Monday, September 11, 2006

'Cute' Chinese

I was warned it would happen.

Before I even really started to learn Chinese I was warned by a couple of old hands that most foreign guys sound like women when they speak Chinese.

Really, there's not a lot you can do about it. Most Chinese teachers are seemingly female. Most straight guys will spend more time talking to Chinese girls/girlfriends/wives then they will talking to guys and, for some reason, it is typically not that easy to make male Chinese friends.

It's hard enough speaking Mandarin Chinese at the best of times (the fact that it's tonal, uses characters instead of letters, is full of cultural references that foreigners typically don't understand, has so few distinct sounds and particularly the fact that lots of Chinese people don't speak it very well either) so to cap that off there are a few things that make it much harder.

1. People "listening with their eyes" - particularly true of older people. You'll speak - they'll look at you as if you're an alien but not actually respond. You'll repeat yourself - same response. Eventually, you'll just walk away but probably not before you've got rather annoyed. Occasionally you'll speak Chinese to someone younger and they will respond with "I'm sorry... I don't.... speak English" which is also irritating.

2. People laughing at you. The first few times I speak Chinese in front of someone that I don't know I can speak vaguely passable Chinese (particularly my Chinese colleagues) they laugh. As I speak. The more I speak the more they laugh. Once they've got over the 'the laowai can speak Chinese' phase and move on, it's not too bad but it's really quite offputting.

3. People that have, a couple of times said "你说的好可爱!" - you said that very cutely - this typically happens if I'm trying to be 凶 fierce because I'm annoyed about something. It's not the words per se that sound cute but the intonation and the other noises that you make for emphasis (啊,呀,哎,嗯, 哇) etc. around them.

The best way to learn a language is to imitate a native speaker but, unfortunately, in this respect women don't speak in quite the same way as men so angry foreigners end up sounding like angry women. Which makes people laugh.



basil said...

is 哎呀! supposed to be D'oh!!

花崗齋之愚公 said...

My wife gave me and my buddies a few suggestions for how to not sound like a girl. She suggested we avoid phrases like the aforementioned 天呀,气死我啦,讨厌, or 哎呦.

She echoed your comment about endings, in particular, she suggested that we guys especially not use "啊“ and "呀."

Great post,


dB said...

Basil -
哎呦 is probably closer to D'oh!
哎呀 is probably closer to wow or argh! depending on the context.

J - Oh dear, 讨厌 is girly too? What are the alternatives?

花崗齋之愚公 said...

I just asked the question to YJ and the response was that, for guys, you can't go wrong with the old classic "他妈的." According to her, it's like the difference between "F--k!" and "Oh, Fudge!" Apparently, guys swear. It's part of why they sound like guys. A suggested middle road is something like "真烦人."


dB said...

Ah. 他妈的 doesn't work in my house. That or 畜生 only usually leads to me being thumped...

The Humanaught said...

Haha, I noticed this "cute" thing a while back and was sort of at a loss for how to correct it. 他妈的 and 我操! were my solutions to becoming more manly... sadly I tend to whimper out a shocked and somewhat surprised "天哪"... and then quickly run and grab my Carebear.

Another cause, at least amongst us ESL teachers, is that we often learn new words from young students. More often than not my Chinese spoken matches my Chinese written and remarkably resembles a 6-year-old.

dB said...

I didn't want to mention writing.... I left my Chinese homework on the dining table one day and a visitor to the flat asked my wife 'How old is your child?' when she saw it.

Apparently, from the look of my handwriting, I'm about 6 too.

Sadly without the benefit of a Chinese education and being forced to sit and practice individual strokes for hour upon hour, that's unlikely to change.

Mark said...

I hear men say 啊 all the time. What part of China are you in?

dB said...

I'm in Hangzhou. It's true that in Putonghua, at least, men do tend to say a brief 啊 after obvious things like 谢谢 but the women labour over it so it tends to be much more of an

Anonymous said...

wow gold