Opinion: No, Professor Krashen, the Perfect Accent Is ***NOT*** Already Within You
In the recent video MattVsJapan advocates for early speaking, emphasizes the importance of the contact with natives, and even goes so far as to say that he wouldn't have done so much Anki. TBH I was impressed by this. With my English, I defenetely suffered a lot by starting reading too early and speaking very late. I'm trying to get it right with German this time. My respect for Matt has grown enormously for it takes certain courage and sincerity to express this sort of ideas. Kudos to Matt. The moment I'm talking about: https://youtu.be/LGMId_7JV9o?t=2392 As an example, one problem I had was that I understood everything perfectly, but because articles don't exist in my native language, my brain happily ignored them in English. Only after I learned to perceive them and began to monitor my speech was I able to partially solve the problem. Don't even get me started on the accent and sounds - I heard it all wrong, I just physically didn't hear the difference. It took me years to fix that with modest success. I don't believe more input would help, it only gets worse over time.
Matt's contribution, I think, fits this thread perfectly.
@SergeyFM You will lose all respect of him, if you find out some of the very distasteful things he's said and done. I recommend you have a look around.
@Michillini So you are saying that previously, before you started deliberate pronounciation practice, you could correctly identify every single tone, but were just unable to produce the tones? Eg. You hear a word X, and could say, "Yes, that's the second tone." And you could do this with complete accuracy? I'm just thinking of one of the papers which I read a long time ago (correct me if I have the exact details wrong) which showed that native Japanese speakers had issues with their pronunciation of 'l' and 'r' because they could not correctly identify the difference from a listening perspective. But this was never an issue for you? You could correctly identify all sounds?
"@Michillini So you are saying that previously, before you started deliberate pronounciation practice, you could correctly identify every single tone, but were just unable to produce the tones? Eg. You hear a word X, and could say, "Yes, that's the second tone.""
> In isolation and in tone pairs and when spoken slowly, yes I could hear them clearly. During natural speed Chinese? Often not but that mattered far less.
"Japanese speakers had issues with their pronunciation of 'l' and 'r' because they could not correctly identify the difference from a listening perspective."
Yes I imagine if they literally can't distinguish between the sounds when spoken deliberately and clearly then that would pose a barrier to being able to produce them.
To me it all comes down to opportunity cost, it's not that pronunciation isn't important, the question is, are there more fun or more worthwhile activities that I could pursue instead of drilling tones. Different people will have different priorities and make their choices accordingly. It is my experience, not only in my own language experiments, but also in observing the immigrant who struggle with the German language, that accent or pronunciation are not the main stumbling block and that most learners (myself included) would be better served improving their comprehension first, then their vocabulary and grammatical accuracy, and only redress phonetic imperfections after having reached a quite advanced level.
I currently don't have time or opportunity for speaking Mandarin, but consider to start once I've hit my listing goals. And then I'll see for myself, how bad I am, how much damage the delay in speaking did. We'll have to see if that bothers me enough to do significant work on phonetics. Even then, I would never go near a deck of flashcards or do drilling of any kind - those are just far too grueling to even consider.
Anyone who wants to achieve a high level in anything has to put in the work, buckle down and practice. This is also what literally everyone in the other thread agreed on. As for Krashen I don't know what's going on with him, I think I already threw some shade on that guy in another thread. Many of his hypotheses are probably best taken as inspirational rather than factual.
I'm already 3 hours behind my schedule this month and I blame the forum :) So, I probably won't respond here to avoid getting dragged into yet another discussion.
Also @Mischa sorry for calling you a perfectionist, hope this gives some closure. Have good day.
"To me it all comes down to opportunity cost, it's not that pronunciation isn't important, the question is, are there more fun or more worthwhile activities that I could pursue instead of drilling tones."
I think the question is: Do you want to learn to speak Chinese? If the answer is 'yes' then you need to learn tones because they're an essential component of pronunciation. But 'no' is also a perfectly valid answer.
"...and grammatical accuracy, and only redress phonetic imperfections after having reached a quite advanced level."
Again, speaking atonal Chinese does not fall into the category of "phonetic imperfections".
"Also @Mischa sorry for calling you a perfectionist, hope this gives some closure. Have good day."
Yeah, no worries. I mean, to be fair I've worked on pronunciation and tones more than most people would probably be willing to do and more than is strictly necessary for the purposes of just speaking clearly. And I'm pretty good but there is like definately this tier above me which is the learners who are what I would call "genuine perfectionists."
And I don't say that in a disparaging way; these are people who have developed an astonishing level of sophistication with phonetics, dedicating serious amounts of time to nailing native pronunciation and can do really incredible things. And not out of vanity either, just because they really love practicing phonetics. It's admirable.
@Bamboozled: This was a very balanced answer. I 100% agree with your views and follow a similar approach.
"I'm already 3 hours behind my schedule this month". Come on, you put everyone to shame. Whenever I check the performance of my "buddy list", you are always at the top. Do you ever take a cheat day and do nothing? :))
@bamboozled I was thinking along the same lines. Sure, delaying speaking for many years may have positive aspects on your pronunciation (that's the theory), but at what cost? Even if it were true, why are you placing perfect prounciation at pretty much the top of your list of priorities? If people are doing this they are prioritising it above enjoying conversations, meeting people in that culture, making new friends, travelling to that country/region, etc. I mean, everyone has their own goals, which can be very different from each other, and that is completely fine. I just question if the people with the goal of perfect pronunciation, who made this decision at the very start of their language learning journey, know what they are sacrificing for it.
Secondly comes the question of the efficiency of this method. Assuming the theory is correct, how efficient is it compared to speaking earlier and doing deliberate prounciation practice to make up for it?
Hello. As a fellow Mandarin learner, I found your blog and experience very interesting, thank you. However, I can't help but wonder what type of learning journey you would have had if you had placed this much importance on tones from the start - do you think you would have made the same rate of progress in thinks like reading and listening comprehension? and do you think your interest and motivation would have been the same, more or different?
Personally, I find drilling tones to be incredibly boring and demotivating. A while ago, I was able to attend a 70-hour Mandarin language course, specifically designed for the spouses of Taiwanese citizens. Initially, I was very excited to attend and improve, but after a dozen hours of repeating isolated words aloud until the tones were correct, I was so over it. I completed the course however, but honestly don't know what effect it had my tones (my wife made no comment). And I sometimes wonder what effect this type of negative experience would have had on my language learning if it had happened from the start.
Personally, I find drilling tones to be incredibly boring and demotivating.
Yeah, it's a fair point and to be honest I felt the same way at the start. I think like anything it gets better when you start to see real progress from making a consistent effort, which can happen quite quickly (within weeks) with tones. That can motivate you to want to do more.
It's tough to strike the right balance because getting good at tones does involve repetetive activities not everyone considers 'fun.' But I guess that still only leaves two choices: delay the drills til later or do them from the start.
I wouldn't say I regret delaying working on tones necessarily, in the sense that doing so enabled me to create a blueprint to help the majority of Mandarin learners who reach intermediate to advanced stages of Chinese with bad tones rectify them: http://imlearningmandarin.com/2022/02/12/its-never-too-late-to-learn-chinese-tones-heres-how/
But in terms of my progress? Yes I think doing them from the start would have helped immensely, both in terms of my listening progress and reading. I read several novels without a strong foundation in phonetics, leading me to subvocalise millions of words incorrectly. Doing tone work certainly helps with listening comprehension too.
Between your two recordings, what did you do? Just drilling, imitating sounds, and getting feedback from a Chinese teacher? Did you listen intensively every day I mean like 6-8 hours a day? I wanted to know if you had spent 6 hours every day listening to Chinese for the next 30 months; no speaking at all, would have developed native-like intonation? My guess is lack of intensive listening every day done by you was a downfall for you mastering the tones. Again it is just my guess you already know how much early speaking you had done and how intermittent listening it was in your case. Listening in your target language 6-8 hours a day is bordering on intensity and a minimum of 6 hours a day is a recommended time amount by Linguists such as Dr.Brown.
"My guess is lack of intensive listening every day done by you was a downfall for you mastering the tones."
I don't want to sound immodest here but I think it's plainly kind of ludicrous to refer to my "downfall" mastering the tones, in the context of that second clip.
If I'd listened for 6-8 hours a day alongside the drills I did? Maybe I'd sound a little more native than I do. But that was never my goal so I don't understand the point.
You sound really good in the second clip. Did you do just drills for the whole year? No intensive listening at all alongside drills?
As per Dr. Brown's listening approach, if you listen for 6-8 hours a day for the next 30 months and not speaking at all. I mean no speaking at all. Complete mouth shut. This way you are eliminating your first language interference.
Then, you will develop intonation naturally. And, you do not need conscious drills such as shadowing or one-to-one accent lessons with a tutor. This was my point. Had you done that sort of intensive listening right from your first day of learning Chinese, you would not have had issues with Chinese tones in the first place. Nonetheless, even for an untrained ear like mine, I detected a clear improvement in your second recording, Good job!
I did a tonne of intensive listening and chorusing/ shadowing throughout the year.
"Had you done that sort of intensive listening right from your first day of learning Chinese, you would not have had issues with Chinese tones in the first place."
I agree with this IF and only IF that intensive listening was combined with drills, shadowing and output practice from close to the start. The learners that had the easiest ride with tones all did it that way.
How much did you incur in terms of monetary cost for scheduling such one to one lessons with a tutor? Most learners are looking for a language learning method that provides more value for money spent. Therefore, Matt vs Japan/Refold methodology makes more sense as most content is freely available online for many foreign languages.
"How much did you incur in terms of monetary cost for scheduling such one to one lessons with a tutor?"
Yeah, not free but pretty darn cheap as tutors go. My tutor was an Italki community teacher charging around £10/hr.
"As per Dr. Brown's listening approach, if you listen for 6-8 hours a day for the next 30 months and not speaking at all. I mean no speaking at all. Complete mouth shut. This you are eliminating your first language interference. Then, you will develop natural intonation naturally. And, you do not need conscious drills such as shadowing or one-to-one accent lessons with a tutor."
All I can say is I haven't seen a shred of evidence this works for tonal languages/ Mandarin. Whether it works or not it sounds totally unfeasable for 99.9% of learners and is of limited interest to me.
You're aware that Dr. Brown's approach was developed for/with Thai. An actual tonal language right?
"You're aware that Dr. Brown's approach was developed for/with Thai. An actual tonal language right?"
I'm totally ignorant of Dr brown's method except what I've heard from Asad just now.
Was curious what Steve had to say about it and found this:
I think he has several of his own videos on learning Chinese as well. Not sure what he had said on those.
I've seen this before. To be honest as a Chinese learner who struggled with tones in the past, I didn't find Steve's practical advice on how to learn them very helpful.
Steve's tones in Mandarin are pretty good and he does a good job of making it seem less daunting. But on the specifics, his memory seems hazy.
The idea that you just get gradually better without first putting in a lot of preparatory legwork - through tasks which are boring and repetitive - is appealing but misleading, in my opinion. I understand that Steve is keen not to put new learners off and make tones appear daunting. But the fact is you don't get to sound like he does in Mandarin - or like I do - without a significant amount of work.
Steve mentioned that he listened a lot to comic dialogues and picked up the intonation that way. Sounds like a good idea. But that on its own and before first building a solid foundation by memorising tones for known vocab, drilling tones in isolation and tone pairs before moving on to whole setences won't get you very far. If you just try to mimic without first building a strong foundation you won't mimic very well. The specific tasks involved here matter, and their is a paucity of information out there for new learners who want know what they should do specifically to build a good foundation.
Steve has mentioned in the past that he made a serious attempt to memorise each tone for each vocabulary item when he learned Mandarin. But he sort of mentions it as a footnote, and dismisses it as unimportant in comparison with listening exercises (which I agree are also crucial). He also once mentioned that he didn't memorise all the tones for all his vocab in Cantonese. This may explain why his Cantonese tones are nowhere near the level of his Mandairn.
So steve does know the tones of all the vocab he knows, or is does he mentally just know how each word sounds? Do you personally know that ne ho (hi) is two 3rd tones but the rule change makes the first syllable a second tone? or do you just know how this sounds and mimic it when you want to say that word?
Also, when you say you do tone drills can you direct me/explain what these specific tone drills are?
This point needs dwelling on.
"So steve does know the tones of all the vocab he knows, or is does he mentally just know how each word sounds? Do you personally know that ne ho (hi) is two 3rd tones but the rule change makes the first syllable a second tone?"
When I say ni hao, it's just like Steve describes, I say it correctly without thinking. I don't think of the tones in my head and then say it. It just comes out. But the point is that is the RESULT, not the starting point.
In order to achieve that result you need to memorise the tones for all known words and make an effort to remember them when speaking. The more practice you get the easier this becomes until eventually you don't need to think, you've developed a strong sense of the language it just flows out naturally.
You need to establish a foundation first and that is why I suspect Steve's tones are good in Mandarin but not in Cantonese. In Cantonese he tried to mimic without establishing a foundation whereas in Mandarin he memorised every tone for every character to establish a strong base from which he could build on by mimicing the comic dialogues.
Oh then this makes complete sense. Thanks for explaining.
In case useful, I can share my own experience here:
Regarding tone drills, there are different ones you can do. Because two-syllable words are so common in Chinese, a widely used approach is to learn an example word for each of the 20 tone pairs that might occur (e.g. 1+1, 1+2, 1+3 etc). For example I use the word 年轻 - niánqīng as a reference for what 1+2 sounds like. I listen to a recording of my 20 reference words every day and practice mimicking them. Then when I learn a new word, I mentally link it to my reference word, and pronounce it in the same way. It sounds laborious (and it kind of is), but I've been surprised at how quickly my brain can move through these steps now, so they become almost unconscious.
I've learned Chinese for about two years now and spent the vast majority of that time on input only. As a result my comprehension skills are not that bad, but when I first tried to speak I was shocked at the feedback I got from (honest) native speakers, i.e. my tones were really poor. I'm now making a conscious effort to learn the tones for each word, and to consider these carefully when speaking. It's not much fun to begin with - I am still at a stage where I need to constantly 'monitor' what I say by running through mental checks such as the ones outlined above. But I am now convinced of the utility of this approach, since my pronunciation was not improving without it. I've now met enough learners who have been patient enough to make it through this phase of constant monitoring and to a point where it becomes less of a conscious effort, so I have faith that I can do the same as long as I put in the effort.
those drills sound a bit tedious but systematic things like that are really fufilling and allows you to really divide and conquer the language. Thanks again for explaining it was very helpful.
I did focus on tone pairs in the beginning, but then went on to reading. When I read, I always subvocalise, which means I say the words with the correct tones in my head or even whisper them ever so slightly. This means my reading speed is slower than that of some of my peers, but I also believe, this has helped me memorise the tones quite well. Sure, speaking loud is still different and it takes shadowing/chorusing to improve the speaking flow.
However one reaches the goal is great, but I think that if someone has a serious girlfriend or spouse who is a native Chinese speaker, all the "great methods" and "hard work" they outline to others that they did (or are still doing) goes out the window as far as motivation for me.
There is one reason why guys get to a high level in Mandarin, and that reason weighs about 110 pounds.
If you get to a basic level on your own which is high enough for your spouse or girlfriend to communicate with you almost exclusively in Mandarin instead of English, you're golden.
This is like wild, skinny dogs with battle scars who hunt for their own food going into the residential neighborhood and finding a dog of their same breed chained up to a tree who is muscular and healthy with a shiny coat.
They listen to his mouth-watering stories about how he eats all kinds of beef and chicken, exercises, and gets plenty of rest. And the wild dogs listen in amazement about how it's possible to be so healthy. Even the tones of his bark are perfect.
The only part of the story that's being left out is the dog is being hand-fed by his master; he doesn't need to hunt.
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