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歐博思

Ease of speaking/listening in Japanese vs Chinese; exclusive of characters

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歐博思

Because this is a Chinese forum, I expect a bit of bias towards Chinese. But is there anyone here who could shed some light on the easiness of speaking/listening in Japanese vs Chinese? My Chinese based character knowledge is already pretty solid, so I'd like to focus more on the variable for me in this case: speaking and listening. Recently, I have discovered that my Chinese accent is, according to my own views, still quite bad after 5 years, and just way too American. I am wondering would the speaking and listening aspects of Japanese be more comfortable for an English speaker typically? I want to put my fairly good character knowledge to good use and ride one of either Chinese or Japanese languages to the top (modern Korean more and more shying away from characters being a reason I don't much have the inkling to learn it). Any thoughts? I am considering jumping ship for a multitude of reasons.

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roddy

Problems with your accent are fixable - it might be painful and time-consuming, but get the right teacher and spend a decent amount of hours on it and you'll get there. I don't know what your other multitude of reasons are, but that alone isn't a good reason to quit. And even if you do quit, spend another six months sorting out your problems before you go - that way you can leave with your head, and first tones, held high.

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li3wei1

Why get uptight about your accent? Are you looking for voiceover work? Unless you are ethnically Chinese or Japanese, you'll never pass for a native speaker in a face-to-face situation. Learn how to express yourself clearly and all will be good. Strong accents didn't hurt the careers of Albert Einstein, Henry Kissinger, Arnold Schwarzenegger, etc. etc.

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roddy

How do you know? Maybe Schwarzenegger could have been president ;-)

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Ruben von Zwack

When you say accent, what sort of problems do you mean exactly?

Personally I find that Americans often have great difficulties pronouncing "plain" vowels and tend to "diphtongise" them, and no matter how fluent (so they must have put in a lot of work), often articulate vowels quite far back in the mouth. I am not sure I am using the right terminology here though. Apologies for that. I had some linguistics back then in uni but it's long ago and I forgot too much, and I will gladly stand corrected.

To try it from a different angle, I have the impression, Americans are, vowel-wise, with the Dutch and the Danish, if you know what I mean. So in languages like Italian and German (and Japanese, I'm afraid), their vowels often will have that "typical American" accent.

I don't know if that is what your specific problem is though.

Anyway, there must be a means to adress whatever your accent problem is? What have you tried so far?

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淨土極樂

To put it simply, Japanese phonology is one of the most simple in the world, however their writing system is the most convoluted. Each and every character has 3-4 readings on the average. Sometimes, even words have multiple readings, depending on the context. E.g. 上手 can be pronounced uwate, kamite and jouzu, each pronunciation having a different meaning. Given names are even more ridiculous, even the native speakers don't always get them right.

There's also multiple levels of polite speech, which you have to learn, if you don't want to sound uncivilized.

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Ruben von Zwack
Japanese phonology is one of the most simple in the world

Doesn't neccessarily mean someone from an American-English background will find it easy to pronounce it right though :wink:

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歐博思

I feel that no matter how I attempt to change the point-of-articulation (not entirely sure how to do that even) that my pronunciation overall sounds very English-y. For example, some times my tempo, rhythmn, tones can sound like a CCTV newscastor, albeit not very often. But no matter what speed I'm speaking, I cannot get the timbre or voice quality to approach anything similiar to a CCTV newscastor (or any native speaker really, for that matter), but rather still sounds very foreign. Maybe a recording would be better than explaining?

As for Japanese writing being more convaluted, I'm not not worried about that too much as I have always been pretty solid at the reading and writing aspects of Chinese. I've taken a Japanese class at university and gotten a feel for the conjugations and the levels of politeness, and it doesn't seem too bad. I am wondering how is the listening aspect of Japanese vs Chinese for those who've progressed further than me to a decently high level? In addition, in the TV show thread in these forums, even some of the 'beginner' shows can still boggle my mind and go in one ear and out the other ; definitely my weakest skill. Is there any general consensus on which language is more difficult in listening?

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msittig

My own experience is that Chinese listening and speaking are both more difficult than Japanese. I was watching Japanese shows and understanding the basic grammatical structure of sentences during my first year of Japanese study: the articles, conjugations and other word-endings are very helpful in spacing out the meaning and providing a framework for comprehension, even if you don't understand the nouns and verbs. With Chinese it took me 3 or 4 years to get up to that level. As for speaking, like Hoffman said above, if you learn to un-dipthong-ize your Japanese then you are halfway to a decent accent. I found my background in Spanish -- where we were explicitly taught dipthongs in elementary school! -- was a perfect match for the Japanese phonemes, except for maybe 'u' and the ts-.

And to answer the idea that there's no need to get "uptight about your accent", I'm a proponent of Princeton in Beijing's position on this matter:

Is fluency without accuracy really fluency?

We say no. The emphasis at Princeton in Beijing is on fluency through accuracy, on building a solid foundation in pronunciation and syntax that enables students to strive for genuine fluency in the Chinese language.

http://www.princeton.edu/pib/academics/

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realmayo

欧博思 -- does the "English-y" pronunciation you hate involve you sounding more "breathey" and "earnest" than the Chinese accent you want? Those are the best descriptions I've been able to come up with for the sound-quality that I think lots of Western learners of Chinese, including myself, struggle to shake off.

I suspect it maybe that for lots of sounds we push the back of the tongue down too much, "hollowing-out" the mouth more, perhaps? And maybe this stems from when we first tried making falling tones, either 3rd or 4th, and over-doing them still lingers? But I find it hard to explain this "westerner" accent.

msittig: I find it hard to agree with that: consider a German person who has lived most of his childhood and life in England, speaks exceptionally good English but still has a trace of a German accent. His accent is less intrusive than, say, an American accent is to someone from England. Is the German guy less fluent than the American?

Via somewhere I've forgotten I saw a paper written by a Nato interpreter, Chris de Fortis, which includes these snippets:

So, a ‘B’ language as practised at the highest level of international conferences (eg. OECD, World Bank, Council of Europe, NATO, various national ministries etc.) is a second language, the mastery of which can be assessed at a level slightly below that of a conference interpreter’s mother tongue .... This mother tongue should itself be exceptionally rich and flexible, clearly surpassing the quality offered by an average, even university-educated, mother-tongue speaker.

A slight foreign accent is acceptable in the ‘B’ language, so long as it in no way hampers comprehension. Indeed, recent surveys among users of interpretation indicate that accuracy, consistency and voice quality and are more prized than the lack of accent.

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Ruben von Zwack

In my opinion, accent does not equal accent.

Some accents sound "offensive" - I know that is a strong word, but, like the speaker doesn't care. It's especially bad if that person is (sort of) fluent at the same time.

At the same time, a slight accent can be rather charming (not for a professional interpeter of course).

I have to work with a pool of interpreters at my job, and I find it quite annoying when a German interpreter speaks with a particular British or particular American accent, so I know they put a lot of effort into learning and imitating this accent - I've even had German interpeters incorporating Australian accents! -, but at the same time lacks voice and storyboard quality. It makes the conversation so hard to follow.

realmayo wrote:

more "breathey" and "earnest" than the Chinese accent you want? Those are the best descriptions I've been able to come up with for the sound-quality that I think lots of Western learners of Chinese, including myself, struggle to shake off.

I know exactly what you mean. It sounds so un-asian and I have no clue what to do about it, makes me really self-conscious when speaking. I'd be curious if someone with a very melodic native language, like Italian, fared better.

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imron
A slight foreign accent is acceptable in the ‘B’ language, so long as it in no way hampers comprehension

I don't see this contradicting msittig's statement.

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realmayo

Maybe I misunderstood msittig's statement to mean that someone isn't fluent if he has an accent that is identifiably foreign.

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roddy

I think we can all agree that "foreign" is fine, but "what did he just say? God it sounds odd." isn't. I think things get distorted in China a bit though, as unlike most other nations it really does have a standard to hold yourself to.

OP, you're more than welcome to stick a recording up if you want. Instructions.

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li3wei1

msittig's statement, or the P-in-B statement that he quotes, is a bit ambiguous because it's unclear what 'accuracy' refers to. If two people say the same thing, using the same words, and are equally understandable, but one has an accent, is the other more 'accurate'? Accuracy is something that I understand when applied to grammar and vocabulary, and pronunciation to the extent that each sound is identifiable.

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Glenn

I think it's probably a fuzzy average kind of thing. Syntactic, lexical, and idiomatic accuracy are probably most important, with the pronunciation being in some range of "hmm... almost native with a foreign flavor" still being considered accurate, and of course "sounds like a Chinese person*!" being the most accurate.

*I'm imagining a Chinese person who is a native of Mandarin thinking/reacting this way, and I realize that it's a very vague description.

How do you know? Maybe Schwarzenegger could have been president ;-)

Man, this one statement can lead to so much mischief...

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OneEye

To my understanding, 'accuracy' in this sort of context (the PiB quote) generally refers to accuracy of usage. Using the right word, sentence pattern, etc. for the job. It also includes things like using the appropriate register for the situation at hand or phrasing things the way a native speaker would. For example, I recently said "我就在照片裡耶," but it turns out that native speakers would instead say "照片裡有我耶."

Fluency is often discussed in conjunction with accuracy. You'll see things like "many intermediate students have developed a high level of fluency but still struggle with accuracy." Accent is generally discussed as a separate entity. Of course, if your accent is awful, it doesn't really matter much how accurate you are, and vice versa.

I've always thought that acceptance by native speakers is a fairly unreliable measurement when it comes to accent, but I don't know of any better one. I've had Taiwanese people tell me I have no accent at all, which I know to be inaccurate. Usually if I press, they'll back down to "應該是說,沒有很嚴重的腔調," which is probably closer to the truth. Then I have a friend who, as far as I can tell, really does have a native accent, but a few Taiwanese people have told me that they can hear something "a little off." And then other Taiwanese people were so fooled by his Chinese (which is truly intimidating) that they've insisted that he was a 華僑, when he's whiter than sour cream. So who knows.

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DongLian

I have a strange ability to speak Chinese with (an accent) pretty good accuracy because I have a natural tendency to mimic (bad when I started dating Canadian.. picking up his accent!)

That's what I do though.  I just hear, then mimic the sound rather than trying to totally memorize each word's tones.

 

I find understanding people speaking to me in Chinese to be very difficult though.. I'm too slow at processing it in my head like.. I hear it.. I know I know it, but I have to translate it before I "get" it I can't just get it as chinese even if I can speak it without going English > Chinese > Speak

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carlo

 

It sounds so un-asian and I have no clue what to do about it, makes me really self-conscious when speaking. I'd be curious if someone with a very melodic native language, like Italian, fared better. 

I'm an Italian native speaker, and I can instantly pick out an Italian accent in Chinese from a small set of clues, eg. the contrast between aspirated and unaspirated consonants (b vs p) being realized as voiced vs unvoiced. Luckily, many Chinese believe that a "Western" accent = English, hence sometimes people will compliment us on our lack of a "foreign" accent, despite our obvious shortcomings.
 
The sound set of Japanese is almost identical to Italian, and I can imitate a Japanese speaker very convincingly without having any idea of what I'm saying. Incidentally, Japanese-accented Chinese sounds a lot like Italian-accented Chinese.
 
My ideas on the subject of "fluency" vs "perfect accent" have been tested by the experience of raising my son, who has had to cope with four languages from birth (Italian, English, Mandarin and Cantonese). You'd be wrong to assume a bilingual person is just the linear sum of two monolinguals. The rate at which they absorb each language clearly differs from the other kids of the same age that are learning only one language, even if they are doing so simultaneously, and even if the end result is substantially identical (ie. they eventually become indistinguishable from monolinguals in a given situation).

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