Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Tricky Tricky Tricks

In the Chernobyl post a couple days ago, Brendan commented about faking Ruskie for imagined gains in Chinese fluency:

"The Russian accent in Chinese, incidentally, is easy to fake -- take a Russian accent in English, transpose into Chinese -- and is instant yuks at parties. It also helps fool people into thinking that your Chinese is better than it actually is, or at least it always has in my case. Try it!"

After getting to a certain level in my Chinese studies (advanced but non-fluent, roughly HSK9), I pretty much gave up on formal learning. My flaws were too few and too obscure, and I was spending more time looking for problems than actually solving them. So my plan since then has been to just live in China and hope those gaps will fill themselves as I naturally imitate the Chinese I hear/read every day.

Since I've stopped actually studying to make my Chinese better, I've been constantly on the lookout for good ways to fake better Chinese, ala Brendan's suggestion.

One thing I've had success with is imitating commercial voice-overs on CCTV... speaking really slowly and deeply and over-exaggerating the tone differences. Another easy one I've found is to whine your Chinese... say everything like you're complaining and stretch out the last word of every sentence. This works better for girls, as it makes you sound like the "spoiled beautiful girl" on any Chinese soap-opera.

Readers who speak Chinese as a foreign language: how do you trick people into thinking your Chinese is more 牛逼 than it really is?


Brendan said...

Being able to do a few funny voices helps a lot, I think. It's also good to be conversant with a few of the bigger memes going around; I write a blog in Chinese (or, well, I did write one -- it's been a few months since I updated), and one of the most popular posts I ever wrote was basically a rundown of various pop-culture references. The nice thing about this is that you don't even actually have to know who, e.g., Song Zude or Li Bingbing is, as long as you can make reference to their most distinguishing features.

赵晨威 said...

Pop culture references are definitely a good way to go.

As for pop-slang, have you ever heard the term 玻璃 used to mean "gay"? that's one I've found on the border between pop and obscurity, in which some Chinese use it with a wink and a nod and other have no idea what it means.

bokane said...

It's mainly a Taiwanese term, as I understand it: I've heard it mostly in Taiwanese contexts (particularly in movie subtitles that had been translated into Chinese for the TW market), and a Taiwanese acquaintance once explained that the term came from some Taiwanese word for "butt," though being a 外省人 he didn't know whether it was a 台语 word or some aboriginal word.

Another thing that comes to mind: how's your Classical Chinese? Being too good at it doesn't really pay any dividends, since it means that people will start throwing Tang poems at you until they find one you can't understand just by hearing it spoken -- but being able to drop in the occasional classical reference or quotation, even if it's something as basic as 己所不欲,勿施于人, is guaranteed to impress. Ditto having favorite characters in 红楼梦 -- most people have never actually read the thing the whole way through, so if you say that your favorite character is, say, Shi Xiangyun rather than Lin Daiyu or Xue Baochai, you'll come off looking good. Warning: if you run up against someone who actually has read the book, prepare to be on the receiving end of a long lecture on how wrong you are and how foreigners will just never be able to get why Lin Daiyu, the whiny, jealous, consumptive snob at the center of the narrative, is actually the pinnacle of female excellence.

bokane said...

(Whoa, weird, why do I have two different Blogger/Google accounts? This is Brendan from above.)

赵晨威 said...

You, sir, are a master... I'm going to get on these right away. Time to sit down and get my 之乎者也 on tap.