The Asian accent is one of the most common English accents, especially in theaters, in films, and in literature. But it also ranks among the most difficult accents to master. Mispronouncing words and having a heavy accent can de-motivate many people and extend their learning phase. But the process becomes a lot simpler if you have some tips up your sleeves! Luckily, this post shares some top tips on learning an Asian accent.
The Asian Accent
First thing first: there are various Asian countries, and almost all of them have distinct English accents. For instance, the South Asian English accent alone is categorized into Pakistani English, Bangladeshi English, Nepali English, Sri Lankan English, etc. But this article discusses what most people consider the standard Asian accent: the Chinese English accent. And it’s only fair considering that the Chinese are the largest Asian ethnic group in the United States, accounting for 24% of the Asian population. So, now that we have cleared this point let’s dive straight into the topic!
Focus on the Stress Words
Pitch and word stress in Chinese languages differ significantly from those in English. The same syllables can have different tones or pitches in major Chinese languages like Cantonese and Mandarin. Depending on the sentences, this difference in word stress can modify the words’ meanings.
However, the pitch of a word in English does not affect its meaning; instead, it affects the context. Consider the word ‘what,’ for example. You can either use it to pose a question: ‘what?’ or stress the word to show disbelief: ‘what!’
When attempting to master the English language, the Chinese often confuse this step. So, you will hear a foreigner stressing the wrong words.
For example, if you were to say “Jack ate the pizza!” you would stress the word ‘Jack.’ However, someone practicing an Asian accent would stress ‘ate’ and deliver the sentence as: “Jack ate the pizza!”
Here is another example: a native English speaker would stress ‘how’ in the sentence: “How are you doing today?” In an Asian accent, you would focus on ‘are’ and deliver the sentence as “How are you doing today!”
Here are some basics about Mandarin: the language has four primary tones and one neutral tone. To master the Asian accent, you must learn these tones and pitches:
The first tone is high and even, the second moderately rises, the third falls and rises, the fourth begins high and abruptly drops, and the fifth tone is neutral (with no defined pitch).
This is one of the trickiest things to learn because your accent will have a variety of tones that you must adjust. The simplest method to master this is to listen to these tone changes and practice gradually.
One of the most crucial things to remember when practicing an Asian accent is to elongate words. If you have watched a Chinese character in an English movie, you must have noticed that they elongate several words in the same sentence.
For instance, someone with an Asian accent would say, “thaa Amairican people do’n understand this vairy hard language” instead of saying, “the American people don’t understand this very hard language.”
If you notice, the word ‘the’ transforms to ‘thaa’ in an Asian English accent, ‘very’ changes to ‘vairy’ and ‘American’ converts to ‘Amairican.’
A trick to remember here is to elongate all the vowel sounds. Thus, the word ‘so’ converts to ‘sow,’ ‘do’ changes into ‘doo,’ and ‘you’ gets pronounced as ‘yoo.’
Change the ‘L’ Sound into the ‘W’ Sound
To master the Asian accent, you must practice converting all the “l’s” in your sentences as “w’s.”
Keeping this rule in mind, the word ‘low’ transforms into ‘wouw,’ ‘little’ changes into ‘wittle’ and ‘life’ converts to ‘wife.’
So, if you were to implement this rule in a sentence: “Happy little babies like riding their bikes,” you would say, “Happy wittle babies wike liding their bikes.”
Similarly, the sentence: “He lied about getting a promotion” would convert into “He wied abou’ ge’ing a promotion” in an Asian accent.
Now, if you notice, we used the ‘r’ sound in ‘riding’ with the ‘l’ sound in the first example. Hop on to the next step to know why.
Substitute English Sounds
If you have heard a Chinese person speaking English, you must have noticed that they substitute certain sounds. This is because some English consonants don’t exist in Cantonese or Mandarin.
Thus, to adopt an Asian accent, you should also remove or substitute certain English sounds. Here is a list of the familiar sounds you will have to substitute for mastering the Asian accent:
- Interchange the ‘b,’ ‘d,’ ‘j,’ and ‘ch’ sound
- Substitute the ‘v’ sound with ‘f,’ or ‘w.’
- Replace the ‘z’ sound with an ‘s.’
- Remove the ‘sh’ sound and use ‘s’ instead
- Use ‘l’ as a substitute for the ‘r’ sound
- Replace the ‘th’ sound with the ‘z,’ ‘s,’ or ‘d’ sounds
Here are a few examples of implementing the substitution rules:
Consider the sentence: “the ship sank on Tuesday.” An RP English speaker would say: “the ship sank on Cheuz-day.” However, someone with an Asian accent would substitute the sh in ‘ship’ with ‘s’ and the ‘z’ sound in ‘Tuesday’ with ‘s.’ Thus, the words would come out as “Thaa sip sank on Tooss-day.”
If you notice, the word ‘the’ in this sentence converts into ‘thaa,’ as discussed in the third rule.
Prominently Pronounce the Syllables
If you have ever watched a Jackie Chan film, which I’m sure most of you would have, you must have noticed that he prominently pronounces the ending syllables in words. By practicing this rule, you would significantly improve your Asian accent.
Consider the sentence: I often cook dinner for my family.” Someone with an Asian accent would deliver the sentence as “I often cook-ah dinnerr for my famm-ily.”
Know When to Skip and Add Consonants and Vowels
Most Chinese accents lack consonants that you would otherwise notice in an RP English accent. Understanding these distinctions will assist you in mastering an Asian accent.
An Asian accent, for example, does not distinguish between the letters “v” and “w.” Thus phrases like “vest” and “west” sound the same.
There aren’t a lot of complex “t” sounds or “th” usage. Instead, you’d make the word “the” sound more like “ze” by using the sound of a “s” or “z.”
Take a look at this example to understand the concept better. Consider a sentence, “I couldn’t make it to the office today even though the rain stopped last night.” While someone with an RP accent would deliver the sentence as it is, someone with an Asian accent would say, “Aie cooldn’t make it too the office today even zough the wain stopped waast naiight.”
Similarly, people with an Asian accent add a lot of vowels to the end of concluding consonants. After words ending in p, b, t, d, k, or g, a Native-Chinese person may add an “e” sound. Listening to a native Chinese accent and becoming familiar with how each word ends is the best approach to learning how to achieve this.
Don’t Stress Over the Grammar
Because China has so many different languages, accents, and dialects, no two natives sound alike, regardless of where they’re from. Some cities may have a distinct tone even if they speak the same dialect.
Grammar is an essential aspect to focus on when developing an Asian accent, but you shouldn’t worry about it. Memorizing a 3000-word vocabulary book wouldn’t help – instead, it would only add to your confusion.
When learning to make an Asian accent, you must familiarize yourself with the core grammatical rules. Once you have done that, you can learn some Asian-American slang to, you know, mix in with the people. Yep, the Asians living in America have their own slang.
Learning these slang words and the basic pronunciation can make you sound more natural, much like how people from different regions of the United States say “pop” instead of “soda.”
Here is a list of the everyday slang you would find in the Asian-American community speaking:
FOB, aka Fresh off the Boat – refers to an immigrant who has recently landed from Asia in America
Twinkie/ Banana/ White— these terms describe an Asian person who acts like people from other racial backgrounds
Egg – used as an antonym for ‘banana,’ an egg is a white person acting like the Asians.
Parachute kid – this is another popular Asian-American slang that describes Asian children left in America by their parents to study and live.
Watch (Or Hear) And Learn
Listening to people speaking in an Asian accent will help you learn how to apply suitable emphasis to phrases and pronounce words correctly. Considering that you wouldn’t have a Chinese person next to you to observe all the time, you can watch YouTube videos and movies.
Movies can not only assist you in learning these things, but also demonstrate how a Chinese person should move their mouth, lips, tongue, and jaw while speaking. Use various resources, as different strategies can assist you in different ways. You might also wish to view or listen to videos of your favorite Chinese stars, such as Jackie Chan or Jet Li.