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Flickserve

Chinese learners are forced into a standard box

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Flickserve

When I ask about a Chinese non-standard pronunciation, I get told by many people the 'standard' pronunciation. Yup. I know the standard pronunciation. I am asking about the accent.

 

Why are mainland Mandarin speakers so obtuse about a foreigner learning the nuances of a regional accent? 

 

I think most English speakers are pretty open about accents in English unlike Chinese speakers and Mandarin.

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Shelley

I think most English speakers are open about accents, but I think they would also add a caveat to any info about accents that although this is how its said in North so and so but you would better off using the standard version because more people will be able to understand you.

 

I am also guessing they feel it might be confusing and that there is no real need for it.

 

Its a shame because it would add to and broaden your knowledge and ability to communicate.

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ZhuoMing

I always found it quite frustrating that my teachers would only speak in standard mandarin, then when I went to China so many people were speaking mandarin that was far from standard. 

 

I think at the very least a good teacher should spend a class period going over the common regional differences, like sh->s, n-l etc. To me, knowing Chinese means I should be able to understand people with regional accents (still putonghua) just as well as a Chinese person from another region could. But all my teachers and friends have always discouraged this for some reason, saying there's no reason to learn, it's their fault they speak wrong, you don't need to talk to them etc. 

 

I hate hearing "it's their fault", and it's something I hear a lot. I don't care what the government decided is the "correct" version of mandarin. I learn Chinese because I want to be able to understand the people of China, regardless of whether they decide to speak putonghua the way the government tells them to. 

 

As a side note: I always get people saying "wow your pronunciation is better than like 90% of Chinese people!".  This is in reference to how most Chinese people don't speak standard putonghua, and it always grinds my gears as this holds the implication that I'm better at Chinese than these people, when I know that's not true. I know it's only meant to be a compliment, but I hate when people act like standard mandarin is the "better" way to speak Mandarin.

 

And obviously my accent is standard, that's the only thing they'll teach us laowai!!  (They funny thing is they'll also praise the foreigners that DO speak accented Mandarin) 

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anonymoose
4 hours ago, Flickserve said:

Why are mainland Mandarin speakers so obtuse about a foreigner learning the nuances of a regional accent?

 

I guess probably because having standard Mandarin is a sign of good education, and people are embarrassed to acknowledge not reaching the standard. Non-standard Mandarin is to some extent stigmatised in China.

 

I don't know for sure, but I suspect it is also something that most speakers are not even fully conscious of. Ask, for example, any Shanghainese person whether they can distinguish -n and -ng, and most will regard you with disdain for calling their Mandarin into question. Yet, if you watch them write pinyin, quite clearly they (obviously a generalisation) have no clue.

 

On a related note, I often found it frustrating that many Chinese people are coy about their local dialect. If you try to get someone to say something in their local dialect, often they flat-out refuse, or say something so short that they may as well not have said it. It is like people are also embarrassed about speaking their local dialect to outsiders. (Here, I'm talking about the smaller dialects - not Cantonese and Shanghainese which people are usually proud of.)

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Flickserve
8 minutes ago, anonymoose said:

I guess probably because having standard Mandarin is a sign of good education, and people are embarrassed to acknowledge not reaching the standard. Non-standard Mandarin is to some extent stigmatised in China.

 

I think you got it. I had my frustration because I picked a sentence and tried to shadow it and then posted on hellotalk. The word in question was 四十 but from what I could gather, the sh- was not pronounced. Despite sending the original recording via message, people insisted there was a sh- sound for the 十。Cue in me being a stubborn arsehole.

 

Just after I wrote my first post, I went to pick up my daughter from her mandarin class and I spoke to the teacher. Luckily I had a recording of the 四十 at hand. The teacher initially insisted that she heard a sh- for 十 and I said no way when she tried to ‘convince’ me. After re-listening, she said oh, that’s Beijing erhuayin but you shouldn’t learn that because that’s something looked down upon. Aarghhh.

 

Cue in my explanation of “if I don’t know it, how can I get to understand it....”. I could see in her face thinking this is “bad bad bad” for a chinese learner and “he mustn’t learn this, he mustn’t learn this”. LOL

 

After we left, something struck me. I said to my daughter, “did I just use mandarin all the way through with 老師?”. She nodded yes.....(me then does a fist pump). Seems that my expressiveness in mandarin improves with rising emotional tension. 

 

 

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NinjaTurtle

Years ago I was learning Chinese in China from a lady in the neighborhood. I was living in Southern China at the time, and I asked her about a couple of things about the local dialect I wanted to learn, so I could better understand people in stores when I buy something, things like that. That day I was asking my teacher about the pronunciation for “delicious” which is “hao tsi” in Southern China vs. “hao chi” in Northern China. She became very angry and yelled at me, “YOU MUST LEARN STANDARD CHINESE ONLY!!!” I refused to drop the point and this became a big problem between us. (I am not going to let a teacher talk to me like that.) I eventually stopped learning from her and I found a better teacher.

 

Two things. First, I find that these kinds of people are not flexible and will not change their attitude. Second, there is a LARGE number of Chinese teachers in China. So when a student has these kinds of problems, the best thing to do is immediately changes teachers. Find a teacher without such an attitude.

 

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Weyland
1 hour ago, ZhuoMing said:

I always get people saying "wow your pronunciation is better than like 90% of Chinese people!".


First step; stop believing these hyperbole compliments. 

 

28 minutes ago, anonymoose said:

Ask, for example, any Shanghainese person whether they can distinguish -n and -ng, and most will regard you with disdain for calling their Mandarin into question.

 

Shanghainese are a pretty bad example, as they're well known as the classical stereotype of regional elitism. 


 

5 hours ago, Flickserve said:

I am asking about the accent.


Is accent really all that important? I don't get why people would want to learn the many dialects in China. It reminds me of people wanting to know all regional swear words of knowing how to say a single phrase in 20 different languages. You might call be elitist, but if I were you I would get a better grasp of Standard Mandarin and instead of asking how to parrot a certain dialect you could refocus the conversation about which pronunciation issues people from "insert region" have.

Most Chinese will be more amiable towards you if you speak the standard dialect. Heck, whenever I'm using Erhua in my standard speech people from the south try to actively correct me. Instead of trying to pick up weird regional quirks in your pronunciation what I would do is learn regional phrases and words. Regional colloquial. If you to befriend people from Sichuan it would help you out a lot more if you learned certain words used in Sichuanese by Sichuanese even when abroad, than you trying to parrot their pronunciation. As they might take it as you making fun of them. 

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Weyland
30 minutes ago, NinjaTurtle said:

She became very angry and yelled at me, “YOU MUST LEARN STANDARD CHINESE ONLY!!!” I refused to drop the point and this became a big problem between us. I eventually stopped learning from her and I found a better teacher.

 

Two things. First, I find that these kinds of people are not flexible and will not change such their attitude. Second, there is a LARGE number of Chinese teachers in China. So when a student has these kinds of problems, the best thing to do is immediately changes teachers. Find a teacher without such an attitude.


Have you ever wondered why she got mad? Also; licensed Chinese teachers will ALWAYS correct. Unless you find one you'd like to pay directly, without going through an organization, you won't find one who is sympathetic to your cause. 

Why? Because Foreigners are privileged. They don't need to speak proper Chinese to be praised. They don't need to speak a certain standard before they're hired. Working in media, for example, is a job that requires much accent coaching for a lot of people as you need to (as a native) achieve a certain degree of fluency in your standard mandarin. This is true for a lot of professions, and this includes the job of teacher (even teaching foreigners). Heck, if I wanted to I could become a recurring cast member on a TV-show without adhering to any standards. All while some of my Chinese co-cast members had to sit through months of coaching just to get a handle on their accent. 


So, instead of throwing a tantrum about the whole affair yourself. Maybe you should ask yourself; why do they want me to speak standard mandarin? You're speaking from a privileged position. Don't expect teachers who've been educated to teach standard Chinese to suddenly give you lessons in accent. A teacher is a authority figure when it comes to the contents of the material being taught, if you suddenly expect them to indulge in your need to speak Chinese with a clang then you should maybe find a teacher that is an accent coach fore-mostly of which there are plenty. (or you know, buy a book on the accent you want to learn... it will be in Chinese, for sure.)

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Moshen

I believe you will find acting coaches more amenable to talking in or about accents than language teachers. Don't know if those exist in China.

But think about it, if you're American you encountered a Chinese person (or other foreigner) in the US trying to learn how to speak like a Bostonian or a Southerner, wouldn't that feel kind of strange to you?

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PerpetualChange

The only idea that I agree with about all this is one I haven't seen mentioned yet. The use of "Er". I studied putting "Er" at the ends of certain words in college, then I spent some time in Southern China, and no one used Er. I have a few friends from China that I skype with, and they don't use Er. I have a tutor from Taiwan that doesn't use Er. None of the actors in the TV shows I watch use it either. I suppose it's the "proper" way but so few people use "er" that I've come across I wish learning that way was less standard.

 

8 minutes ago, Moshen said:

I believe you will find acting coaches more amenable to talking in or about accents than language teachers. Don't know if those exist in China.

But think about it, if you're American you encountered a Chinese person (or other foreigner) in the US trying to learn how to speak like a Bostonian or a Southerner, wouldn't that feel kind of strange to you?

Yes I agree, at this point your Chinese study is beginning to sail away from the port of "language learning" and entering uncomfortably close to the seas of cultural appropriation. 

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Weyland
2 minutes ago, PerpetualChange said:

The use of "Er".


The use of "Er" is actually quite handy. As the "儿" sound only goes behind certain words and fore-mostly for words that share pronunciation. 
 

liàng
辆 liàng
亮 liàng
谅 liàng

All these words share the same pronunciation, but it is only in that you use 儿化(erhua) -> 亮儿.

Quite some shows and series use 儿化,especially if they're set in Beijing. 

Shouldn't come as much of a mystery that your tutor from Taiwan doesn't use erhua, I hope. 

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Dawei3

This is a fascinating topic....

 

It's not just foreigners who are expected to speak in China with a "standard accent", but within China there is much pressure too.  A friend from Fujian, who went to college in Beijing, lived in a house with a shared phone.  When she got a phone call that was answered by one of her housemates, they would often say to her: "her Chinese is better than yours..."    (my friend was fully fluent in Mandarin, albeit with a Fujian accent)

 

In addition, I've had multiple people from Fujian say to me "your Chinese is better than mine."  When I 1st heard this, I thought it was the hyperbole Weyland mentioned.  However, I came to realize that Fujianese who live outside of Fujian often truly believe they speak "bad Chinese."  In addition, elsewhere in the country I've had people comment on my "standard accent."  (And this is different than complimenting my speaking ability).   

 

To me, this is a cultural characteristic of China.  In the US, if someone from the South of the US speaks in the North, we don't think they have "bad English," we think they have a Southern accent.  The same in true for Northerners in the South; they're just seen as having Northern accent.  In contrast, in China it is important:  你的中文很标准。  or 你的口音很标准。I don't think I've ever heard someone in the US comment on whether someone's accent is "standard,"  yet I've heard this discussed commonly with Chinese friends, colleagues & even people I just met.  

 

The importance of "standard language" varies within a country.  The country of Norway has no "standard language" and the Norwegian (or Danish) that is taught varies by region.  The US is in the middle:  American teachers will push for some level of standardization, but much less so than in China (and a Bostonian teacher is very unlikely to criticize a Bostonian student for speaking with a Boston accent). On the other end of the curve, I'm not aware of another country like China that places so much emphasis on having a "standard accent."  My sense that it is part of promoting national unity.    

 

Moshen - I have Chinese friends who learned their English in England.  To the English, my friends' English sounds "normal", whereas to me they have an English accent.  Similarly, Chinese who learn English in the US likely have a American accent to the English.  (and some may have regional English or American accents as well depending on where they lived and the age at which they lived there).    

 

 

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PerpetualChange
32 minutes ago, Weyland said:

Shouldn't come as much of a mystery that your tutor from Taiwan doesn't use erhua, I hope. 

 

It doesn't, and I don't doubt that it's useful, but it's just the one thing I learned in my college classes that almost always makes me stick out like a sore thumb, not just because I know have a tutor from Taiwan, but because most language exchange partners I've met don't speak erhua. 

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大块头
1 hour ago, anonymoose said:

Ask, for example, any Shanghainese person whether they can distinguish -n and -ng, and most will regard you with disdain for calling their Mandarin into question. Yet, if you watch them write pinyin, quite clearly they (obviously a generalisation) have no clue.

 

In an advanced Chinese class I'm auditing, one of the heritage-learner students yesterday read “碰到” aloud as "pen4 dao4". When the teacher put her on the spot over whether the pronunciation was "pen4" or "peng4", she read the sentence again but switched the 碰 with an 遇. It was pretty funny.

 

I'd like to learn how to distinguish between different regional accents so I can guess what part of China people are from. I know there are many Youtube videos out there where an acting coach or impressionist imitates the accents of multiple English-speaking countries/regions. I wonder if somebody here has encountered such a video for Chinese-speakers?

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Moshen
Quote

I don't think I've ever heard someone in the US comment on whether someone's accent is "standard," 

 

Within the news industry, you would definitely hear about it if a US TV network hired a news anchor who had a Boston, Bronx or Baton Rouge accent.   Almost everyone on the major networks has what Americans consider a neutral accent.  I'm trying to remember whether when I lived in Boston if any news people had a Boston accent.  I don't believe so.  It would have stuck out, even though you would hear the Boston accent at some local Brahmin gatherings and in the "Stah Mahket."  (That's "Star Market" in standard American English.)

 

My point is that in the US, some accents are looked down on or considered strange.  It's not only China that has this attitude.

 

A friend of mine was a speech consultant in Boston and one service of her firm was "accent reduction."  I thought that it was mainly foreign-born immigrants (academics and doctors especially) who signed on for that service, but there were also US-born people who wanted to get rid of a stigmatized accent.

 

Quote

I'd like to learn how to distinguish between different regional accents so I can guess what part of China people are from.

 

The one I could very easily distinguish when I worked in Beijing was people coming from the Shanghai area.  Even at my beginner level, I could tell that it wasn't the standard accent.

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Flickserve
5 hours ago, Weyland said:


Is accent really all that important? I don't get why people would want to learn the many dialects in China.

 

For me it's a definite yes.

It also helps keeps me interested in the language and fun.

One could say, what's the point of learning classical Chinese but some people are interested in that as well. Each to his own.

 

5 hours ago, Weyland said:

if I were you

 

Unfortunately, you are not me. Hence, we have a different objective.

 

 

5 hours ago, Weyland said:

Instead of trying to pick up weird regional quirks

 

It happens to be Beijing. Because I learn Mandarin in the south of China and also learned to speak another southern Chinese dialect before starting Mandarin, I have a discernable southern accent in my Mandarin. My listening ability was also weaker when I visited Beijing. Knowing the nuances of the accent is the way I have chosen to try and get used to it. I am not looking for anything like dongbei hua. Just simply a mainstream accent that can also help me get closer to standard Mandarin.

 

 

5 hours ago, Dawei3 said:

 "her Chinese is better than yours..." 

 

OMG, This is such a typical chinese thing to say. I have had this countless times for Cantonese.

 

 

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Weyland
42 minutes ago, Flickserve said:
6 hours ago, Weyland said:

if I were you

 

Unfortunately, you are not me. Hence, we have a different learning pathway.

 

6 hours ago, Weyland said:

You might call me elitist, but if I were you I would get a better grasp of Standard Mandarin and instead of asking how to parrot a certain dialect you could refocus the conversation about which pronunciation issues people from "insert region" have


The advice was in earnest. Your reply shows your character.

Edited by Weyland
Edited for brevity.

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abcdefg
6 hours ago, 大块头 said:

I'd like to learn how to distinguish between different regional accents so I can guess what part of China people are from.

 

Agree. That's something I would like to be able to do too. Must admit that I "wish" it in a fairly idle way, not enough to actually act on the wish and invest a lot of effort in learning how to do it.

 

I can guess that someone is from Beijing and that's about it. Maybe Sichuan; maybe Fujian; maybe Shanghai. (With a low degree if reliability: I would not bet much money on my guess.) My Chinese friends seem to usually be able to know where someone is from after just a couple sentences. 

 

In Kunming I find two regional phenomena at work:

 

1. People sometimes speak Mandarin with a Kunming accent. 昆明口音

2. People sometimes speak Kunming dialect. 昆明话方言

 

These are not at all the same thing. The first is usually intelligible with effort, absent special knowledge; the second usually is not. 

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vellocet

More people in China say 哪里 than 哪儿, but try to find 哪里 in a textbook.  

 

A lot of what's called "Standard Mandarin" is just Beijing Chinese.  It's not standard, it's just the center bullying the periphery.  The last time I was in Beijing, I could hardly understand the local people's mumbling.  At that restaurant that Mao went to, I had a waiter who I could understand.  I remarked upon this, and he said "I'm from Gansu."  Well no wonder.  

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Jim

The vast majority of people I know and.or have worked among struck me as really comfortable with their native version of Chinese, speak it with pride and enjoyment too; not to say they don't acknowledge the utility of Mandarin, especially for the socially mobile, but no sense that their hometown Chinese isn't as good -  I mean, they might say it, but clearly don't think it. 

Remember some years ago a radio programme that just reviewed restaurants and had a phone in in Chengdu became wildly popular just because it allowed the use of local speech that is otherwise quite restricted on broadcast media.

Naturally this comes out mostly when you're back home surrounded by people who share your topolect, if you're the only Yibin boy in the dorm at some shitty job out east you might be a bit more circumspect. Though always enjoy hearing educated friends here in the capital  with spot-on Mandarin happily code-switching on the phone to family and friends from home.

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