2015年10月18日星期日

What can we learn from Sheldon Cooper on speaking Mandarin? Part I

Although “The Big Bang Theory” was banned in China, it’s still one of the most popular American shows underground. I’ve watched for years. I have to admit Sheldon is very smart in science but when he transferred his interest to Mandarin, he definitely needs a better teacher instead of Howard. I was both surprise (positive) and confused at his Mandarin all the time. But then I think it’s a good idea to analyze his pronunciation and make it as a good example for other learners.

If we watched the video “Sheldon speaks mandarin”, the first thing I noticed is Sheldon used:

1. Hand gesture. It’s still controversial if hand gesture is helpful. But many teachers and learners use that for tones. Some believe hand gestures help learners to pronounce tones correctly. Personally I don’t agree with that. I have seen too many cases that although with a hand gesture, it’s still very hard to pronounce tones correctly. But I do encourage my students to use hand gestures in first couple months. The purpose is to help them to establish the concept of four tones and get a general idea of how tones should be.

2. The finals “ü”. If you ask me which the most difficult final is, for English speaker I will say it’s “ü”. And Sheldon confirmed that. At 0:40, Sheldon said “梅毒驴子(méidú lǘzi)”. To be honest, I had no clue what it was until I heard Howard said “syphilitic donkey”. The problem is instead of making a “ü” sound, Sheldon made a “u” + “i” sound. Besides the “lǘ” was too long, so it sounds like two syllables. When we learn “ü”, it’s right to start from “i” and round your lips like “u”. You can practice in that way but try to make it as short as you can. Don’t do what Sheldon did.

3. The aspirated finals VS the unaspirated initials. At 0:52 Sheldon repeated a sentence he would say to the restaurant owner. “给我干你有的陈皮(gěi wǒ gàn nǐ yǒu de chénpí)”. It’s supposed to be “给我看你用的陈皮(gěi wǒ kàn nǐ yòng de chénpí)”. The verb “看(kàn)” was mispronounced as “干(gàn)”. At 1:35 Sheldon said “猴子最在里都(hóuzi zuì zài lǐdōu)” which supposed to be “好滋味在里头(hǎo zīwèi zài lǐtou)”. If we look at the last word, we will find he mixed “都(dōu)” and “头(tou)”. In both, Sheldon made the same mistake. He pronounced both aspirated finals “k”, “t” unaspirated. If you pronounce “kàn” unaspirated, it sounds exactly as “gàn”. Never make the same mistake Sheldon did. 我去看她=I go and visit her. 我去干她=I go and f**k her.

I won’t blame Sheldon because I know pronunciation is always the hardest part of learning a language, especially when you only have a book or a teacher like Howard. I deadly hope he would have known the app early. If he would, he would never 干陈皮。 It’s not the end. We will continue next time for more typical pronunciation mistakes such as “s” and “x”. If you want to practice your pronunciation and get more tips, just check our free app HelloChinese.