How would you go about finding a mandarin tutor... WITH an accent?
February 23, 2017 8:59 AM   Subscribe

I'm an upper intermediate mandarin speaker, focusing mainly on speaking/listening. Something that I think is really important in any language, but especially mandarin, is getting exposed to a wide range of how people ACTUALLY speak... not just the "neutral" language that a language teacher will strive for. I have a number of teachers from different parts of China, but they are just that: teachers. While their mandarin accents do vary, they all speak fairly neutral mandarin. What I'm looking for is a way to find Skype partners with heavier accents. I think this will really help develop my ear. Any suggestions? I've been using italki with great success, but everyone on the platform does everything they can to convince you their mandarin is standard, and there's no good way to search for people from Xinjiang or other places where an accent is more likely.
posted by wooh to Writing & Language (8 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Have you talked to your teachers about this? A lot of language teachers I know can code switch: they speak a relatively neutral classroom version of their language with students, but they also have a less formal, more accented way of speaking which they use with friends, family, etc. So it might be worth talking to them about it and asking if they'd be willing to speak with you in a less neutral register.
posted by colfax at 9:14 AM on February 23, 2017 [2 favorites]

one thing you can do is to search youtube for different accents/dialects from all over China. I bet them most/all are represented. Want to find find Shanghainese? Search 上海话. Just put a province or city before the character "hua" and do a youtube search.

The reason though that people teach/learn standard Mandarin, is that every province (and many cities in China too) have a separate accent, and some are wholly separate languages (unintelligible from Mandarin). I agree that it's useful/interesting to hear from accented Mandarin or some related dialects, but Mandarin actually is the most useful thing to learn. People in China really do speak "standard Mandarin"; otherwise it would be hard to communicate with people from around the country. It's the language of workplaces, schools, TV, movies, radio, etc. So don't worry that you're learning something that is not useful.

If you have language partners, just tell them you are interested in learning the dialect or language from their province or city. In my experience, many people will find that interesting/amusing and be happy to speak for you or teach you some.
posted by bearette at 10:34 AM on February 23, 2017

If you're just looking to develop your ear, you don't really need a speaking partner. I'd look for podcasts, interviews, or other informal media from specific cities that's not specifically designed as teaching material. Try clicking around Chinese video sites like Youku and Tudou in addition to YouTube.

My hunch, though, is that standard Mandarin is always going to sound relatively neutral because most people learn it in school and use it in more formal environments. The informal conversations where a heavier accent might come out are just as likely to be held in the preferred local dialect, the exception being where Mandarin is the preferred local dialect. Beijing, for instance, has an accent that's very distinct from standard Mandarin, Taiwanese Mandarin to my ear sounds different but more subtly so. Many Chinese diaspora communities speak distinct varieties of Mandarin, though often with a lot of non-standard vocabulary. Those might be good places to start your media search.
posted by yeahlikethat at 12:00 PM on February 23, 2017

So I just want to clarify my experience... my ex girlfriend's parents were from Shanghai, and their main language was Shanghainese. That said, they also were fluent in Mandarin, though their mandarin was heavily accented. Perhaps this is a phenomenon that only exists in their transitional generation, or in cities where the local dialects have critical mass that people don't need to be as good at Mandarin, but at least in my experience with Mandarin speakers, there are plenty of people who would be offended if you said "they're not speaking mandarin" but whose accents are quite different from standard mandarin. These are the sorts of people I want to better understand.

Taiwan is a great example, and one of my teachers is from Taiwan for exactly that reason... they have their own pronunciation of certain sounds, certain vocab that they prefer, etc.
posted by wooh at 12:30 PM on February 23, 2017

This is in the same way that in Spanish, people in Cuba, Spain, Argentina, Venezuela, all speak with quite different accents, but they'd all be mutually intelligible to each other, but will almost certainly present difficulties to speakers who have only ever spoken with teachers with fairly "neutral" accents.
posted by wooh at 12:37 PM on February 23, 2017

The thing is, though, there are a LOT of different accents and dialects in China, and there's no way to be able to understand them all. Even Chinese people have difficulty understanding people with accented Mandarin (from a different province) However, most of the accents/dialects are related to standard Mandarin, so by understanding standard Mandarin well, you have a leg up in understand different accents better, rather than trying to learn/be exposed to ALL accents- literally, every province, and some cities within each province, have a variation on Mandarin, whether slight or extreme. Some are variations on Mandarin and some are completely different dialects.

Also, in my experience of living in China, most people under 40 speak Mandarin in a fairly standard, clear way- maybe not unless they are really uneducated.
posted by bearette at 1:51 PM on February 23, 2017

have you tried you should be able to find conversation partners/teachers there with the required accent(s).
posted by coffee_monster at 4:12 AM on February 24, 2017

coffee_monster: I mentioned italki in the OP... I use it quite a bit but haven't been able to find a good way to search for accents. And if I just search mandarin teachers, literally everyone brags about their neutral accents.
posted by wooh at 4:44 AM on February 24, 2017

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