Getting rid of my accent

Anyone here have experience with improving their Chinese pronunciation and accent to the point you can talk to locals on the phone and they don’t suspect you’re a foreigner?

I would class myself as upper intermediate. I can go about my life fine, and also discuss some mid level topics like politics or news with some decent breadth. But my main critique from Chinese and Taiwanese people is my accent is very “western”.

I can say something simple like 肉 with the correct tone and get the point across, but I’m sure to Taiwanese ears it sounds more like the English “row” than what I’m aiming for.


How many dialects do you want to perfect?

You will find a myriad native English speakers who speak with a myriad of accents.

Your Chinese will always have an accent to someone. The biggest critique I received after studying Spanish for 8 years straight was, and I quote : “You talk Spanish like a rich person.”

So just work on vocabulary, and slang


Taiwanese will discuss politics with you? Wow, you must really know your stuff!


tip of tongue touches between the gum and the middle part of lower teeth, while letting some part of tongue rest/touch the upper part of the lower teeth. Keep that configuration as you utter the voice of “O” (local accent would add very slight gliding in the beginning of ‘O’.

Similar to learning a piece of piano music, tackle one tough spot with great focus is a sure way to make progress. Slow but progress is solid.

Chinese speakers can’t pronounce ‘R’ naturally, so they must take conscious effort with correct instruction to do it.

豬肉 pork
the configuration of tongue and teeth remains nearly unchanged; only the shape of lips and mouth do.



Never had a person who shied away from talking politics.

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Wikipedia has a great explanation on a lot of Taiwanisms in Taiwanese Mandarin.

Check the phonology section.


Yes, but I’m not really sure how I did it. Just a lot of careful listening and repetition I guess. Put yourself in parrot (or myna) mode and just repeat what you hear over and over.


Probably you do have an accent. Which accent you have is debatable as teachers here love Beijing accent…there are MANY in taiwan. Often many accents here are education based. The Mandarin and Taiwanese hybrid is my personal favorite.

I think its more like this. If your race looks foreign, you will have an accent. No one bats an eyelash when an old person, aboriginal or a teacher talks with a noticable difference, beit pronounciation or tone. But they are local and considered ok. On the phone, thats the good point. If you sound foreign, work on those insanely annoying letters in the alphabet here, then hang out with mid level intelligence women between 25 and 35 for the a few years to copy them. They seem to be the most average group i find haha.

My chinese is shitty, but what i do know is pretty much fluent and second nature (problem is thats a very small quantity haha). What i found more useful than reciting vocabularly is learning the culture and paychology of the different people and groups here. When one can joke and talk about the most intimate and intricate details of the culture while beigg able to.predict and even solve local issues, the slight accent is mostly forgotten, just as if you were a local grandma or grandpa. On the flip side, anyone that apologise for their accent will be treated as a lesser almost anywhere. Be confident and honest, the subtleties fix themselves. My 2 cents anyway. Everyone has a different approach.


Get rid of all your diphthongs or long vowels. They don’t exist in Taiwanese dialect. For the ㄖ you need to flatten your tongue. The R sound is too much tongue rolling and lip flaring for Taiwanese dialect. And the resonance point (I really don’t know what it’s called) should be at the front of your mouth not the back. Try not to speak from the throat.
Generally don’t move your lips and jaws around too much.

One way to do this is through reverse engineering. Find a local person that speaks in a really thick accent you can’t understand, and copy whatever they do to the English language when you speak Mandarin.


I talk to people and they usually think I sound like local. They even blurt it out both friends and strangers. Not the usual “Your Chinese is so good” but something like “You sound so good and makes me feel good when you talk”.

I would class myself as upper beginner. But what I know I guess I know or learned well from the right people.

Maybe it has something to do with schools and teachers and listening and practice and friends.

Foreigners in Taiwan learning Chinese could easily develop different accents. Based on many things like
a) different teachers background, age, culture, etc., and on
b) our own native language and accent.

My first Chinese teacher at Shi-da was horrendous in speaking. Two of us bailed to another teacher after first class.

So I actually wrote my doctoral dissertation on foreign accent in Mandarin and how native speakers distinguish between native and non-native voices (with and without other cues).

There are basically three things to sounding native-like: the sounds, the tones, and the overall prosody, like not letting English sentence-level intonation creep into your Chinese sentences. Well, and fluency, but that’s another matter. If you’re halting, they’ll probably perceive an accent no matter how accurate your speech is (assuming again that they can see you and/or know you are a foreigner in the first place; perceptions also change when native speakers are mistakenly identified as foreigners, though that doesn’t seem to happen too often.) I didn’t test on visual identification for my dissertation experiments, so I don’t know what would happen if you had an Asian-appearing person who was not a native speaker, like an ABC/CBC/etc, but logically it should have some effect as it “confuses” the brain that’s expecting the person to belong to a certain group and speak a certain way.

To the OP’s question: a couple of things help a foreigner’s accent to sound more native-like (which native variety is another question as has been said above). Look hard at vowels and consonants and get someone who knows segmental phonetics to tell you exactly what part(s) of your mouth/tongue need to be in exactly what position and what has to happen to make the “native” sound. Better yet get someone who can compare how the “same” sound is produced in English and Mandarin. Most Chinese teachers really don’t know how to do this as they are mostly out of literature backgrounds, not linguistics.

Narrow your tone space. We tend to be taught tones in an exaggerated way (which IMO is needful), and that sticks with us. When I was in interpreting school, my Chinese-A classmates suggested doing reducing the size of my tone space and it helped a lot in evaluations. You will still pronounce tones, but over a narrower band of pitches within your particular voice space. (If you also teach Chinese you’re SOL on this one as that’s what’s needed for beginners, really. lol)

Anyway just some thoughts. The best evaluation I ever got of my over-the-phone accent was one time years ago when a client said, “Oh, you’re American? So that’s why you sound like a drunken Cantonese speaker.” I decided to take that as a compliment based on where my Mandarin really was/is. :stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye:


I’m a native Chinese speaker and I don’t have issues with tones or anything like that. My vocabulary limitations is what prevents me from really speaking well. But most Taiwanese can pick up on that I grew up somewhere else.

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  1. Be careful what you wish for. I am far from fluent in Mandarin or Taiwanese, but am mostly confused for a local on the phone. I believe this may be due to my moderate to heavy “Taiwan Chinese” accent and frequent code-switching. Getting the delivery drivers to speak Mandarin can be challenging. The insistent scammers don’t even give up until I speak something quickly to them in my non-regional North American dialect. Then they immediately hang up.

  2. Be reasonable in your expectations. Mastering a language to the point where your intonation/diction is accurate (causes no misinterpretations of meaning, mood, or function) is a reasonable goal. The quest for a “perfect” or “native” accent is generally less realistic (given the linguistic pluralism factors mentioned by other posters, and the fact that, apart from phone calls, you’ll likely be judged by your appearance before you even open your mouth). Beyond that, the “native speaker fallacy” should apply to Chinese as a Lingua Franca as well (a pet peeve of mine).

  3. Imitation is the best strategy for me, but what works for you might be totally different. Good luck. As others have stated, lots of imitation is a great way to improve your pronunciation. For me, practice is far more useful than precise instructions of place/manner of articulation or articulatory setting, for example. Be aware, though, that the indexical function of intonation does come into play and you may start to imitate specific linguistic features of a certain population. I’ve been said that I speak like a woman in her mid-50s, for what that’s worth :sweat_smile:.


I think the problems with my accent can be traced back to using this 1960s survival manual for US troops. Damn that retired sergeant for recommending it to me.



Did your dissertstion get published? If it is in English i bet many of us would live to read it!

On pausing between words, this instantly made me think about how locals always add nonsense words all the time just to make sounds while they think through what they are tryin to say. This made me laugh haha! Thats part of the culture, i catch myself doing it as well, and thats when people assume my mandarin is WAY better than it actually is. Because i can make the right filler sounds while my brain is smoking trying to figure out to say something :slight_smile:

Reminds of the time when i first moved here and the inlaws kept screaming zhege/nage and pointing at the food (what later i realized was just slightly short of a happy force feeding).I always remember that as being a strong first impression of how angry people were that they would finger shoot and yell at food. Oh my, those were fun times. Off topic, sorry.

Dear lord. To be fair my university had a similar cheat shee t when i got off the boat. Slightly better with 3 kinds of pinyin/romanization.

If i were to do it all over, just learn the alphabet zuoyun or however its spelled. Learn the real way from the get go. It pays off in the end. It annoys me the same way they teach KK to kids here, some even use bopomofo (bepemefe?) To teach english pronounciation Haha. Its just lazy…

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Hahaha ILL BUN I’m dead :rofl:


I really like P-Joe for beer. I’m surprised it hasn’t caught on and supplanted the original English word actually.


I would bet most Taiwanese who make a comment that your accent sounds Western are referring to tones. That is the quickest identifier that someone is Western and how they tend to mock foreign accents.

If that is the case, then I agree with what others have said that imitation worked best for me. I don’t know all of the linguistic terms but practicing and memorizing how two tones sound together was the easiest way to over come this for me since most Chinese nouns are two syllables/two characters. For example memorizing the sound of 2nd and 3rd tone together with one word you’re familiar with like 美國 and then applying it to other words. That might be too basic for you, but was the biggest struggle I had in the beginning.

I often get the comment that my speaking does not have any accent. Pronunciation is important too so if you’re long term in Taiwan then I would definitely suggest learning Taiwan 國語 pronunciation on the street and not in the classroom. I think going around with a Beijing accent will likely get more comments.


Not really. I’ve met foreigners speaking like local people. And I was taught by native speakers that my English and Japanese sounds like a native speaker. And the Japanese people weren’t trying to be polite, cause I was actually mistaken as a Japanese person/expat by my teachers and random people. Not always though. And I’m not the only foreigner that’s mistaken as a native speaker.

One way to practice is to record yourself. When you listen to the record you’ll notice something new. And try different tones (I’m not talking about the 5 tones). Sometimes raising/lowering half/one third of a tone would make you sound more natural. That’s how I practice my Japanese. Some Japanese tones sound lower to my Taiwanese ear, but it was actually a flat tone. I was able to hear the difference through the recordings.

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