Trying to speak in a Chinese accent can feel silly and like you’re not using your own voice. When you’re learning a foreign language you spend so much time learning the words and the grammar but when you speak, you often sound like an English person speaking Chinese words. If this is the case for you then don’t worry, it’s a lot more common than you think.
When you’re starting out trying to pick up a Chinese accent, the best thing to do is to listen to how Chinese people say things and try and repeat it in the same way. This might seem silly at first, like you’re putting on a voice but gradually it will become more natural and that will be your voice when you’re speaking Chinese and you’ll have a voice when you speak English.
Just don’t be afraid to give it a go.
Decide what kind of accent you want
There’s no blanket ‘Chinese accent.’ Each region of China has it’s own dialect and often it’s own accent. The people in Beijing sound very different to the people in Shanghai. So before you start trying to learn, make sure you know what accent you’re going to try and learn.
If you’re not sure, then think about why you’re learning Chinese. Is it because you want to live in a certain region? Then learn that accent.
If you’re not sure, but you just want to learn because you want a challenge or think it might be useful then I would recommend the Beijing accent. It’s the most common, you’ll see it on the news and lots of other regions are able to understand that accent. It also has some really fun phonemes that you can make that other Chinese accents don’t have.
Ways you can practise speaking your accent without going to China
Talk to natives using the following resources
All of the above are resources where you can find native speakers of the language you’re learning no matter where you are in the world and organise language exchanges with them. If there are no native Chinese speakers in your area then don’t worry; you can organise a language exchange via skype instead.
If you get the opportunity to have language exchanges with native speakers, then really try and listen to the sounds that they’re making and recreate them. You can also ask them for advice. See if they think your accent is good or if it needs work. Ask them how you could improve or practise making certain sounds with them.
Watch Chinese cinema
Cinema is a great way to hear an accent. Often with learning material, they will use a speaker you is very clear but if you want to get a natural sounding accent then watching movies and series is a great way to do this because you can watch people from China. You can also specify whether you want to watch films from mainland China, Hong Kong or even Taiwan. Which can help you if you want to develop an accent that is specific to one of those regions.
Check out our top movies to watch to help you improve your Chinese here. But if you want some recommendations then these are our favourite.
Farewell my concubine
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
House of Flying Daggers
Get your phonemes right
There are some sounds in Chinese that are very different to English and have a distinctly Chinese sound. Mastering these early on will make it much easier for you to improve your Chinese accent.
The Chinese R
One of the things that you’re going to need to master if you want a convincing Chinese accent is the Chinese R sound, with is different to the sound in English. Remember that pinyin is different to English spelling so you’re not recreating R as you know it now.
Check out this video to learn how to pronounce r properly:
The Chinese ‘C’
Again, pinyin is different from English spelling, so when you see a work like cai, you’re not pronouncing the hard C sound that you’ll be used to in words like English. Instead it makes a ‘ts’ sound, so it would sound more like tsai. This might sound strange to you because English doesn’t have words that start with a ‘ts’ sound. But we do use that sound at the end of words.
Think about the word rabbits. The sound at the very end of the word is how you make the ‘c’ sound in Chinese. So just move that sound to the start of the word and practise it. Once you think of it like that it becomes much easier to make this ‘ts’ sound.
Watch this video here for an explanation and example on how to pronounce this sound.
Listen to Chinese music
It’s often easier to mimic an accent or a sound when you’re singing along to something. Have you ever noticed that if you sing along to Britney or Myley Cyrus you end up with an American accent even if you’re not American?
If you listen to Chinese music, learn the words, and try and sing along, then you’ll find that the accent becomes easier to mimic, or at least while you’re singing it. Once you’ve mastered the accent singing, it becomes a lot easier to transfer that to every day speech.
Our favourite Chinese song for you to sing along to is the Apple song. And if you haven’t heard it before, then don’t worry, you’re going to love it.
If you need more exposure to the Chinese accent then you can also try listening to the thousands of videos and audios by native Chinese speakers that FluentU have. Just be aware that you will have to pay for this, but don’t worry, you get a free trial so you can try out the website before you sign up to pay money.
Which type of Chinese accent are you trying to learn? And how have you been improving your accent? Tell us all about your experiences in the comments below. You know we love to hear from you and how you’re getting along with your language learning journey.
Next, why don’t you check out how to improve your reading in Chinese by looking at our article here. Or if you’re thinking about taking one of the HSK exams then look at our recommended textbooks here.