarin — is one of the six official languages of the United Nations.

* In its broader sense, Mandarin is a diverse group of Mandarin dialects spoken in northern and southwestern China (Guanhua / Beifanghua / Beifang fangyan). This group of dialects is the focus of this article.

Which, under the assumption that one trusts the integrity of the article, would imply that both usages are acceptable.

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