[quote=“Dragonbones”]Excellent posts, Taffy.
Another example: Learners of Chinese seem to think that if they’re only a ‘little’ off with their pronunciation, Taiwanese should be able to guess what they meant. They don’t realize that the ‘little’ discrepancy between, say, tang1 and tang2 is as major to the Taiwanese ear as the difference between ‘soup’ and ‘sugar’ in English. You can’t ask the waiter for ‘soup’ and expect to get sugar, now, can you? [/quote]I know what you mean, but I disagree that “tang1” and “tang2” are perceived as completely different in the sense that soup and sugar are. Two reasons for this: the first, more important one is the popularity of puns and wordplays which often link words whose sound differs in tone only. The second reason is that despite the difficulties reported on threads such as this, it seems that those westerners whose Mandarin is “fluent” (in a narrow sense) but whose tones are rubbish, still manage to make themselves understood most of the time.
I’m the opposite, by the way. Not fluent at all but my tones are usually passable. And in fact I rarely get the reactions people are describing here. Occasionally people misunderstand particular words I say, yes. It’s very normal, I feel, as the basic phonemic set of the native is pretty fixed in the brain at a fairly early age. This means that speakers of foreign languages can sometimes find it difficult to hear where they’re going wrong. These small yet non-native-speaker-like differences in pronunciation can result in comprehension difficulties for native speakers to understand, unless they have experience listening to foreigners speak their language.
That’s what I reckon anyway, based on my experiences in Leeds and here, and a bit of reading into such stuff.