What! I don’t Sound Like a Native !
I got an email recently from a student studying Mandarin Chinese at a well known "School of Higher Language Learning" in the US. The heart of the student's email to me was that she is constantly getting ridiculed by her Mandarin Chinese teacher for not "Sounding like a native." The student said that this teacher would say things like "Yeh, OK.., but you don't sound like a native." Well, has this "teacher" ever sat down and figured out that the student doesn't sound like a "native" because, well …she isn't. I'm sure this will ring a few bells from some and whistles from others. First of all, I think one needs to sit back and define what a native Mandarin Chinese speaker should sound like.
Most Mandarin Chinese teachers should only in the primary stages teach "Standard Mandarin Chinese." Today, the names that often refer to this language standard are:"Standard Language [pŭtōnghuà / 普通話 / 普通话 ] 〞in mainland China, "National Language [guóyŭ / 國語 / 国语 ]" in Taiwan"Taiwan" is also commonly used to refer to the area under the jurisdiction of the Republic of China (ROC) government, not to be confused with the People's Republic of China government. Following World War II, the ROC gained control of Taiwan from the Japanese in 1945, but lost control of mainland China to the Chinese Communist Party four years later in 1949 as a result of the Chinese Civil War. The Kuomintang (KMT) government then retreated to the island and moved the capital to Taipei. While the People's Republic of China (PRC) claims Taiwan as its province, the PRC has never controlled Taiwan. The main island of Taiwan, also known as Formosa (from Portuguese (Ilha) Formosa, meaning "beautiful (island)"), is located in East Asia off the coast of China, southwest of the main islands of Japan but directly west of the end of Japan's Ryukyu Islands, and north-northwest of the Philippines. It is bound to the east by the Pacific Ocean, to the south by the South China Sea and the Luzon Strait, to the west by the Taiwan Strait and to the north by the East China Sea. The island is 394 kilometers (245 miles) long and 144 kilometers (89 miles) wide and consists of steep mountains covered by tropical and subtropical vegetation. Though for decades following the Chinese Civil War, the ROC was politically a single-party authoritarian state, the ROC has since evolved into a democracy in Asia. Its rapid economic growth in the decades after World War II and the government's relocation to Taiwan has brought it to an advanced economy status as one of the Four Asian Tigers. This economic rise is known as the Taiwan Miracle. It is categorized as an advanced economy by the IMF and high-income economy by the world bank. Its technology industry plays a key role in the global economy. Taiwanese companies manufacture a giant portion of the world's consumer electronics., Han Yu [hànyŭ /漢語 / 汉语 ] or Hua Yu [huáyŭ / 華語 / 华语 ] in Singapore. Now remember that these terms for the most part are referring to the same language.
Now Standard Mandarin Chinese is largely based on the spoken Beijing Beijing ( Chinese: 北京; pinyin: Běijīng or Peking) is located in northern China and also the capital of the People's Republic of China. It is one of the four municipalities of the PRC, which are equivalent to provinces in China's administrative structure. The municipality of Beijing borders Hebei Province to the north, west, south, and for a small section in the east, and Tianjin Municipality to the southeast. Beijing is China's second largest city, after Shanghai. Beijing is a major transportation hub, with dozens of railways, roads and motorways passing through the city. It is also the focal point of many international flights to China. Beijing is recognised as the political, educational, and cultural center of the People's Republic of China, while Shanghai and Hong Kong predominate in economic fields. The city hosted the 2008 Olympic Games. The Encyclopædia Britannica describes it as, "One of the world's great cities," and declares that the city has been an integral part of China’s history for centuries, and there is scarcely a major building of any age in Beijing that doesn't have at least some national historical significance. Beijing is renowned for its opulent palaces, temples, and huge stone walls and gates. Its art treasures and universities have long made the city a centre of culture and art in China. dialect (běifānghuà / 北方話 /北方话) that was the dialect used by the imperial governing class of old China. As China is certainly a large country, regional "local languages" and accents of people from different parts of the country is just as vast and in some cases completely different. The differences of accents in China is a lot more distinct than say the accents of an American from Boston compared to that of an American from Tennessee. I mean a lot different. We all carry an accent that sets the greatest impression upon us during or before our adolescence. The differences in North American English accents aren't vastly different. In most cases, a person from New York City has no problem speaking with a person from Alabama, although both speak with slightly different regional accents. Dialects or "local languages" carry a lot more distinction than just accents. So because of vastly different accent retroflection and phonologies a person from Xinjiang Provence may have a slightly more difficult time using Mandarin Chinese to orally communicate with a person from Heilongjiang Provence.
Does it really matter who is a "native speakerA native speaker considers the target language to be his or her first language. Teachers seek opportunities for students to communicate in person or through technology with native speakers. Students in foreign language classes who are first- or second-generation immigrants and who use the language extensively outside the classroom are also considered native speakers. These students typically maintain the cultural norms of their heritage in certain situations. (from: http://www.learner.org) "?
When learning a second language, especially after adolescence, most people will speak the second language with the accent of their mother language. What is more important is that pronunciation is kept within proper "pronunciation guidelines." This means that proper pronunciation should adhere closely to the standard pronunciation of the language being learnt. So if you are saying the word for "cat" it shouldn't sound like you are saying the word for "dog" as the correct pronunciation of the two are very different. I can't say for sure that this particular teacher's ignorance of language learning or culture will develop into a stereotype of other "non-natives" attempting to learn Mandarin Chinese. It isn't that important to sound exactly like a native speaker. What is more important is adhering to pronunciation guidelines and getting the message across.