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JISHOU, HUNAN — One of my students showed me this video, from a website called Hujiang English Network. The guy in the vid shows us how to speak English with a Mandarin accent (not a Canto accent — so, you won’t sound like a Hong Kong action movie).

Although he’s joking around, the way some Chinese pronounce English comes out sounding just like he says it does. Chinese is a tonal language: every syllable has one of four tones** (nine tones for Cantonese) and each syllable is pronounced distinctly. A Chinese may try to speak English words the same way, so it comes out sounding like machine-gun fire. (Native English speakers tend to connect words together, dontcha know?)

And, as he notes, Chinese will substitute Mandarin words for English words that sound similar, like du = “stopped up” for “do,” ti = “kick” for “tea/tee/tip.”

If you visit the Hujiang link, they have the “translations” of the not-so-obvious phonetic substitutions he makes. Here they are, with the real meanings next to them.

downtown = 当烫!(dang1 tang4 = when hot!)
gun = !(gang1 = hard!)
big gun = 大刚!(da4 gang1 = really hard!)
job = 脚脖子!(jiao3 bo2 zi – ankle!)
beautiful = 彪特否!(biao1 te4 fou3 = tiger very evil!)
congratulations = 坑刮出来的屎!(keng1 gua1 chu1 lai de shi3 = blow out of shit pit!)

I’m not sure who the fellow is, but he’s good. His name is Magician Joe, out of Vancouver, British Columbia. He’s got a YouTube page. And you can find him on Facebook and Twitter as @popking161.

[I am introducing a new feature with this post, a WordPress plugin that puts a tooltip for the Chinese characters, to give the pinyin (Roman-alphabet) version for pronunciation. Hover your mouse over one of the Chinese characters, and you’ll see what I mean. Sorry, Facebook users, you’ll just have to visit my blog to see it in action.

The plugin is from Sinosplice.com, a blog for things Chinese but in English. Check it out!]

** The four tones are:
First: high and steady, as in ma1 “mom, mother”
Second: rising (like a question) ma2 “toad”
Third: down then up (like the Swedish chef) ma3 “horse”
Fourth: falling and short (like a command) ma4 “grasshopper”