Learn­ing the Bei­jing ac­cent

Global Times – Metro Beijing - - TWO CENTS - By Maria Gant

Be­fore I came to Bei­jing, my Chi­nese teacher taught us the retroflex fi­nal “r” and told us that it is com­monly used in Bei­jing. But you don’t have to worry about us­ing it that of­ten, she said. How­ever, when I ar­rived in Bei­jing in Au­gust 2015, it was a dif­fer­ent story, es­pe­cially when try­ing to get a taxi to San­l­i­tun.

Here is how my first con­ver­sa­tion with a taxi driver about San­l­i­tun went. “Can you take me to San­l­i­tun?” “What?” “San­l­i­tun?” “What?” Then a friend of mine, whose Chi­nese was a lot bet­ter, said San­l­i­tun with the “r” sound at the end, and the taxi driver im­me­di­ately got it. That was when I re­al­ized that I had to step up my Bei­jing ac­cent.

As some­one who hopes to be pro­fi­cient in Chi­nese one day, I take ev­ery op­por­tu­nity to talk to peo­ple.

Whether it is my Didi driver or any­one else, I get so ex­cited when we first be­gin to talk be­cause I can make out what they are ask­ing. They ask where I am from, how long have I been in China, do I like China or the US more and so on. They also al­ways ask if getting my nose pierc­ings hurt.

When­ever I lose the abil­ity to un­der­stand what they are say­ing, I use an app called Pleco. The only prob­lem is that their Bei­jing ac­cent makes it hard to fig­ure out ex­actly what they are say­ing.

It helps to talk to older Chi­nese peo­ple be­cause their ac­cents are usu­ally the strong­est, and once you can un­der­stand them, ev­ery­one else’s ac­cent is a breeze. I talk to the se­cu­rity guard at my school ev­ery day. His ac­cent is very strong, and I try to pay at­ten­tion to the way he pro­nounces cer­tain words.

I find hav­ing con­ver­sa­tions with peo­ple wher­ever I go the eas­i­est, but some­times the hard­est way to prac­tice my Chi­nese with a Bei­jing ac­cent. Yes, that last sen­tence was con­tra­dic­tory, but for those learn­ing Chi­nese in Bei­jing, I know you un­der­stand.

I have con­cluded that if you can learn Chi­nese with the Bei­jing ac­cent, your Chi­nese will im­prove im­mensely. How? Not only do you have to learn the words with­out the “r” sound at the end, but you also have to re­mem­ber it when it is at the end of the word. You have to work a thou­sand times harder be­cause it is like you are learn­ing two dif­fer­ent ver­sions of a lan­guage at the same time.

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