I'm an ABT with a distinctly American accent

Try as I might, I’ve never been able to shed my distinctly American accent when speaking Mandarin. I feel bad about it; people in Taiwan comment about it all the time, although not in a negative way - it’s the “Aha! You must be an ABT” way.

Other than that, my Mandarin grammar and vocabulary is fine.

So, I have two questions.

  1. Does anyone know how to get rid of such an accent? I don’t like it but nothing works.

  2. What do Taiwanese people really think about an Asian-looking person with an American accent? Do they think “how unpleasant-sounding!” but are just too polite to say so out loud? Do they actually think it’s cool or interesting? I still can’t tell what anyone thinks of it. I’ve never heard anyone giggle or seen anyone make strange face expressions about it, for what that’s worth.

It’s part of who you are. There’s nothing negative about it. If anything, it’s a conversation opener.

Your accent might work in your favor, in that the locals may see you as interesting instead of bothersome. I say this based on my friend’s experience.

He was born in Taiwan and moved to the US thirty years ago when he was 9, when his life became essentially English only. Because he learned Mandarin from childhood, he has no detectable accent.

However, he’s told me he has problems when he visits Taiwan to help his aged parents who’ve moved back for retirement. Because his vocabulary is only at an elementary school level, he has trouble understanding and communicating during higher level conversations, such as dealing with banking and government issues for his parents. He says Taiwanese often cut him no slack, probably because he has no accent. He says they often are incredulous or skeptical of his lower Mandarin ability, like he’s prentending not to understand because he’s trying to “act American” or something.

I don’t know if I’ve explained it clearly, but I think it’s an interesting (and frustrating for him) situation.

How long have you been trying to change your accent? I’d think that the longer you’re here, the better your accent would become over time. Something that may help is making recordings of yourself talking, because what you hear when you speak is often different than what other people hear. Play the tape back, pick out the problem areas, record again and repeat.

I think most locals find American-accented Mandarin more amusing than unpleasant. It’s also a marker that lets people know you’re ABT, which isn’t a bad thing at all, as most locals view ABTs in a positive light. I can understand wanting to improve your accent though, and it should be possible with a focused effort. Or maybe you could consider signing up for a 正音班. They’re designed to help people get rid of their Daiwan Ga-Yi accents, but maybe it would work for an American accent too?

OP, if you still insist on getting rid of your accent. You need to do some tongue exercises.
The way the tongue is used when speaking Chinese is different than when speaking English.

Just remember, Chinese will f9ck up your english. You will start speaking Engrish.

I’m also ABT and have a distinct American accent in both my Mandarin and Taiwanese Hokkien. A former colleague, from Taipei, once remarked that Taiwanese would find my American accent to be “cute”. I think he was trying to be positive but as a middle aged guy in banking and finance, I dont usually go for “cute” in any part of my speech.

Over the last two years, many Taiwanese friends I know here in the US have said that my Mandarin accent has improved. The improvement I think comes from two sources. First, I’ve been immersing myself in Mandarin language music, movies, shows and podcasts so that I hear the melody of the languave as mucb as possible. Secondly, I’ve made a conscious effort to speak Mandarin with mainland Chinese from all over China. The extra effort it takes me to try and understand their regional accents, and also in making sure that I speak with a more “standard” accent (rather than a Taiwanese one) has helped my own understanding and pronunciation of the language immensely. Interestingly, most Chinese now peg me as Taiwanese but dont realize I’m ABT (until they realize how small my vocabulary is). Also have found that many Chinese are considerably more helpful in assisting me in improving my language abilities (explaining usage and origin and helping my pronunciation) while Taiwanese tend more towards scolding my mispronunciations and errors and offer little help.

What do people think of an Asian speaking Chinese with an accent? Who cares what they think! Just be yourself!

Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk

Taiwanese are rather insular. They tend to look down a bit on Taiwanese who can NOT speak Taiwanese or Mandarin.

Even if you are half Taiwanese, they expect you to speak Mando or better yet Taiwanese. They expect the same of overseas Taiwanese.

If you are from China they won’t care so much because , well you are from China.

I’m half Taiwanese and half white. And I am sure I walk and look Taiwanese. Because bus drivers will just talk to me in Taiwanese straight off before i open my mouth and so will taxi drivers soon as I speak in my heavily Taiwanese accented Mandarin :slight_smile:

There’s some dude, he’s kind of famous, has a rough American accent that he pretty much has to live with his entire life. What’s his name?

Oh yeah, Wang Leehom. Leehom has been making Mandarin Pop music for almost two decades if not over two decades here in Taiwan and you can tell by his most recent interviews, that his ABT accent is very prevalent in his interviews with the press.

I myself am an ABT and I have no accent that you can hear via the sound of my voice when I talk. However, if you listen to what I’m actually saying, you can still hear that my sentence structure is created from directly translating from English to Mandarin. That’s just how my brain works, not much I can do or want to do about it. I will say that it does take a moment or two to understand some of my sentences if you’re not used to the way I’m speaking. That’s always a good conversation starter though.

To be quite honest, there are things you can do about it, like getting a language coach that will teach you how to adjust the way your tongue, mouth, face and muscles move to be able to get rid of the ABT accent, but is it really worth the thousands of NT dollars? You can understand and speak mandarin well, that’s something many many people are not capable of.

I guess what I’m trying to say is, don’t be too self conscious about it. Just be you!

I agree with the “just be you” answers – there are definite advantages and reasons to maintain a foreign accent in a second/later language.

But if you truly do want to get rid of it, the question is what specifically is your accent like. Is it wrong tones? Are those because you don’t know what the tones should be, or because you’re mispronouncing known tones? Is it specific consonant sounds? Is it vowels? It will be easiest to “fix” the consonants, then the vowels, then the tones, most likely. It takes awhile to make a real difference in how you speak unconsciously.

I had a fairly strong Taiwanese accent when I returned to the US. Since most of the Chinese I deal with professionally here are from the Mainland, I made a conscious effort to change my accent. That involved mostly consonants, and some tones (there are some words where ML uses different tone from TW) and some word usage issues. Overall it seems I was fairly successful in changing my accent (though I still have an accent; it’s just more like the variety I wanted) but it did take a year or two before the changes were automatic for me, instead of my having to think about them all the time while speaking. Now it’s an effort for me to speak with a heavy Taiwanese accent.

It has already started:
“Ok, I go first”
“I will off work after 30 minutes”.
“I go to buy something, wait me here”.