Learning the Beijing accent
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.