Chinese Resources

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Sounding like a native (or trying anyway)

Winter break seems to be filled with tons of mini challenges that have been keeping me quite busy. In addition to working on a translation challenge (new post on Friday hopefully), and a news reading challenge (15 articles in the bag so far!), I'm starting a parroting exercise in the hopes of bringing my Chinese pronunciation, speed, and general delivery even closer to a native level.

The idea has actually be festering in my mind every since I saw a video on Youtube talking about 蔣勳's book 《漢字書法之美》. The first viewing blew me away. It wasn't really about the content (although I will be buying his book), but also the way he simply spoke Chinese. His voice, like mine, is deep... and the speed seems perfect for delivering a lecture to eager language learners. After a second and third viewing I decided to figure out a way to work on mimicking him to the best of my ability. He has effectively become my Chinese 發音/口音 muse.



Now, just a month or so later I'm actually on my way. The purpose of this parroting challenge is to see just how close I can come to sounding like this master of Hanzi by the 17th of February, the last day of my winter break. For the sake of making this as public as possible, here is my plan of action.


  1. Transcribe the speech
  2. Split the speech into manageable language chunks (as they are spoken by him)
  3. Benchmark
  4. Mimic every line as close as possible (every single day)
  5. Memorize 
  6. Post results
I worked on step one and two yesterday, and spent around 20 minutes today trying to get a proper benchmark (see my soundcloud upload below). While I'm still way off the mark from the original I was able to get close on speed. Working on the audio file today, made me realize that this is the first time I've actually shared any of my own spoken Chinese on the Internet, or at least since my Chinese was beyond a beginner level, so I'm actually a bit nervous. After giving it a few listens I'm already aware of some tone issues and the crazy pronunciation of the "度" in“適度," but like I said before... it's a benchmark.

I'll be working on cleaning all of those things up over the next few weeks, and I'll probably do a follow-up post before the end.

Well, without future ado, enjoy!


13 comments:

  1. I listened the file with my wife and while she knew you were not a native speaker, she was really impressed, it's nearly perfect, she says. I know few "foreigners" in Taiwan but none has such a clear and good pronunciation like you. Congrats and keep on going. I'll need few years to be half as good as you.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for the kind words from both of you! I'm looking forward to seeing what the next few weeks will bring. I was fortunate to lots of very patient teachers deal with tones and pronunciation very early on in my studies, I guess it payed off in the the long run.

      And thanks for posting your comment. The site looks great. I look forward to exploring it more over a cup of morning Wolong.

      Cheers,
      Jake

      Delete
  2. Quite good, keep up the good work. I have always wanted to find a Chinese speaker that had a similar voice and and accent I liked so I could try to copy them perfectly. Sadly I have yet to find one. Instead I nearly only ever learn from female speakers and thus am much more comfortable with the clearer softer spoken accent rather then the often heavy mumbled way men speak. Glad you could find your muse though!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks! I know what you mean about listening to female speakers. I've only had one male Chinese teacher over the course of six years. I'm certainly more used to their tone and accent, but I don't wanna sound like a girl. I also am trying to avoid the 啊,啦,吧,嘛 of Taiwanese Mandarin, at least in so far as the type of Chinese I need to use in the classroom, which makes the muse hunt even harder around here.

      Best of luck on your own muse quest.

      -Jake

      Delete
  3. This is awesome, very inspiring! I know what you mean about being nervous, I felt the same when recording myself for your research project last month, haha.

    I know there's a wealth of material in the form of newsreaders, actors, video-bloggers etc. out there to choose from, but just in case I can save myself a few hours of trawling through videos, do you know of anyone off the top of your head who would make a good model for a similar parroting project, maybe someone you considered but ultimately rejected before selecting the guy you did?

    Cheers,
    Sam

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, Sam!

      To be honest I don't watch a lot of TV or news so I didn't have much of a selection process. I just saw this video and decided that his tone, speed, and range were perfect for me. I'm sure there are others but I didn't even look. You might consider a friend or language exchange partner if you have one, someone who you could parrot all the time. I do that with my friends, but they are all Taiwanese guys and I would not consider their Mandarin up to teaching standards.

      If you would like, you can always use this guy. I can post up the transcript that I have of this speech and even give you an audio file to work with. Let me know if you're interested and I'll send it your way!

      Cheers,
      Jake

      Delete
    2. Yeah I was also looking for someone who speaks as perfectly as possible, and I might ask some Chinese friends if they can recommend anyone, as my ear isn't good enough to know who I should be parroting or not. If I don't find anyone I might take you up on your offer, though, thanks! I was also considering Mo Yan, as I found his Nobel acceptance speech super-interesting, and the transcript is available on the Nobel site, but I'm not sure if his accent is ideal.

      Delete
    3. Sam, do you have a link? I might wanna check it out. I'm going to be doing more of these challenges in the future. I've found even after a few hours that it is really paying off. It would be fun to try a totally different accent for a while as well.

      Delete
  4. This is very good. Very similar to the above video. I could easily fall asleep to this (in a good way). Could you email me the audio/transcript if you still have it. I shall mimic your mimicking.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Your right about this guys voice. Very comforting and well pronounced doesn't sound too Taiwanese or too Beijing. Could fit in anywhere. I loved his TED talk especially the poem he recites. Do you know if he wrote that poem himself or is it someone else's? I'd like to find someone that matches my voice but unfortunately when ever I hear myself speak I don't actually like it. So I may as well just try to copy someone that I like.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Nice TEDxTaiwan find! I've now subscribed to yet another video series I'll need to watch. I don't think we need to mimic people down to the sound of their voices, but learning to control your vocal range and cadence in your second language can go a long way to making things sound less robotic. Of course, this goes the same for a first language I suppose. Some people, like Jiang Xun, just seem to be born with that talent!

      The poem 《願》is his own work. The transcription can be found in the YouTube comments and on a few other blogs.

      For those who want to know what we're talking about, find the link at: http://youtu.be/6i7RcP39NB0

      -Jake

      Delete
  6. Jake,

    First, thank you so much for actually posting an audio file of you speaking Chinese! Was just talking with Olle a bit on this (see comments: http://www.hackingchinese.com/?p=2110). Olle's response is good, candid and captures a bit of what I feel too... we all need to “把架子放下” and let others hear the good/bad of our Chinese.

    Second, I think your post here proves... there will be "good", look at the number of positive thoughts and complements you got! Sure, there may be some thoughts of "oh, their Chinese wasn't as good as I thought" or "still sounds like a foreigner to me"... but hey, if we all waited until our Chinese was perfect to talk, then we'd never make progress.

    Third, listening to you speak Chinese (sounded very good) it actually brought another thought to mind... "foreign accents"... obviously, we get pretty familiar with "local accents", i.e. mainlanders: northern/southern, taiwanese, etc. However, have you too noticed we foreigners also have "accents", i.e. Japanese students speaking Chinese, Koreans speaking Chinese, Westerners speaking Chinese, etc. As to this point, perhaps we can do a little more research on these "common" "foreign accents" and then during the learning/teaching others process... we might be able to "predict" where the biggest problems will be and fix these issues or at least spent a bit more time on improving these issues sooner vs. later...

    Any thoughts?

    All the best! And thank you again for posting your audio file!!! Nice.

    Nommoc
    @nommoc_app
    http://www.nommoc.com

    ReplyDelete
  7. Nommoc,

    Thank's very much for the kind words and sorry about the super slow reply. Finishing my M.A. and moving back to the states has kept me super busy, and I apologize for letting this comment linger unanswered for so long!

    Putting a recording online is something that I was wanting to do for so long, but I never knew where to start. With all these kind comments I'll be sure to post even more up in the near future... now if I can just find the time to execute all the things I would like to do!

    In regards to "foreign accents," they certainly do exist and are actually a very hot topic of study in the field of Teaching Chinese as a Second Language. A lot of phonology books that deal with teaching Chinese should address common issues that exist for particular students (with particular first language backgrounds). Japanese students are going to have different issues than say an American... and a good Chinese teacher should be able to identify and fix those issues. Since this isn't my personal specialty, I haven't spent a lot of time researching these topics, but I've read enough material to know this stuff is out there.

    I think the big question would be how a language learner can make use of such material to sure up their own pronunciation problems. Now that would be interesting... but I would guess that most people need a teacher or language coach (at least in the beginning) to help them identify what sounds sound correct, and which sounds are just off.

    Again, thanks for the kind words and sorry for the late reply!

    -Jake

    ReplyDelete

Real Time Web Analytics