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Chinese learners are forced into a standard box

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markhavemann

I think something to keep in mind is that it just feels plain weird for most Chinese people to teach a foreigner their local accent/dialect. Well that's my experience with Sichuan dialect anyway. 

 

Any time I've convinced someone (I mean young people who also speak reasonably good Mandarin) to talk to me using Sichuanhua, or to try to teach me, it usually ends in giggling or laughing on the part of the Chinese person and them saying something like "Wow, it's feels so weird to be talking to a foreigner like this". 

 

I think maybe it can also seem quite strange if a non-native speaks in this way. After all, these regional ways of speaking are part of what makes all those people part of the same community (just like Mandarin is what ties all Chinese people together, regardless of their local dialect or speech patterns). By trying to artificially learn to speak like the locals, it may also seem like you are "forcing" your way into their community, or trying too hard. Perhaps like when your dad starts using slang that clearly doesn't belong to his generation, to try and seem like a "cool" dad. It just feels weird. 

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suMMit
9 hours ago, PerpetualChange said:

t 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. 

Whaaaat?

 

Locals might think its wasted energy, or a bit weird, sure. But, there is something "wrong" with a person wanting to recognize/know about/learn another accent? Maybe they feel an attachment the area that they live. Maybe they enjoy the sound of that accent. Maybe they just find it interesting. Cultural appropriation...............

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Flickserve
4 hours ago, Weyland said:

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

 

I already read pinyin and can follow standard mandarin. I have already spent a lot of time on pronunciation. Been there done that and revise it as well 😉

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mackie1402

I've noticed in some of the Cambridge English tests (such as PET, KET, FCE), they use a range of accents for the listening exercises; Scottish, Welsh, Yorkshire, even Europeans speaking English. I remember some students saying "Why is their English so bad?", because in China people focus so much on pronunciation and getting the perfect British or American accent, so much so that they start to sound robotic (pronouncing word by word, but no rhythm or flow). 

 

In the real world there are tonnes of English speakers with different accents and even people who use English as a second language. Using different accents for listening is a great idea! That's my biggest problem with Chinese materials. I swear every listening book I buy is the SAME man and woman speaking. There's no variation and it's all so standard. It got to a point where I thought my listening CD was a computerised voice like you get on GPS, had to double check with my wife, but it turned out it was real. 

 

Living in China has really helped pick apart differences in accent, and I even surprised my wife during a trip to Sanya when I said "Oh, the people in the lift with us were from Hangzhou, right?", but just being so familiar with the nuances. I really can't imagine the damage it does to a student's confidence when they've been studying in their home country for years, to suddenly not be able to understand a real Chinese conversation. Let's be honest, how many taxi drivers, sellers at the market or small shop owners speak standard mandarin? 

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imron
1 hour ago, markhavemann said:

it may also seem like you are "forcing" your way into their community,

I don't think this is it, but you are right that they find it strange, because it conflicts with their mental model of the world.

 

For example, imagine the reverse - say someone of Asian appearance speaking with thick hillbilly drawl "mah name's Cleetus Billy-Bob McJames, yeehaw", and suddenly your brain finds that strange because you have a mental model of the person who would typically speak in that kind of accent, and it's completely different from the reality of who is speaking it.

 

This was one of Da Shan's schticks because there was humor in the disconnect between the appearance of the speaker and the sounds they were speaking.

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Flickserve
1 hour ago, imron said:

Back on topic though, there's another reason you should avoid speaking in accented words from a particular dialect/region - namely that it can sound ridiculous when you mix with them with the accent that you normally speak.

 

Is that a reason to avoid it though? You train what you want to learn, right?

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Flickserve
1 hour ago, mackie1402 said:

I swear every listening book I buy is the SAME man and woman speaking. There's no variation and it's all so standard. It got to a point where I thought my listening CD was a computerised voice like you get on GPS

 

Yes. It's a real problem for learners if all the learning materials are standard mandarin and then suddenly in the real world, not many people are speaking like that.

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imron
59 minutes ago, Flickserve said:

Is that a reason to avoid it though? You train what you want to learn, right?

You do train what you want to learn, and I didn't say avoid it - in fact I specifically made mention to learn it but just be careful before using it, because it might not come across how you expect it to come across.  The obtuseness you get when probing native speakers about this should be a flag that something about how you will be perceived when learning and using this language is different from your understanding about how you'll be perceived.

 

Here's another example back from the reverse side.  Imagine you have a Chinese student learning English, and they want you to teach them to write with "authentic" language like "wat r u doin l8r?".

 

I've actually been in that situation multiple times, and the Chinese person didn't originally understand why I didn't want to write texts and other messages in that sort of language, and actively discouraged them from doing so.  Not because I didn't want them speaking "real" English, but because it made them come across as either a) uneducated, b) a child or c) both.

 

Sure they can learn about it (for understanding), but it's not something I would recommend they use because of the impression it gives off - even though millions of native English speakers write in that sort of way.

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markhavemann
36 minutes ago, imron said:

Here's another example back from the reverse side.  Imagine you have a Chinese student learning English, and they want you to teach them to write with "authentic" language like "wat r u doin l8r?".

 

I'll add another example to this, because I think it's quite interesting.

 

I have a Chinese student (university level) who is really interested in African-American culture and African-American Vernacular. I guess he watches a lot of related movies, and definitely listens to a lot of rap and whatever other genres use this kind of English. 

 

Most of his English is pretty standard "Chinese" English, often spoken with a slightly "African American" accent (Bb this I mean the one you expect to hear in the movies) , but he also uses words like "the po-po", and says things like "ax" instead of "ask". 

 

It can be very unsettling sometimes. I don't want to dicourage him from enjoy what he likes about the English language, but at the same time if he asks me (he is no longer my student) I would probably encourage him to learn a more standard "international" English, or standard British or American English instead. 

 

This kind of thing in some way (although I can't explain the direct relation) makes me think it might be similar if an American adult trains himself to speak with a proper British accent and adopts it for his everyday communication, or a British adult adopts American English. Although there would be nothing inherently wrong with it, it would seem so affected, and I'm sure that lots of people that that person grew up with would feel weird or uncomfortable about it. 

 

 

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laomao

This is a really interesting discussion! I agree that it can be hard to get Chinese people to say things in their local dialect (or language), though my Shanghainese friends are more willing to do it. One friend taught me some, although most people I've asked say they'd NEVER speak shanghainese with anyone who wasn't local and looked at me like I was crazy for asking about it. 

 

I would absolutely love more listening exercises in textbooks etc to use non-standard Mandarin. The only people who speak like that are people who studied in Harbin! Now my listening is better I can watch TV shows, but for a long time I felt kind of stuck that what I'd hear in class and what I heard in the real world were so wildly different. I had no idea about 哪儿 vs 哪里 until I came to China and someone said "哪儿, ewwww", haha. 

 

Thinking about my own accent - I have a very standard British English accent but definitely mix in different accents for effect on a regular basis, and since living in China my English has become much more American in syntax (though not spelling: I will die on that hill). My Mandarin is also pretty 标准, but I'll use a shanghai accent (or sometimes shanghainese) for occasional words, albeit probably not in a formal setting.

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vellocet
3 hours ago, imron said:

someone of Asian appearance speaking with thick hillbilly drawl "mah name's Cleetus Billy-Bob McJames, yeehaw"

Actually knew someone like that in Ningbo.  Guatemalan, but raised in Arkansas.  Just the best kind of good-ol' boy you can think of.  

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ouyangjun

Assuming we are focusing on mandarin accent, not local dialect, I am of the thought that it all comes back to having strong standard mandarin as the baseline.  I don’t think there would be much value for someone who is still learning Chinese in textbooks /  language material to learn the nuances of different mandarin accents.  By the time a students Chinese is strong enough to quit using non-native study material they can start to be exposed to nuances of mandarin accent just like native Chinese are... through daily conversation (though I understand not everyone has the opportunity to live in China), movies, youku, etc..  But those who are still in those textbook learning stages (as I’ve seen mentioned throughout this thread) will be able to understand mandarin accents better by improving their standard Chinese. The accent is one thing, but the vocab is often the limiting barrier to understanding others, not necessarily the accent.  Through strong mandarin you can often understand the accent, and if a word seems out of place, it can often been placed due to the understanding the context of the conversation, and in most cases accents can be overcome with exposure.  That is just my experience, but I’m only an “n of 1”... 

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DavyJonesLocker
8 hours ago, markhavemann said:

Most of his English is pretty standard "Chinese" English, often spoken with a slightly "African American" accent (Bb this I mean the one you expect to hear in the movies) , but he also uses words like "the po-po", and says things like "ax" instead of "ask". 

 

I really try to discourage Chinese from  using  this type of slang . The people I teach have very good English but when they start using phrases they picked up from YouTube, such as Kevin Hart, Dave chapelle and other black comedians like to use.  I tell them as a  white European I would never use this black Bronx style  lingo.It sounds cringy as hell and makes you look like your desperately trying to fit it. 

 

Others were using this Eminem style lingo and it just doesn't fit your stereotypical nerdy glasses wearing sensible haircut Chinese guy .

It's like your dad  using language his teenage son uses. Just embarrassing . 

 

As for the original post, sure I think it's great to further understand the local lingo,slang, accent or whatever . Just avoid using it for sake of embarrassment. 

 

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ChTTay

Interesting discussion. I am mostly encouraged to learn and understand some of my Chinese family’s local dialect. The older folk are often unintelligible to me but I find I can pick more up from people middle aged and below. They’re not speaking Mandarin per se but there’s crossover. There are also words that just aren’t used in Beijing but you can find in the dictionary (sometimes with a different translated meaning).

 

The accent in question is fairly easy to get used to once you know certain ... quirks? As above, things like “sh” becoming more of an “s” sound. 

 

Provincial accent isn’t too difficult. Village and localised dialects are why the above mentioned older folk are so tough. 

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PerpetualChange
4 hours ago, ChTTay said:

Interesting discussion. I am mostly encouraged to learn and understand some of my Chinese family’s local dialect. The older folk are often unintelligible to me but I find I can pick more up from people middle aged and below. They’re not speaking Mandarin per se but there’s crossover. There are also words that just aren’t used in Beijing but you can find in the dictionary (sometimes with a different translated meaning).

 

In this case you are not appropriating someone's culture... you are part of it. This is a far cry from the guy who gets made as his teacher because he hasn't learned 吃 yet and wants his teacher to teach him something other than Standard Mandarin for some reason. 

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ChTTay
3 hours ago, PerpetualChange said:

you are part of it.

So there’s your answer...

 

Marry your teacher 🙃

 

 

(I didn’t do this) 

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Michaelyus

These are interesting observations on this kind of cultural appropriation / privilege / authenticity discussion.

It demonstrates a sort of "foreigner test" for a culture's self-perception; which features are "appropriate" for outsiders to learn?

Also, what happens when (like the majority) the outsider only learns the cultural feature imperfectly? 

 

Practically though, you will have to learn both the standard and the local if you are to survive social expectations and practical life. You may however choose not to meet them, or to exceed them.

 

There is also a strong case for drawing a distinction between active and passive skills, especially with speaking and listening. After all, urban Chinese people under a certain age will probably be used to doing that between their parental topolect(s) and the standard Mandarin of their education and environment. Indeed, any Scottish person living in London, any Yankee in the South, any NZer living in Australia, any méridional in Paris (and vice versa) will be in a similar situation. The scale might be somewhat different, but one cannot but adapt.

 

I also second the idea of a vocal acting or even a singing diction coach - biomechanics + socio-historico-cultural distinctions are put to no greater use and exposure than when training for performance! But that is definitely for exceeding expectations. Way after you get to the intermediate/advanced boundary.

 

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Dawei3
On 9/18/2019 at 3:02 PM, Moshen said:

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.

This true almost anywhere in the world.  Newscasters need to meet a created standard.  And actors need to speak a certain way.  

 

My comment was on day-to-day interactions.  Having a standard accent is a regular issue of discussion among "regular" people in China.  It's at a whole different level than I've seen elsewhere.

 

In contrast, having been raised outside of Boston & having lived in 6 other states ranging from California to Texas & states in between,  classmates or coworkers didn't tell each other "you speak bad English" because of their accents.  A former coworker from Tennessee who went to school in Philly said people would like sit near at lunch because they liked listening to her accent (not to tell her spoke bad English or correct her pronunciation, as might happen in China.)   When we worked with her, as Americans from the North, we had fun having her explain the difference between "youall" and "alls youall" and "alls youalls" and other Southern lingo.  Her accent wasn't considered strange or wrong.  It was a positive, not a negative. 

 

One of the things that made me laugh in China was that natives from Shengyang were thought by others to pronounce their own city "wrong" because they said Sengyang (no sh-).  This a lot different than people trying to evoke a New Yorker saying their city.  It's a very different mental process.  

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Flickserve
6 hours ago, ChTTay said:

Marry your teacher 

 

And then promptly stop being your teacher.

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