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grawrt

Why are Chinese people picky about the type of language you speak but not with English?

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grawrt

(sorry, I'm not sure where the best place to put this topic)

 

Today I came across a really strange anomaly. I was speaking with some Chinese girls at my rollerblading club and after they told me they were learning Spanish I told them that my roommate is from Argentina and she's looking for a language exchange partner if they were interested. I spoke with 3 or four girls, and they all made a face then went Oh.... the Spanish there isn't standard, they have a different way of speaking, so yeah.. Not interested.

 

But when my roommate and I went to a language exchange event a while back, she told me she got mobbed by Chinese people asking if she would be interested in an English-Chinese language exchange even though she said she doesn't speak it well and that it's not her native language. To them it didn't seem to matter. I also met with someone advertising a language exchange event recently and they didn't care where English speakers were from as long as they spoke English, this included the friend I was with whose from Pakistan.

 

Conversely, I was thinking about when us language learners learn Chinese, some of us have a bias for certain areas. Personally, I leaned toward Northern-speech and that was because it was the most 'standard'.

 

I was wondering if Chinese speakers learning English don't care because learning English wasn't their choice and they learned it from a young age? Perhaps starting a new language in college they realize that they don't have much time to master the language as they did with English and so finding the 'right' start is the best way to maximize learning?

 

This is just a thought, I'm not presenting anything as fact or trying to. I just wanted to hear your opinions, because it just was weird to me and a bit funny because its so similar to how we pick and choose.

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Shelley

Interesting considering how many different "Englishes" there are. But I suppose they don't vary much except for accent (on further thought that maybe an oversimplification) Australian, American and British are the 3 major versions of English I can think of.

India and Pakistan use British English as a basis from earlier colonial times. There are lots of variations on a theme as it were, South African is sort of a mix between English, Dutch and African languages and all the other versions of English have their roots in one form or another with local twists and accents.

American English is probably the most different in as much as there different accents and spellings. 

 

I am sure there have been questions posted here asking which English accent should I learn from Chinese English learners and the same question in reverse from Chinese learners.

 

Having lived in Canada, USA, Scotland and now England  I have experienced the differences first hand. I also remember how as a teenager I changed accents with ease to fit into school and every day life. Not having an American accent in Scotland in the seventies was the best way not to pay tourist prices and so I learnt to swap and change depending on where I was. It took about 2 weeks to change.

 

I don't know if Chinese people learning English don't care about what accent or maybe they are just unaware the differences exists, but I find this hard to believe.

 

It might be as you suggest they just want/need to learn English and the finer points are not important. 

 

I was born in Quebec Canada and i remember how French people from France considered our french accent to be quite rough to put it politely and if a school offered french lessons from a Parisian teacher it was well respected. So this kind of thing happens with English, British accent considered "correct", French with french from France "correct and as in your example a "correct" version of Spanish.

 

I suppose this might be true for many languages that are spoken in different places, is Portugal's Portuguese the "correct" one as opposed to Brazilian Portuguese?

 

I have always considered Northern Chinese to be closest to the "correct" or standard Chinese.

 

I think it is only reasonable to expect it you are going to put in a lot work to learn a language it might as well be the "correct" one.

 

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fanglu
Oh.... the Spanish there isn't standard, they have a different way of speaking, so yeah.. Not interested.

 

I don't know much about Spanish, but this reminds me of a scene in the movie The Spanish Apartment where the French students turn up to their class in Barcelona and the teacher is speaking Catalan. They complain and he says if they want to speak Spanish they should go to south America.

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French

When people are fluent in a language, I don't think we can catalog one country as the "standard". True when it comes to French, we, Parisiens, say that we don't have any French accent as opposed to people from Marseilles or Quebec. But when it comes to who speaks the best French, we often say that Quebec people have the purest one as they are not very keen on bringing English words (break point (tennis), smartphone are normal to use in France but Quebec has their own translation).

When it comes to English, it's hard for me to put India on the same level as the USA, the UK or Australia. Not everybody is fluent there.

To me, South American and Spanish are evenly language wise. Same for Australian, British and American. Sure it's different but if you're fluent in one the given form, you're gonna be skilled enough to notice the differences and understand one another.

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Silent

 

 

Sure it's different but if you're fluent in one the given form, you're gonna be skilled enough to notice the differences and understand one another.

I don't want to get into the debate about fluent, or be judgemental about which dialect is better/worse. For a learner I think the general motivation should be to learn a 'neutral' dialect where I define neutral as 'is understood by most people'. Learning some minority dialect that is hard to understand for many natives is counterproductive. 

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eliaso
I spoke with 3 or four girls, and they all made a face then went Oh.... the Spanish there isn't standard, they have a different way of speaking, so yeah.. Not interested.

 

They are just ignorant and have no idea how to learn a language effectively. As Chinese people often are on this subject (yes, that is what I actually think). Same happens sometimes with English - "Oh, you're not a native speaker, not interested". Other times people are so desperate to find anyone to speak English with that any foreigner will do (as long as you're not East Asian...).

 

I'm doing language exchange with some Chinese folks that I was connected to through a mutual friend (a native English speaker). First they didn't want to do it when my friend suggested me and told them where I'm from. He had to convince them that I'm fully fluent on a conversational level from a native speakers perspective. Now they are happy and have told me that I'm even easier to understand than native speakers as my pronunciation is so clear. What I haven't had heart to tell them is that I dumb down my speech a lot for them to be able to understand me at all.

 

Being taught a language by a native speaker is greatly over-appreciated. As is being fully immersed and living in Northern China when learning Chinese. And yes, I live and study in Harbin.

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edelweis

Perhaps the difference you found in the Chinese student's requirements can be explained by the degree of implication in their language study.

 

WARNING: I have no actual experience or knowledge about the topic, so the following is almost entirely conjecture:

 

Chinese people who study a language other than English have made a choice to study that specific language, and they are probably more invested in the study of this language and therefore more knowledgeable about the possible variants.

 

But all or almost all Chinese kids have to study English. Because, you know, all foreigner speak English. That's why English is compulsory. And, you know English is compulsory, that means all foreigners must speak English.

It also means that statistically, the Chinese students who are aware of the English variants and selective about their study partners will be lost in the sea of students who study English because they have to, and who have no clue that the world outside China isn't like another PRC with English as 普通话 (taught in schools since kindergarten, and the only teaching language in secondary schools and university - correct me if I'm wrong) + a bunch of regional dialects.

 

[/ end wild conjecturing]

 

Hmm I wonder, do the Chinese think that a young 广东人's 普通话 is as good or maybe even better than a young 北京人's ?

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Lu

Chinese people who study a language other than English have made a choice to study that specific language

This is not necessarily the case. I'm not all that knowledgable on the system, but the people I knew studying Dutch didn't set out to learn Dutch specifically. They had applied to a certain university (and a few other universities), had been accepted and given the choice between Bengal and Dutch (or some such random two options). So they had an interest in language-learning, but no specific interest in Dutch when they started out.

As to English, I partly agree: everyone has to study it, including people who know little about languages and learning them. I think the people who go looking for a language partner would probably be more interested in learning a language than others, but they don't necessarily have a clue about what kind of speaker makes for a good language partner.

Also it's quite possible that the people being picky about Spanish and the people not being picky at all about English are not necessarily the same people. The people picky about Spanish might be just as picky about English, and the people not picky about English might never learn another language.

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grawrt

Good point lu. I never thought about it that way. It just shocked me when I heard them get all selective, but then again I do feel like there is a difference between the typical 'wanting to learn engish' chinese students, and the ones that are for instance, learning spanish. It seems they're better informed, one of the girls I was speaking with was trying to explain the differentiations.

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陳德聰

#4 is misleading in terms of "standards". For French, there is an Academie that "regulates" French language and provides the standard. English has no such standard, and study of the world's different varieties of English produce models like Kachru's inner circle/outer circle/expanding circle which places all native English speaking countries in the centre, with countries using English in an official capacity one step out, and then all the other countries that don't have any connection to English (but are learning it anyway) in the expanding circle.

 

To be honest, I think it's borderline racist to suggest that English in India is less English than English in "USA, the UK or Australia". I don't understand Scouse or Geordie but I don't think you could get away with saying that those are not English.

 

I think that this lack of standard is one of the key things going on here. Dialectical variations matter way less to English speakers because we don't have a British authority breathing down everyone's neck telling them how to speak "properly" anymore, and I don't know that Chinese people are consciously aware of that, but I think they are aware that Vietnam, India, and the Philippines all have vastly different accented Englishes and yet they are successfully using English internationally.

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anonymoose
To be honest, I think it's borderline racist to suggest that English in India is less English than English in "USA, the UK or Australia".

 

I disagree. What does this have to do with race? I'd say it is more a case of someone arbitrarily choosing English spoken in "USA, the UK or Australia" as the standard, and then saying that Indian English is far from this standard. Well, that is true is in not? The only issue under contention is whether it is justified or not to choose English in the "USA, the UK or Australia" as standard. But if your answer is no, then how is that different from saying Westerners' (usually poor) Chinese is any less Chinese than that spoken in China?

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Pokarface

I'm a native Spanish speaker (Mexican accent). I can understand everyone I've met who speaks Spanish. The difference in Spanish is word choice, slang, expressions, and accent, but once your an intermediate or  upper-intermediate language learner, I believe you can start deducting what someone from a different Spanish speaking country is saying. By the way, I had to learn American English at school =-p

I didn't know a European Spanish or British English existed since I was too young when I started learning. 

 

I actually prefer speaking with anyone that speaks x language that way I can get used to listening Northern, Southern, Taiwan, Singapore, Malay, and even foreign Chinese accents. In terms of learning the language, most books and CDs contain the Beijing accent, so I don't have much of a choice, but at least I can access Taiwan tv shows very easily  :D. Likewise, I also believe that I'll be able to deduct what someone from Taiwan, Singapore, etc. Is saying once I reach an intermediate Mandarin level. I also noticed this to hold true to Brazilian and European Portuguese, my 4th language.

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陳德聰
What does this have to do with race? I'd say it is more a case of someone arbitrarily choosing English spoken in "USA, the UK or Australia" as the standard, and then saying that Indian English is far from this standard. Well, that is true is in not?

Uh, it's no further than the English in Malaysia, Nigeria, the Philippines, Kenya, etc. English is used institutionally in these countries as part of Kachru's outer circle. The are an estimated 150-300 million speakers of this type of "far away from Standard" English, which is growing much more quickly than the current max ~380 million native speakers, and does not even include China as it is part of Kachru's expanding circle. The number of non-native speakers of English will be, if it is not already, much greater than that of native speakers quite soon, so it's definitely worth thinking about how you perceive different varieties of English and which supposedly "arbitrary" judgments are being made.

 

Dialectologists already know that a person's personal biases affect their judgment of language variation, and that attitudes make up a large part of people's willingness to consider something intelligible or not. Objectively, the English spoken in India is no less a variety of English than the English spoken in any of the countries I listed above, or the countless others that have historical and/or institutional connection to the English language.

 

 

The only issue under contention is whether it is justified or not to choose English in the "USA, the UK or Australia" as standard. But if your answer is no, then how is that different from saying Westerners' (usually poor) Chinese is any less Chinese than that spoken in China?

As for your second question, it's completely different.

 

I believe it is completely ridiculous and a colonial vestige to choose English in the "USA, the UK or Australia" as a standard for English spoken or intended to be spoken anywhere other than the "USA, the UK or Australia". However, your conclusion and ensuing question are a result of poor reasoning and perhaps a lack of understanding of the 3-way distinction between ENL, ESL, and EFL implicit in Kachru's Three Circles of English.

Do any of those Westerners come from countries where Chinese is used institutionally, historically, as a primary language of instruction? If they did, for example come from Singapore or Malaysia, or even Brunei, then it would be likely that they speak a variety of Mandarin that is considered non-standard by the 普通话-police, but linguistically still a distinct variety of Chinese. Westerners learning Chinese would correspond to the same expanding circle as Chinese people learning English do, if such a model were constructed for Chinese varieties, and is thus a totally inappropriate analogy for the English spoken in India as part of the outer circle.

 

It's fine to disagree with the Three Circles model itself, but there is certainly a distinct variety of English spoken in each country that uses English institutionally but non-natively, and those varieties behave as discrete linguistic entities just as much as do native varieties.

Braj Kachru's Three Circles of English for your reference.

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Silent

 

Being taught a language by a native speaker is greatly over-appreciated. As is being fully immersed and living in Northern China when learning Chinese. And yes, I live and study in Harbin.

Is it? If I've the choice between a native and a non native teacher/tutor/language partner I tend to choose the native one over the non-native one. Specially if you're a beginner and have no clue about their language skills and accents I think the native is the safer bet.

 

Of course I do agree that a non-native can very well be the better choice. The non-native will often times have a better clue about pitfalls of a language and better aware of the grammar rules. If they've learned the language to a near native level and have teaching skills they make excellent teachers. As a beginner however you will have a hard time to  judge the level of the non-native. So you risk hiring a teacher that barely knows the language or that has a very bad accent. Specially in Asia, there are loads of language teachers that are barely able to communicate in the language they teach. But also in the Netherlands, many primary school teachers barely speak English but they do teach it. Some years back this has been reason for some debate or dedicated English teachers should be hired.

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Lu

Of course I do agree that a non-native can very well be the better choice. The non-native will often times have a better clue about pitfalls of a language and better aware of the grammar rules. If they've learned the language to a near native level and have teaching skills they make excellent teachers. As a beginner however you will have a hard time to judge the level of the non-native. So you risk hiring a teacher that barely knows the language or that has a very bad accent. Specially in Asia, there are loads of language teachers that are barely able to communicate in the language they teach. But also in the Netherlands, many primary school teachers barely speak English but they do teach it. Some years back this has been reason for some debate or dedicated English teachers should be hired.

Actually I disagree. Of course I'd want a teacher with a decent knowledge of and mastery of the language, but as long as that is in order, as a beginner I'd prefer a native speaker of my own language. Such a teacher would have an idea of what kind of things I might struggle with or misunderstand and can explain them to me in several ways in my own language. A native speaker might know what is correct and what isn't but not be able to explain why, or won't anticipate which things might be difficult for me as a Dutch speaker specifically. And a native speaker will often be less capable of explaining things to me in my own language. Of course, well-trained, experienced native speakers might not have these issues, but for a beginner, I think these things are more important than full mastery of the language.

In my first year I was taught by several Dutch teachers who spoke Chinese as a foreign language and I'm happy that I was. I learned a number of other languages in secondary school, all taught by Dutch, non-native speakers, and I'm very satisfied with what I learned from them. I also learned a little bit of Spanish from a native speaker who was not trained as a teacher (and who to my knowledge had actually never studied a foreign language, he just picked them up as a child), and who was pretty awful at teaching Spanish. I studied Taiwanese with two different teachers, both native speakers. The first was a lovely woman who was clueless on how to teach us Taiwanese and I soon dropped out. The second was well-trained, but I don't think she was necessarily better than a proficient, well-trained non-native speaker would have been.

Of course you do need a teacher who has a good knowledge of the language they are teaching, but they don't need to be native speakers in my opinion.

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Silent

 

 

Actually I disagree. Of course I'd want a teacher with a decent knowledge of and mastery of the language, but as long as that is in order....

The problem this is hard the decide when you're at the level of an absolute beginner. For a beginner native or non-native isn't that important as long the teaching skills are good.

 

When reaching a higher level you have to learn to cope with all kinds of accents native and non native, so need exposure to both, but the average non-native will add less value with respect to advanced vocabulary and grammar. So only considering improving language skills the native is imho better. 

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Shelley

"as a beginner I'd prefer a native speaker of my own language" from Lu's post #16. I have to agree with this. I really appreciated being able to ask questions and understand the reply.

 

I also enjoyed having a native Chinese teacher later in my studies for pronunciation perfection and some "real world" advice.

 

I consider myself lucky to have had the best of both worlds when I started, as my second teacher( who I was with for years) was born in Shanghai in the 1940's and learnt mandarin as a child and young adult but had to leave because of the "troubles". This meant she was really bilingual, she also had a passion for Chinese that I have not seen in any other teacher yet.  Her parents spoke English but her amah was a native Chinese mandarin speaker.

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Silent

 

 

 I really appreciated being able to ask questions and understand the reply.

This does not require a native of your own language. Simply having a common language is sufficient. E.g. a native in the language you're learning that knows your native language. 

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anonymoose
What does this have to do with race? I'd say it is more a case of someone arbitrarily choosing English spoken in "USA, the UK or Australia" as the standard, and then saying that Indian English is far from this standard. Well, that is true is in not?

Uh, it's no further than the English in Malaysia, Nigeria, the Philippines, Kenya, etc.

 

OK, so I'll take that as an implicit agreement.

 

So this brings us to the second point:

 

The only issue under contention is whether it is justified or not to choose English in the "USA, the UK or Australia" as standard. But if your answer is no, then how is that different from saying Westerners' (usually poor) Chinese is any less Chinese than that spoken in China?

Do any of those Westerners come from countries where Chinese is used institutionally, historically, as a primary language of instruction? If they did, for example come from Singapore or Malaysia, or even Brunei, then it would be likely that they speak a variety of Mandarin that is considered non-standard by the 普通话-police, but linguistically still a distinct variety of Chinese.

 

Indeed, so the question is whether you recognise the authority of the 普通话-police or not, which of course, you are free to do, just as others are free to consider English in the "USA, the UK or Australia" as standard. I'm not arguing for whether such a choice is justified. I'm just saying that, if someone so chooses, it's disingenuous to whip out and start brandishing the racism card when there could be any number of motivations behind their choice.

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