Actor’s Guide: How to Do a Chinese Accent

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If you’re an actor, you know that adding an accent to your resume can broaden your opportunities and show off your skills. Actors who can master various accents, regardless of their background, can find more roles and showcase their great talent.

Chinese accents are one of the most commonly-used and heard accents in theatre, film, and literature. If you want to heighten your skills and learn how to do a Chinese accent, you’ve come to the right place. Below you’ll find a list of the best tips and tricks to help you learn how do to a Chinese accent in-time for your next audition.

flag of China

1. Do Your Research

In order to accurately understand how to do a Chinese accent, you need to understand that “Chinese” is not just simply one language or accent. China is comprised of an entire family of languages. Unlike other areas of the world that simply have varying degrees of accents in different areas, China is comprised of many different dialects. These dialects are not just accents; they can be completely different from each other.

The accent and language can change through these various dialects, and China has more separate dialects per-capita than nearly any other place on Earth. Chinese dialects can include Mandarin, Yue, Wu, Min, Xiang, Bashu, and more. Since Mandarin is the mostly commonly-used, we’ll be referencing this dialect most. It is essential to do your research for the role you are striving for.

2. Learn the Correct Tones

The Mandarin-Chinese accent is the most-used and most-referenced accent from the country. It is mostly a tonal language; meaning that a syllable can be pronounced with varying tones to differentiate its meaning. This makes the accent very distinctive, but also open to miscommunication. In order to learn how to do a Chinese accent, you should understand that Mandarin has 4 main tones and 1 neutral tone.

The first tone is high and level, the second rises moderately, the third falls and rises, the fourth starts high and drops sharply, and the fifth is neutral (with no defined pitch). This is one of the most difficult things to learn, since your own accent will have various tones that you will have to change. The easiest way to learn this is to slowly listen to these tone differences and keep practicing.

3. Skip Some Consonants and Add Some Vowels

Most Chinese accents lack consonants you distinctively hear in your normal voice. Understanding these differences will help you learn how to do a Chinese accent like a pro. For instance, a Chinese accent does not differentiate between “v” and “w,” so words like “vest” and “west” sound the same. There are not many hard “t” sounds or uses of “th.” Instead, you would use the sound of a “s” or “z,” so the word “the” would sound more like “ze.”

In the same respect, the Chinese accent adds many vowels at the end of final consonants. For example, a Native-Chinese person may add an “e” sound after words that end in p, b, t, d, k, or g. The best way to learn how to do this is to listen to a native Chinese accent and familiarize yourself with how the ending of each word sounds.

4. Don’t Obsess Over Grammar and Remember You Won’t Be Perfect

Since there are so many varieties of languages, accents, and dialects in China, not every native sounds the same; regardless of where they’re from. Some cities may sound different than others, even if they are using the same dialect. Grammar is always important when you want to sound like a native, but you shouldn’t obsess over it.

It is most-important to remember the key factors when you’re learning how to do a Chinese accent. These key factors include what you’ve learned above, plus any slang used from the region you’re attempting to imitate. Much like various areas of the U.S. will use “pop” instead of “soda,” learning these slang words and the basic pronunciation will allow you to sound more natural.

5. Start Small and Break It Down

Start learning how to do a Chinese accent by breaking it down and practicing a few words at a time until you’ve mastered them. It can be easy to begin by learning key phrases like, “my name is…,” “how are you,” and various greetings and farewells. It is also helpful to write phrases and words down and practice each part of the sentence.

There are quite-a-few basic phrases and words that will help you sound more natural when you are learning how to do a Chinese accent. Before moving on to learning complete sentences and scenes, you’ll want to focus on the proper tones and pronunciation. You can find basic tonal sounds online.

6. Remember All the Resources Available to You

You have a ton of available resources to you to learn how to do a Chinese accent, with just access to the internet. There are videos, podcasts, and reading material galore for you to take advantage of. Do not just use one type of resource, as various methods can help you in different ways. You may even want to watch videos or listen-to your favorite Chinese actors, like Jackie Chan and Jet Li.

Listening to Chinese accents can help you place the proper emphasis in phrases and learn the correct pronunciation of words. Videos on the other hand can help you learn these things, but also show you the correct way a Chinese person moves their mouth, lips, tongue, and jaw while they speak. Seeing how a native Chinese person speaks can help you sound more natural.

7. Get Out a Kid’s Book

Reading out loud is a great way to help you learn, no matter if you’re learning how to do an accent or not. Reading out loud also helps you hear yourself and allow you the opportunity to correct your mistakes. Children’s books are a great way to practice a Chinese accent, since sentences and phrasing are typically short and simple.

Try picking out a simple children’s book and work through each page. As you master a page, move on to the next one. Before you know it, you’ll be able to get through the whole book. The goal is to correctly read the entire book with a Chinese accent. These simple sentences and short words give you an easy opportunity to change your grammar and pronunciation to suit a Chinese accent before you show it off on-stage.

8. Play the Part

Learning how to do a Chinese accent is much like any other type of acting practice. Getting into character can help you stay focused and disciplined about what you are trying to learn. Any role you try to fill will require a particular skill, and it can help to give yourself a Chinese role to fill. This character gives you a more focused ambition and a goal of what you would like to sound like.

In a way, you’ll want to give yourself your own “Chinese personality.” Give yourself a name, background, and back-story. This gives you a personality to develop and material to work from. It may also give you more confidence on-stage when you decide to show off your new Chinese accent. Feel free to add-in props, costumes, and body-language to help your accent feel more authentic.

9. Stay Determined and Keep Practicing

Your acting career is staked on how hard you work and how hard you practice. Many people find that natural-sound accents can take years to perfect, so it is important to not feel discouraged. Practice, practice, practice as much as you can. Read everything you see in a Chinese accent, watch videos, and listen to as many Chinese accents as you can.

If you’re lucky enough to know someone with a natural Chinese accent, try enlisting their help. They can not only give you some constructive criticism, but also give you some pointers and tips. You can also get some practice by recording yourself (to hear mistakes), learning possible slang-words, and repeating sentences over and over again until they sound perfect. Try to stay positive, because no one masters an accent right-away.

10. Help if You Need It

Do not be ashamed to ask for help. If you are lucky enough to have a friend of family member with a natural Chinese accent, ask them for assistance. If you do not know someone, you can enlist the help of a dialect coach or teacher. These people are professionals who help actors and people of other professions work on (and master) their accents. You can find these types of coaches in various environments, like offices or even online.

Final Thoughts

Learning how to do a Chinese accent can help amp-up your acting resume and land you more roles. You won’t be confined to one particular character-type, and opportunity for more parts will be sure to present themselves. With the proper time and practice, you can sound like a native Chinese speaker in no-time at all. The tips you’ve seen above can help you become a master at accents, to help you feel like pro on-stage.

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