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Liz_V
10-06-2017, 10:53 PM
I have a short scene with a Chinese character who's speaking English. Unfortunately, right now he sounds awfully American. He's fluent in English, but he shouldn't sound like a casual native speaker. Obviously I don't want some cheesy pidgin or stereotype. But I would like his dialogue to convey some flavor of his native language, or at least some sense that he's not from the same background as the (American, more or less) person he's talking to.

Can anyone recommend some examples where this was done well? I could maybe pull this off for another Western language, but I have no "ear" at all for Chinese, so I'm looking for something that will help give me a feel for the cadence, likely word choices, etc. Text sources by preference, though video could work if it's available on DVD. (I have a very slow internet connection, so YouTube links aren't going to get me very far.)

Character is a senior government official, and setting is a business/diplomatic reception, if that's relevant.

S. Eli
10-06-2017, 11:02 PM
I would recommend (personally) going to Youtube and watching many of the famous Chinese and Chinese-American vloggers--cooking, make up, travel are all categories that have a Chinese/Asian-American presence. You could copy their speech patterns or make some summation of all of them. But I'd say that many of my close friends are ESL, foreign-born from various countries in Asia, and there isn't much of a difference, but sometimes randomly at ones, their syntax can mix up (1 ex, my friend said "I not could do that" instead of "that shouldn't be a problem") and things that aren't wrong, but still weird like saying stuffs or being confused by less common terminology (my friend being weirded out by me using ganja instead of marijuana, because where she's from ganja is the term and she hadn't heard an american use it).

Not Chinese, so there will be plenty of people with better advice, but this is what I'd suggest

Liz_V
10-06-2017, 11:09 PM
Thanks, S. Eli, but like I said in the OP, with my internet connection, YouTube is something that happens to other people. :(

That sort of syntax-oddity -- not wrong, necessarily, but not quite the way a native speaker would say it -- is the sort of thing I'm looking for.

S. Eli
10-06-2017, 11:18 PM
oh my god lol i swear i read the post but i guess my millennial mind couldn't comprehend no Youtube.

But to just reiterate, it's really ​rare. Like both those instances are pretty much the only ones in knowing these people for 10 years

Liz_V
10-06-2017, 11:46 PM
I know, it's like I'm posting from the Dark Ages, right?

And yeah, I'm not expecting to find dramatically-obvious foreign-sounding stuff or anything. I just know that what I've got now is Not Right, so down the research rabbit-hole I go....

Cath
10-06-2017, 11:50 PM
Honestly, the thing that would make someone stand out as not a native speaker most (regardless of their origin) is for them to use proper grammar and avoid slang. There's a difference between the language you learn and the language you speak.

Siri Kirpal
10-06-2017, 11:53 PM
Sat Nam! (literally "Truth Name"--a Sikh greeting)

Chinese doesn't have articles: no an, a, the. An off the boat Chinese person will often drop all articles. A highly educated one will put in most articles appropriately, but will sometimes slip up. I once corrected a paper where an ethnic Chinese man from Vietnam wrote "the Venezuela." Not as in the Venezuela that I know, but as in I went to the Venezuela for Christmas.

Chinese typically have difficulty pronouncing the letter r and turn it into l, or just drop it. A highly educated one will say it sometimes and not say it other times.

None of the above is true of Chinese people raised in English speaking countries. Their English is indistinguishable from anyone else in whatever part of the English speaking world they were raised.

Blessings,

Siri Kirpal

jclarkdawe
10-06-2017, 11:58 PM
Best way to introduce that a character is foreign is not worrying about the accent, but use something that shows the person is foreign. My daughter-in-law is Chinese, but lived several years in Australia. When we went to visit my son and her in China, the flight blew out my knee. I could barely walk and knew I needed compression to get the knee back to working right. Summer and I went to a Chinese pharmacy where none of the help spoke English. I speak no Chinese. Trying to explain what I was looking for was an interesting experience. Finally ended up with an Ace bandage.

For something with diplomats that might work, have the American mention the nineteenth hole, to which the Chinese person responds that golf courses only have eighteen holes. Look up the different definitions for "bar" and you'll see why problems will arise.

Jim Clark-Dawe

mccardey
10-06-2017, 11:58 PM
Honestly, the thing that would make someone stand out as not a native speaker most (regardless of their origin) is for them to use proper grammar and avoid slang. There's a difference between the language you learn and the language you speak.Yes, this was very much what we noticed when we lived in Malaysia. The elite spoke English as though it was their natural language (along with two or three other languages) while the professional classes used beautiful - exquisite, often - but just slightly outdated English because they had been taught so well by teachers who had themselves been taught very well. The same thing could be apparent in manners and letters.

ETA: We lived in Malaysia a long time ago, obviously. English is much more widely-spread and broadly-used now.

ETA2: Which means this post is probably useless, but it made me nostalgic. I did love Malaysia.

Siri Kirpal
10-07-2017, 12:06 AM
Sat Nam! (literally "Truth Name"--a Sikh greeting)

It's true that non-native speakers of any language are often very stilted and usually have a problem with slang.

But I do know a couple who went overboard with the slang. One was an English teacher in the US. The other a young man who came to the US as a teenager.

Blessings,

Siri Kirpal

LJD
10-07-2017, 01:54 AM
My mother's parents are from China, and my grandfather probably spoke English similar to what you're imagining. Leaving off articles sometimes, as mentioned above, is one thing I noticed. Sometimes incorrectly-conjugated verbs, too. It's hard for me to explain, but I have some feel for it, and I think I do an okay job of writing it. Note, though, that my grandfather did not study English in school when he was younger, and if your character is a senior government official he may be from a family that would have given him better educational opportunities.

One book in which I think this was done well is a contemporary romance called Short Soup by Coleen Kwan. Both hero and heroine's parents speak fluent English, but there are subtle differences from the way their children speak. IIRC they're from Hong Kong. Note, however, that this book is set in Australia, which may cause some additional language differences. This book is only available as an e-book. Might be worth checking out if you can.

Siri Kirpal
10-07-2017, 03:51 AM
Sat Nam! (literally "Truth Name"--a Sikh greeting)

Thought of some additional things:

We were friends with a mandarin woman and her circle of family in friends when I was growing up. This lady sometimes asked my Dad for advice, and once she said to him, "Chuck, you a real wise guy!" meaning he was a really wise man. So there can be inadvertent statements that sound rude or funny, but are meant to be ultra respectful. This woman had been college educated in the US.

We were in NYC last year, mostly to see the opera, but also to see the other Met, the Museum. I was blown away by one particular Chinese imperial handscroll, so we went back to see it a second time. That time there was a Chinese family --parents and two girls -- looking at them too. I used some hand gestures to explain what those odd cases were in the middle of the room. (They were the storage cases for the scrolls.) So the older girl took a shine to me and started trying out her (very beginning) English. She pointed to my favorite scroll and said, "This my people made..." and then she had a hard time figuring what else to say. So trying to be helpful, I said, "So these are your HERITAGE." The girl freaked and ran for her father. I explained to him what I'd said, and he thought for a moment and said, "I'm sorry. I don't know the word either." Later we were able to explain the word via their tablet. Chinese definitely has the concept, but doesn't seem to have an exact word. So, the point of this one is that you can have words in English your character wouldn't know, even though highly educated in English. As indeed, the father in my story was.

Blessings,

Siri Kirpal

blacbird
10-07-2017, 05:57 AM
A couple of hints on syntax: Chinese Mandarin does not have articles or plurals or the complex conjugation of tenses featured in English, and it is not uncommon for a native Mandarin speaker not to use these when speaking English.

caw

Harlequin
10-07-2017, 03:40 PM
Not particularly well written, but the Joy Luck Club has fairly reasonable renditions of Chinese people speaking English with varying amounts of fluency. Obviously all the daughters are fluent, but most of the mothers aren't.

Addendum to others, Chinese speakers often mix up he/she, because there is only one gender neutral pronoun in Mandarin (ta).

Al X.
10-08-2017, 12:58 AM
My Asian characters speak fluent English. I can't bring myself to have Mr. Chong say 'Ah so' anymore than I can have Miss Linh to say 'I love you long time.' I DO however drop the articles when my Russian characters speak.

JDlugosz
10-08-2017, 02:40 AM
I have a short scene with a Chinese character who's speaking English. Unfortunately, right now he sounds awfully American. He's fluent in English, but he shouldn't sound like a casual native speaker. Obviously I don't want some cheesy pidgin or stereotype. But I would like his dialogue to convey some flavor of his native language, or at least some sense that he's not from the same background as the (American, more or less) person he's talking to.

Can anyone recommend some examples where this was done well?

Example of real life? I shared an office with a co-worker who was from China. His speech was a little odd, especially when speaking fluently trying to get an idea across, rather than thinking about the syntax as in careful writing. In due course I came to understand him perfectly. This actually gave me a huge advantage when I went on a date with a lady who was working here for a Chinese food import company (she speaks Chinese at work so never really practiced English immersion), as I could understand her, and furthermore knew how to rephrase something when she didn’t understand me. The latter involves knowing what the hitch must have been as well as how to express it differently.

We recently had our 14th wedding anniversary, and she has become a U.S. citizen. And she still drops articles and mixes up genders.

Some things off the top of my head:

No articles like ‘a’ and ‘the’.

Native language has no gender, and furthermore the words for /he/ and /she/ sound the same. So, utterly randomize whether some person is “he” or “she”. This also means not using the shortcut of having two distinct pronouns for two different people when they are of different sex (which is quite common), and not following when you do that.

Native language has no tenses or conjugation for number. So singular and plural will get mixed up. On listening, he won’t follow that you used a plural or singular as the specific point of interest to communicate. You’ll have to add, “I mean, he has more than one.”.

I don’t know what it’s called exactly, but it is a type of translocation. “I will move up the date.” Your Chinese speaker would never say that, but would use “I will move the date up.”

There are cases where multiple meanings for a word in one language have distinct words in the other. This can cause confusion in listening. Related, but more subtle, is using a set of terms for different concepts. For example, “How long has he been gone?” will be interpreted as “How far away is he/she?” by a novice ESL who is not following the grammar closely, and unparsable by an advanced ESL speaker who follows the grammar but doesn’t have the full background of dictionary meanings and culture. That’s because it is an arbitrary rule that English uses length an an analogy with passing time.

Most interestingly, there are meanings that use the same word in Mandarin but different words in English. For example, “web”, “net”, and “mesh” are all the same word, and the last one is the one she translates it as. So a spider lives in a mesh.

For an established speaker, getting the overall word order wrong is rare. Don’t have your character slip into S-V-O with English words.

JDlugosz
10-08-2017, 02:54 AM
Addendum to others, Chinese speakers often mix up he/she, because there is only one gender neutral pronoun in Mandarin (ta).



他 and 她 are different words. They sound the same in spoken language (tā) with tone 1. But don’t forget that across the vastness of China, people don’t all speak the “official” dialect. I was surprised to find out that my wife, from Kunming, speaks a “Yunan-ese” that is distinct, and learned the standard when she went to college. Best analogy is that someone from Glasgow and someone from Texas are both speaking English, but you can’t make summary statements on how things sound. I can’t tell them apart, but there are shifts in the way things are expressed as well as pronunciation. But head out to Dali/Lijiang (wonderful world heritage sites!) and it’s quite different, even though they are still in Yunan.

Harlequin
10-08-2017, 10:44 AM
I know they are written differently. But the writing is a whole other discussion, and in any case it defaults to male form if person referenced is unclear, or if genders are mixed then plural form (tamen) also defaults to male.

Agreed that many speakers of other dialects may not be familiar with mandarin; my grandmother could get by in Mandarin but Shanghainese was her original dialect, and she never really mastered Cantonese at all. My mother learned to be fluent in all three, and English as well.

I don't think t would have that much effect in English though; the dialects vary available phonemes, lexicon, and tones, but no so much in grammar AFAIK since they can all use the written interchangeablely.

lonestarlibrarian
10-08-2017, 07:54 PM
I once had an email pen pal from Singapore, back in the mid-90's. I soooo offended him when I referred to him as "Singaporean". He made it very clear to me that he was not a Singaporean, even though he had been born there-- he was ethnic Chinese. As such, he could speak both English and Mandarin very fluently. We wrote back and forth for a couple of years, and I never really noticed anything wrong with his grammar/syntax/word choice. The biggest things that hit me came from his very different world view from growing up in a non-Judeo-Christian cultural background. But that was written communication.

I have a lot of trouble listening to tonal languages like Chinese. Sometimes, you'll get a speaker who's able to catch the rhythms and cadence of English and make it sound very ordinary. Like this (https://cdn.theconversation.com/audio/67/chinese-high.mp3). But if your speaker doesn't pay attention to the rhythms and cadence, it comes across as sloppy, blurry, or poor enunciation. Like this (https://cdn.theconversation.com/audio/66/chinese-low.mp3). So you might reflect the official's grasp of English by having your character have to pay extra attention to mentally separate the slurred sounds, which is hard and annoying in a noisy social setting; or your character might be secretly relieved that his English has good rhythm and cadence, better than so-and-so.

If you stay away from idioms (ie, "go to my house" rather than "go home", or likewise, look up the occasional Chinese idiom and try to incorporate it into English (ie, "to step on solid ground" rather than "to focus on the fundamentals" or "to walk half the road" rather than "to give up"), that will also give a flavor of ESL without going full-pidgin. :)

Shoeless
10-08-2017, 09:19 PM
I once had an email pen pal from Singapore, back in the mid-90's. I soooo offended him when I referred to him as "Singaporean".

Wow, that's weird. I think things have changed a lot in Singapore since you had that pen pal, because I lived there for over a decade during the mid 90s and turn of the millennium, and I ended up marrying a Singaporean. They most definitely DO refer to themselves as Singaporeans now, but part of that has been the "cultural disillusionment" that's come with more mainland Chinese doing business in Singapore, and the ethnic Chinese realizing that there's actually a pretty big cultural gulf between actual mainland Chinese and Chinese that were born and raised in Singapore. I saw a lot of resentment brewing between the Singapore Chinese and the mainland Chinese, to the point were Singapore Chinese I knew referred to the mainlanders as foreigners.

Getting back to the question though, it's easy enough to have Asians that are fluent English speakers who still don't sound American. Singapore Chinese are fluent in English, but have their own unique vocabulary and colloquialisms, like referring to having an "iron rice bowl" as a metaphor for financial security. Filipinos are also fluent in English, but have their own unique rhythm and take on it as well that's resulted in their own unique characteristics. Although if you're referring specifically to Chinese, especially those that gained fluency having grown up in the Asian or Southeast Asian region, just remember that a lot of their formal education in English is still based on UK English, so they tend to borrow heavily from that, calling baby carriages "prams" and referring to car trunks as the "boot," or "joining the queue" instead of getting in line. Depending on the quality of their education, they may even speak with a faux-British accent, which is something that is SUPER common in Singapore among the upper class.

blacbird
10-08-2017, 11:32 PM
it's easy enough to have Asians that are fluent English speakers who still don't sound American.

A generalization that could apply to a non-American character from anywhere who learned English as a second language. Hell, it could apply to Americans from different parts of the country, for that matter.

caw

JDlugosz
10-09-2017, 05:01 AM
A generalization that could apply to a non-American character from anywhere who learned English as a second language. Hell, it could apply to Americans from different parts of the country, for that matter.


Yea, in particular you can have old English teaching material that uses British "RP (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Received_Pronunciation)", but the same kids hear English through Hollywood movies. Learning by ear one way but then studying vocabulary with R sounds missing can lead them to not realize that there is supposed to be an R there, and words are not recognized or seen as different words.

Snitchcat
10-10-2017, 04:12 AM
Is your character's native spoken language Putonghua or Cantonese? (Simplifying to these 2 more commonly known dialects.)

Depending on which, there is also an English ennunciation difference, as well as tonal and attitude inflections.

Snitchcat
10-10-2017, 06:02 PM
Right, now that I'm at the right computer, I've actually managed to read the OP properly! o,0

Government official. Mainland China or Hong Kong?

Mainland China:

Flat-ish tone, sounds more like natural English.
Imprecise consonants, especially combos like "cr" and "thr".
However, note that Government officials tend to be fluent (almost natively so), therefore, slips will be slight; it'll be tone and cadence more than anything else.
Tip: look up the Pinyin table; whatever combo you don't find in that table is likely to cause issues and while Government officials are excellent speakers of English, there will be the occasional word that can't be pronounced fully.


Hong Kong:

Tonal English.
While "flat-ish" can be achieved, the words themselves will have a slight sing-song / lilting quality to them.
Imprecise consonants, especially combos like "cl" and "thr" as these do not have equivalent sounds in Cantonese.
However, as with Mainland China Government officials, Hong Kong Government officials tend to be fluent, trending towards native. Therefore, again, slips will be slight, but certainly obvious. Tone and cadence are key here. And more importantly, the forced clear pronunciation of each letter / word will provide a staccato effect in a lilting fashion (it's one of the most annoying things I've heard so far).
Tip: look up a Cantonese pronunciation table / guide; whatever combo you don't find in there will be stumbling blocks, even if the speaker is excellent.


Also, if you can: see if you can find / borrow a DVD of "Once Upon A Time in America", Jet Li version (Mandarin or Cantonese dubbing); also "Rush Hour" with Jackie Chan (I despise the guy, but it'll give you a good indication of what a Cantonese speaker sounds like when using English).

Donnie Yen, Simon Yam, Sammo Hung (his American detective series may be a useable source).

Certainly, however, Jet Li if you want Mandarin-inflected English. You can try out his website; I think he might have some sound recordings on there, but not sure if your connection can handle just sound?

Hope this helps.

Twick
10-10-2017, 07:53 PM
Native language has no tenses or conjugation for number. So singular and plural will get mixed up. On listening, he won’t follow that you used a plural or singular as the specific point of interest to communicate. You’ll have to add, “I mean, he has more than one.”.


My first boss was from Hong Kong, and he did seem to have a little trouble with plurals, forgetting to add an "s". I asked him how in Cantonese you would say, for example, "Here's one box, but there are four boxes," and he laughed and said "If there are four, it's obviously a plural, isn't it?"

Other than that, I'm afraid my ear for dialect is so poor I can't point out much else.

Snitchcat
10-11-2017, 04:07 PM
Highly recommend listening to the current Chief Exec of HK when she speaks English: Carrie Lam.

Liz_V
10-11-2017, 10:44 PM
Thanks for the suggestions, all!

I tried messing about with articles and such, but my character keeps sounding more Russian than Chinese. I need to work on this a bit more.

LJD, I will try to track down that book; that's just the sort of thing I'm looking for.

Harlequin, another good book suggestion. And that one my library has!

lonestarlibrarian, I like the idea of incorporating idioms; I'll see what I can do with that. Ditto Shoeless. (Also, I love that sort of thing in its own right, so the research should be fun!)


Is your character's native spoken language Putonghua or Cantonese? (Simplifying to these 2 more commonly known dialects.)

A quick googling suggests it's probably Putonghua. Definitely mainland China rather than Hong Kong.

And thanks for the movie suggestions! Nothing wrong with a good martial arts flick, though watching for the dialogue rather than the moves may prove a challenge. :)

Cindyt
10-12-2017, 12:39 AM
I know, it's like I'm posting from the Dark Ages, right?

And yeah, I'm not expecting to find dramatically-obvious foreign-sounding stuff or anything. I just know that what I've got now is Not Right, so down the research rabbit-hole I go....
Catch some Bruce Lee interviews on youtube.

Snitchcat
10-12-2017, 04:42 AM
A quick googling suggests it's probably Putonghua. Definitely mainland China rather than Hong Kong.

Mainland Government Official Speaking English:


Flat-ish tone, almost native speaker English tone.
Accurate, clear pronunciation of words — would likely have had elocution lessons while undergoing formal English language training.
Almost perfect inflection.
Almost perfect grammar.
Dropped articles mostly absent.
Conjugation issues mostly absent.
Correct, sophisticated vocabulary with subtle meanings.
Most telling, however, is the occasional but subtle use of incorrect or non-optimal prepositions, e.g., at the meantime. (All native Chinese speakers of English do this.)


Also:

Discreet and humble tone.
Occasional lilt to a sentence's cadence.
Chinese-specific cultural references almost absent or very subtle.
Body language is usually quietly confident, secure.


NB:

Chinese officials who must communicate in English will truly have near native-level English. They cannot lose face under any circumstances.


Suggestions:


Use carriage, posture, mannerisms, body language, and facial expressions to represent the Chinese official.
Easiest way: watch the news for the current Chinese president and premier. (Not listening for oral language here.)
Use incorrect / non-optimal prepositions but keep them subtle.



Further Notes:
The near-native level of English that many native Chinese speakers have is quite common amongst high-ranking officials, corporate executives, lecturers, etc. This includes tone, inflection, and connected speech. Sometimes, the English level / knowledge surpasses native English speakers.

The reason is simple: Mainland Chinese students must learn English if they want to maximise their earning potential and also to travel. And the majority of Mainland students also speak their local dialect, which may or may not be comprehensible to non-dialect Chinese speakers.

As for Cantonese Chinese students, they must learn English and Putonghua, and any other Chinese dialect if they intend to do business in various provinces in China. Again, some Cantonese students will also speak their home / local dialect, which may be unintelligible to outsiders.

So, essentially, do we have a natural affinity for language? For most, yes. But it's obviously stronger in some of us than others. It's an anomaly not having English as a second language in Hong Kong these days; it's more common in China to not have English as a language skill due to geography, numbers, and speed of development (uneven across the country).

Finally...
If you need more pointers or examples please ask.

Snitchcat
10-12-2017, 04:43 AM
Catch some Bruce Lee interviews on youtube.

He was a Cantonese speaker. So, inflections, body language, etc, would be different to Putonghua speakers, especially noticeable when comparing Hong Kong Government officials to Mainland Government officials.

Liz_V
10-13-2017, 03:24 AM
Also, like I said, no YouTube.

Snitchcat, thanks for the very detailed suggestions. Some of that may be too subtle for me to work in (it is a very short scene), but I'll apply as much as I can.

I think part of what's wrong with what I've currently got is that it's too informal -- which is what my mental ear is hearing as "American". ;-) May have to find something "stuffy" to read/watch and see if I can channel that.

Snitchcat
10-13-2017, 04:10 AM
See if you can find a sound bite of Peng Liyuan speaking English. China's first lady.

Good luck!

cmhbob
10-20-2017, 07:32 AM
I happened upon this thread while checking to see if my question about a Chinese speaker had been asked before. Turns out it has. Perfect timing. Thanks all to those who have provided such good resources.