Beijing Accent


I am coming to Live and work in Taipei (from the UK) for a large tw government project. I spent 8 years living and working in Beijing.

I speak fluent(ish) mandarin, but I have a really strong northen Chinese (Beijing) accent, I learnt to speak by working and training a bunch of blue collar engineers for 6 years, and thus tend without thinking to put expletives into my daily conversations without thought (oops)My wife is from central China.

Does anybody think that this will cause me or my Wife (Who holds a UK Passport) any problems.


Nah, don’t worry about it. If anything, you’ll be complimented on your accent. A Beijing accent is the equivalent of "the King’s English’ around here. Locals tend to be rather self-deprecating about their own “provincial” accents. Even the cuss words will probably sound quaint here, as the locals don’t really swear that much in Mandarin, but say the juicy stuff in Taiwanese.

Welcome to Taiwan!


What? swearing or your accent? Either way, whether it be because you’re swearing, your speaking strangely or just simply because you’re a white guy, you’ll be one hell of a freak show. Give us a call when you get here, should be fun. Amos.


Once you meet someone you’ve only talked to over the phone, however, some confusion may arise as to the whereabouts of that old Chinese guy they talked to, since some of the people that came over around '49 are more or less the only one’s speaking with a Beijing accent here. But that’s just fun.


uhhh…Maoman, I think it’s a bit more complicated than that. Yes people will compliment you on how “standard” your Mandarin is. On the other hand, that “compliment” doesn’t necessarily mean that they like it. Many people find the mainland accent overbearing and abrasive, or say that they don’t get the same 親切感 ‘feeling of closeness’ that they get from a standard Taiwan Mandarin accent. That said, I don’t think anybody will say anything about the accent to your face (your wife may be a different story).

You may want to cut down on the swearing. This is one of the interesting differences between china and Taiwan. Taiwanese swear plenty in Taiwanese but seldom in Mandarin. Also, people say ‘duibuqi’ (what are the tones on ‘duibuqi’ anyway? and ‘xie4xie’ alot more here than they do in China.

Swearing in foreign languages in interesting topic in itself. I once read somewhere that swearig is a way claiming membership in an in-group. As a foreigner, you have to be very sure that you really have been accepted as a member of that in-group before you make that claim. It’s a bit academic, but it makes a certain amount of sense to me.


I have to agree with Feiren. The attitude towards a westerner speaking Beijing dialect also depends on whom you meet. Some people here will claim that Taiwan Guoyu and Putonghua are exactly the same: “They speak the same way there on the mainland as we do.” Dream on… So if you sound strange, its of course because you are a foreigner, not at all because you might speak Beijing accent.
When I was at NCHU (That’s a university in Taichung.), a few of my fellow students from the Chinese Literature Department once heard a speech from a mainland professor. Next day they said to me: “That was strange, he spoke the same funny Chinese as you!” Great…
The problem you will encounter first but be probably able to easily overcome it is the vocabulary. Its no problem to accept new terms for a few things, but a slightly more serious problem will be in the phrases used in daily life. Without the right phrase used at the right time in the right way (simple things like “bu hao yi si” or “ma fan yi xia” etc), people will have a strange feeling and communication gets stuck.
But after all, it depends on you what you want to make of it. Some people think Putonghua sounds better than Guoyu, some people cling to Guoyu. If you prefer Beijing accent, just stick with it and be proud of it…


From what I’ve read and my own experiences with a lot of mainlanders, most mainlanders do not have the retroflex accent because their local dialects do not have it. Beyond not having the retroflex, they also have their own distinct accent of Mandarin for the same above reason; their Mandarin has been affected by their local dialect.My feeling is that if you spend a long time in a place, you will naturally begin to take on the accent of the people you talk to everyday unless you make a conscious effort not to. So my sister used to have a South Jersey accent, which changed to a Minnesotan accent when she was there for grad school, which is now a North Carolinian accent since that’s where she lives now.


Forgot something- so, just stick with the accent you have and if it gradually changes, great, if not, so what? Your worthwhile friends and co-workers will accept you no matter what. If your job is sales or something, then that is a different story.


I speak Beijing-style Mandarin which has become a bit Taiwanised over the last eight years. Sometimes I find that some Beijing colloquialisms I use draw a complete blank from Taiwan people, like “jia1sair1” meaning “jump the queue” (chadui), jia3xiao3zi meaning “tomboy” and xiao3cair4 meaning “a piece of cake.” Xiehouyu are not used much here, so if I give them the full monty with Zhang1 Fei1 chi1 dou4yar2, xiao3cair4 yi1 die2, nobody knows what on earth I’m on about. People find my extra r’s like yi benr shu and yi pingr pijiu amusing, so I keep on using them to raise a smile. As for swearing, it’s usually best avoided.


I find the Beijing accent hilarious and have done so since I started learning Chinese 10 years ago. It is only the adding “er” to everthing that cracks me up. I have heard Beijing Mandarin spoken many times in China without excessive "er"s and it sounds fine then. (I have also heard people from Hong Kong speak Cantonese without putting “aah” at the end of every phrase, but only once, in 1991.) If your Chinese is OK and you don’t go about asking for things like “juzishuir” and “bingguar”, or “er”-ing like a Beijing taxi driver, I can’t see anyone getting put off by it. As a Paddy who has lived in England, I know what it’s like to have people make judgements about you as soon as you open your mouth, but you soon get to realise that after the first few seconds most people are judging you on what you are actually saying, rather than your accent. The fact that you can speak Chinese at all will amuse some no end.

Your mainland accent will be the least of your worries I’m sure, and of course you can adapt it to suit. Good luck.


It’s difficult to individualize the results of any kind of psycholinguistic research to the effect that one individual would feel – the way people react to you is going to be affected by your appearance, gestures, and other aspects as well as your accent.

That being said, I did a study in 1995 on more than 200 Taiwanese and found that they “preferred” (i.e., gave higher scores for personal attractiveness and professional competence factors) a so-called “Taiwanese” accent when foreigners spoke Mandarin, but “preferred” a so-called standard Beijing accent when they thought that the speaker was a Chinese native speaker. (In some cases they knew the speaker’s origin, in others they did not.)

It’s possible that a Taiwanese accent in a foreigner suggests that that person learned his/her Mandarin in Taiwan or has spent a long period in Taiwan, thereby demonstrating an affinity for Taiwan and things Taiwanese (but this is just a possibility).

If you have really bad insomnia and nothing has seemed to help, you can get the text of my doctoral dissertation from University Microfilms and read all the gory details. There are some interesting bits on the guesses Taiwanese people made for national origin when they weren’t told where the speakers were from…however, frankly, I don’t recommend reading it unless all else has failed to put you to sleep.