Living in China

Rate My Chinese! (Audio clip included)


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Last year I wrote that my Chinese pronunciation sounds like my boyfriend’s. That is because I mainly speak Chinese with him and less with other people. So this time you can actually hear how my putonghua (Mandarin Chinese) sounds like!  I know it is far from standard Mandarin because I live in Guangzhou and people around me doesn’t speak it either.

After listening please leave a comment and tell me what you think. How bad is it and did I miss all the tones? Can anyone even understand what I’m reading on the audio clip? If you have any advice how to improve my pronunciation I am more than ready to listen!


  • Anuliina

    I cannot give you any tips for pronunciation since I don’t speak any Chinese :D, but to me that sounded really fascinating! I think it is great that you can speak Chinese so well! Very impressive! :)

    Sara Reply:

    Thanks Anuliina! You maybe wouldn’t be that impressed if you would understand :) It’s still quite hard to admit that I actually can speak Chinese. Of course far from fluent but still can have a whole relationship with only that language.

    Emilia Reply:

    I’m with Ansku – as you know, I really have no clue about the language, but hearing you speak it like that sounds so COOL! :) To me, Chinese mostly sounds like a complex chain of different kinds of ‘shh’ sounds, hehe. It really is so impressive that you can actually make sense of it all and even produce those sounds yourself! I’m very proud of you, dear! (Besides, it’s so nice to hear your voice again! ♥)
    By the way, this story that you read – what was it about? :)

    Sara Reply:

    What I read was a beginning of a story in my Graded Chinese Reader. That’s a short story collection for foreigners learning Chinese, the language is more simple than in native level books. The first chapter I read is about Chinese New Year. Nice to hear that it sounded cool to you :) This reminds me of one day when I was working in the museum and two girls came in. The other was Japanese and the other Finnish. They were speaking in Japanese and even I don’t understand anything about that language, it felt so impressive that the Finnish girl seemed speaking so fluently!

  • frank zhou

    great,i can completely understand you ,and you can improve your pronounciation by asking your boyfriend to speak mandarin with you.even if your boyfriend has a little accent,that doesnt matter,most chinese people have a little local dialect when speaking mandarin,no one speaks like a radio

    Sara Reply:

    Nice to read your comment Frank! And good to hear that you understood me. My boyfriend really does have an interesting putonghua accent and actually we speak Chinese all the time because that’s the only language we can communicate in. He really have helped me with my spoken Chinese, but isn’t the best example for pronunciation. But you are right that no one speaks like a radio and that isn’t my goal either.

  • Sean

    I hate to be the one who doesn’t agree with everyone else and perhaps I have too high of a standard. Anyways, I could make out most parts of what you were reading about (the spring festival and lian lian you yu). There are words you have very good pronunciation but there are definitely some parts sounded like Cantonese more (which reminded me of how my dad would speak mandarin sometimes). Perhaps you should seek out some friends who are northerners and have them help you? Best of luck!

    Sara Reply:

    Don’t worry Sean, this is absolutely what I wanted! The honest the better. I also understand very well why some of my speaking sounds like Cantonese and agree with you. I guess I could try to find a student form my university that is from the north and ask if he/she would like to be my tutor. I have a big plan working really hard with my Chinese the next two months before my trip to Finland and this improving my spoken Chinese should definitely be part of it.

    Sean Reply:

    Well, I am glad my comment was well received! Have you tried to listen to music in Mandarin? When I learned my English, that’s how i did it. I would imagine the reverse would work as well. It works with my girlfriend. It’s been years since she been to China and that’s how she keeps up with her Mandarin.

    Sara Reply:

    Sean, I was prepared for much worse :) And honest answer is what I need so I know what I should do to improve my pronunciation. I listen to Chinese music sometimes, but not too often. Maybe I should try to trun on the music when I’m on the computer and see if that has any help. Any music recommendations? I’ve used to listen to Jay Chou 周杰伦 but many people tend to think that his own pronunciation is quite special too. Is that so?

  • Annika

    Oman äänen kuunteleminen on aina kamalaa. Mä joudun kerran tekemään radiomainoksen ja se oli yks noloimmista hetkistä mun elämässä. :D Mut sun ääni ei kuulosta yhtään hullummalta. Enkku kuulostaa hyvältä!

    Sara Reply:

    Se todella on kamalaa! Pidan paljon enemman siita aanesta, jonka itse kuulen paassani :)

    Minna Reply:

    Mutta voin lohduttaa, että et mun mielestä kuulosta just tuolta, miltä toi nauhoitus. (Mikä lohduttaa myös itseäni, koska kuulostan tietenkin omasta mielestäni kamalalta nauhalta.) Tai sitten on vain tosi pitkä aika siitä, kun oon kuullut sun puhuvan IRL. :)

    Sara Reply:

    Kaipa nauhoittaessa ottaa jotenkin sellaisen virallisen aanen ja ei sitten ihan kuulosta silta arkiaanelta :)

  • Lisa

    Wow, you have such a pretty voice, quite soothing~

    Your accent in both English and Chinese is really charming!~

    Sara Reply:

    Thank you so much Lisa!

  • T

    Jay Chou is a terrible choice as far as using music to help you learn Chinese goes. The problem with him is that he has a habit of slurring the words in his singing, and he has in fact made it his own “style”. I’d recommend Faye Wong as a learning tool. Try this song, for example:

    Sara Reply:

    Thanks for your recommendation T!

    T Reply:

    Are you much of a singer yourself; like, do you hang out at KTV with your friends often? If you enjoy singing, KTV could be a fun way to practise your pronunciation. (-:

    BTW, I came across this American chick on YouTube and she sounds awesome:

    Sara Reply:

    I’m really a terrible singer and don’t want anyone to suffer from hearing me :) Youtube is quite slow for me, but I’ll try to watch that.

  • Chris Waugh

    Well done!

    I noticed a basically Finnish accent with some definite Cantonese influence – all of which is fully understandable. Some tones were missed, but I think intonation, as in the rhythm and pitch, is more problematic. Having said that, my wife (native speaker) and I (learner) understood perfectly. There is no problem here that could pose a barrier to communication, and more practice I’m sure will see improvement.

    As for Sean and his “some parts sounded like Cantonese”, I notice he wrote “lian lian you yu” for “年年有余”.

    Sara Reply:

    Thank you very much for your opinion and advice Chris! I’m really happy to hear that you both understood me. In my daily life Chinese people usually understand me too. So I think that with more practice and probably a tutor from the north would do good to my pronunciation.

    p.s. Last year I had a teacher with this similar problem. She always said leng when she meant neng 能. Also some Cantonese people can’t sai R so when I heard “you yen” it took me a moment to understand that the fitting room “you ren 有人”. Also at the beginning I couldn’t always understand if my boyfriend said hungry “e” or hot “re” because it sounds little bit the same without an R.

  • sean

    After some careful thoughts my girlfriend and I have came up with the following list. These are the singers we think have pretty good pronunciations:


    Hope this helps!

    Sara Reply:

    Thanks again for your effort Sean, and for you girlfriend’s too. I will definitely look them up from kugou.

  • Stanley

    R sound isn’t in the Cantonese dialect. Also sounds that start with sh have become s for Cantonese. There is a sound shift to l for words starting with n in cantonese.

    Sara Reply:

    Thanks for sharing this information Stanley. I didn’t know about this sound shift from n to l, but I can very well understand that native Cantonese have a Cantonese accent when they are speaking putonghua too.

  • Rate My Chinese! (Audio clip included)

    Hi,Sara. After listening 5 times, I finnally figured out what you said at the beginning,did you say something like in a city of southern China? Then I listened more of what you read,I found you were getting better on the pronuncing. Check out this web site- You ‘ll find more people to listen to your reading and get corrected,which is helpful. I learned Hebrew from that site.

    Sara Reply:

    Hi anonymous! The beginning goes like this: 在中国南方的一座城市里,有一条街叫香椿树街。I’ve heard about Live Mocha but haven’t tried it my self, maybe I should take a look! And thanks for your effort for listening 5 times.

  • Rate My Chinese! (Audio clip included)

    Sorry,I forgot to rate. If ‘excellent’ is ’10’ for this phase which you are in, you’re getting ‘8’.

    Sara Reply:

    Really? 8 out of 10? I was prepared for something much worse!

  • Chopstik

    Your speech sounds very good and seems understandable to me (to me, it seems you have a Guangzhou accent). No worries. :-)

    Sara Reply:

    Thank you Chopstik both for leaving a comment and your nice words. Even I hope to improve my pronunciation I maybe don’t want to lose all of that southern flavour :)

  • ordinary malaysian

    Sara, I could understand most of what you read. I am not sure about the putonghua thing. Although I am a Chinese, my Mandarin is not good. Here in Malaysia unless you go to a Chinese venacular school, the medium of instruction is Malay and English at one time. But nevertheless, bear in mind that the main thing about language is to be able to communicate and be understood, unless of course you wnat to master it. But I am impressed that you try and you are doing fine. One day, who knows, you may be as good as CCTV’s Charlotte and Da San! Every thing I hear them speak,I feel ashamed of myself. They really impress me.

    Sara Reply:

    I absolutely agree that the most important thing is to be understood. And luckily I’m usually being understood in my daily life with other Chinese people. Now I have to admit that I haven’t heard Da Shan speaking! I guess I should go to youtube/tudou right now to listen him.

  • Rich

    I think your Chinese sounds great Sara! I think it would be a great idea to continue posting audio clips of you speaking Chinese every once in a while so your readers can follow your progress on your Chinese speaking abilities.

    Sara Reply:

    Thank you so much Rich! Posting this audio clip have been very useful to me and I’m so happy to get lots of comments and advice. And I will keep your recommendation in mind and hopefully later on post a new sample with better pronunciation :)

  • Nomad

    Tärkeintähän on,et tulee ymmärretyksi. Itselläni on paha yunnanin aksentti, ja minulle on kerrottu monta kertaa, et pitäsisi mennä Pekingiin opettelemaa puhumaan. Miksi? Asun Yunnanissa, joten ymmärrän paikallista puhetta vallan hyvin, ja joudun välillä tulkkaamaan jopa kiinalaisille. Tärkeää mielestäni on vaan itsensä ilmaiseminen, vaikka kiertoilmaisuin, kun/jos ei sanavarat riitä. Olen kehittynyt selittämisessä yllättävän hyväksi. Loppujen lopuksi asian helpoksi minulle tekee se, ettei kiina ole perheeni tai minun äidinkieleni, joten esim. toonien kanssa ei ole niin väliä. Tärkeintä on, että yritämme ymmärtää toisiamme.

    Sara Reply:

    Olen samaa mielta, etta selittaminen on erittain tarkea taito. Itsekin olen paassyt tata taitoa harjoittamaan aika laajasti viimeisen vuoden aikana kun oli loydettava keino keskustella poikaystavan kanssa asioista, joita en osannut sanoa kiinaksi. En voi myoskaan katsoa kaikkea sanakirjasta, eika siina olisi mitaan jarkeakaan. Joten selittamalla kylla yleensa vaikeampikin asia tulee ymmarretyksi ja tarvittaessa elekielta paalle.

    Itse toivoisin, etta aantamykseni olisi sellainen, etta mahdollisimman moni ymmartaisi. Toivon, etta myohemmin saisin kayttaa kiinan kielta tyoelamassa, joten sen puolesta erittain vahva aksentti voisi olla haitta tai ainakin hidaste.

    Miten siella kiinalaiset suhtautuvat siihen, etta tulkkaat heille paikallisten puhetta? Ihmettelevatko sita, etta voivat tarvita ulkomaalaisen apua paikallisten kanssa kommunikointiin?

  • Jackie

    I‘m a native Cantonese. Speaking a language with any accent is really not a problem at all. English is spoken everywhere around the world, and people are speaking it in different accents. You don’t hear people talking to each other in BBC English! Mandarin is official language in China,based on the dialect of Beijing, actually,a lot of people in Beijing are speaking in Beijing dialect instead of proper Mandarin. As more and more HongKong super stars like moving to mainland to expand their career, Cantonese accent is getting welcomed. I haven’t heard anyone from the north saying that he/she doesn’t understand what Jacky Chen says in Mandarin. We all know the fact that all the languages are changing , someday,all the Chinese ‘d get used to ‘sh’,’s’,’n’, ‘l’, Maybe ‘ lian lian you yu’ ‘d be used more often by people in the future. Nobody speaks a language which was spoken thousands years ago. (No offence to the standard Mandarin speakers). People are speaking Cantonese with accents in GuangZhou,too. Cantonese originally came from a place-called ‘xi- guan'( now is part of li-wan ), The cross- cultured living adds accents to Cantonese dialect, I never see any Cantonese making a big deal on it. A lot of people in Guangxi Province are speaking Cantonese as their first language. Do you know that Cantonese almost became the official language in China during “Sun Yat-sen” times, but considering the inconvenience for the northerners to learn a new language, “Sun Yat-sen” government decided to get the Southerners to learn Mandarin. (aha,he thought the Southerners were smarter, considerable.–a joke). I read an article about this on a newspaper sometime ago. I’m quoting it just to let you be happy about what you are doing on your Chinese learning and your relationship. Again,no offence to all the Mandarin speakers ,Mandarin learners,Mandarin lovers.

    Sara Reply:

    Speaking with an accent isn’t a problem as long as other people understand you. In the future I would like to use my Mandarin Chinese skills at work and that’s why would like my pronunciation to be easy to understand to as many as possible. But sure there isn’t any need to be perfect, even that would be possible. My English isn’t perfect either but people still understand me well. But I have to admit that English with a really strong Scottish/Australian/Chinese/Indian accent is sometimes hard for me to understand.

  • Zacky

    your Chinese pronunciation sounds really funny, I don’t wanna hurt your feeling by saying some bad words like wtf, what did you just say at the very beginning(as I am so kind, that’s the nicest bad word I can say…jk…I can curse more badly), honestly, I could understand what you said mostly, then slowly, when I later realize you are actually talking about Chinese Spring Festival and the story about nian nian you yu, still, you need more practice on tones of 中国 春节 生活, 剩余, I know Zh, Ch, Sh sound painful to most westerners while learning Chinese 4 tones, but relax, you’re understandable to me, and btw, you don’t sound like having Cantonese accent, that’s the coolest thing I can tell :p

    Sara Reply:

    Thank you for your honest opinion Zacky. So you were actually thinking of wtf when you were listening to my recording? I would like to know more why you think it was funny, was it mainly because of the tones or maybe the Zh, Ch and Sh you mentioned? I think z and zh are the challenging ones for me and my teacher have pointed them out before. Also tones aren’t that simple when you’re reading or speaking faster. If I emphasize the tones too much it sounds really stupid in my ears :)

    Zacky Reply:

    you pronounced 南方 (nán fāng)like nèn fàng, 有一条(tiáo)叫街(jiē)香(xiāng)椿(chūn)树街(jiē), you sound like 有一条(tiào)街(jiè) 叫香(xiàng)椿(zōng)树街(jiè),春节(jié)快要到(dào)了, you sound like 春节(jiè)快要到(dáo)了,开始(shǐ), you sound like 开始(xǐ), 生(shēng)活 not 生(shèng)活, and the rest part sound quite good!!!
    you still need to practice your tones a lot, wish you good luck in your future effort :)

    Sara Reply:

    Thank you Zacky for this list! I’ll keep these in my mind. I’ve also started to watch more Chinese TV in order to help with my listening, but also with my tones and pronunciation. At the beginning I can have memory tricks to remember the tones etc but now and later on I think the key is to listen a lot. And besides music, listen to a normal speach from news and TV shows.

  • ordinary malaysian

    Jackie, luckily Cantonese did not become the official language of China. It is rough, loud, pugnacious and lacking in finesse. No offence meant, it just sounds that way. I watch Cantonese films too. And I must say for action movies Cantonese sounds better. But for eveyday conversation, I am not too enamoured with it. Sara, do not become discouraged. If everyone speaks putonghua, imagine how boring that would be. The world is interesting only because people are different and they speak different languages. And even with the same language, different people speak it differently. The thing is, if people can understand what you say, what is the fuzz all about?

    Sara Reply:

    Don’t worry, I’m not getting discouraged at all. Actually this feedback have been better than I thought. Or maybe you readers are just too nice to me? I will continue improving my pronunciation, but at some point it will be good enough for me and I can concentrate that time to some other aspect in Chinese language.

  • C

    I don’t speak mandarin but you have a cute mandarin accent maybe spoken slightly from a cantonese person. But when the words come out of their mouths, it’s very flat and blunt and don’t really FLOW. it sounds something like “chong dong clong bong” or like bricks crumbling down :)

    Have you met any bejingers? they speak like they’re in a musical play. it’s quite lovely every time i hear them talk, it’s like poetry of the waterfall flowing like the movement of silk with all the “rrrrr”s rolling out of their town. and alot of “sh” sounds. they do sound like confucius scholars lol.

    Sara Reply:

    Cute? Thank you C! I’ve been to Beijing last year for two weeks and their accent sure is different than down here. But I’ve also got used to the southern way of speaking and doesn’t really miss the R sounds.

  • ordinary malaysian

    Stanley, thanks for enlightening. Cantonese has it own beauty no doubt, except that for me at least, Mandarin sounds easier on the ears. No offence meant. Like I said, the world is interesting because there are differnt people and different languages and dialects and different people speak dofferently even if they speak the same language or the same dialect.

  • Zee

    Sara, I think you sound fantastic! You’re one of the best among all the foreigners I’ve heard, except for one official in INS in San Francisco =)

    You can practice on the four tones a bit more as one of the friends pointed out. When you pronounce “t” the tip of your tongue touches the gum of your upper teeth – a mistake more foreigners make. You can improve by touching closer to the roof of your mouth by the flat part of your tonuge, not the tip. Hope this is not too hard to understand :)

    Best of luck!


    Sara Reply:

    Oh no, you are being way too nice Zee! :) I think I understand what you mean and will try to practice my t’s and tones more. Luckily I have one really excellent teacher here that always corrects our pronunciation and tones.

  • Harrist

    great post! i believe that you can speak fluent chinese one day. And by the way, your new forum, it is very interesting. I have joined it and may i join it? Haha.

    Sara Reply:

    Thank you Harrist. Sorry, the forum is only for women ;) Many guys have asked me to join the community, but the point to creat that forum was to have a safe place for us women to talk about our life in or our experiences about China.

  • Teerza

    I asked my Chinese husband to comment on your recorded word and he said “Are you sure she is not a Chinese? :-) I guess it’s his way of saying, very good.

    Sara Reply:

    Really Teerza? I could hug your husband right now (if you don’t mind) for his kind words!

  • Tian

    Very good, despite some minor problems in the intonations it’s mostly understandable.I’m Chinese myself now having my bachelor degree in Australia and I’m teaching Chinese in spare times. I’ll be happy if you send me emails for tips in Chinese learning.

    Sara Reply:

    Nice to hear your opinion Tian! I will soon contact you via email.

  • Eric Zhang

    I am a native speaker.I can understand you almost totally,though with some efforts.To me, good,but your tone has some problems.and with a obvious foreign tone…

    Sara Reply:

    Thank you for your evaluation Eric Zhang! At this point I’m very happy that you could almost totally understand me. But sure in the end I want to be understood without efforts so this feedback is really important for me. Do I have problems with some certains tones or just with all of them in general?

  • Bo Pang

    Moi! sinun Kinaa on ihan hyvaa, muuta there is one thing I want to say is your pronounce of “春节” chunjie, your pronounce is more like zhunjue. My friend who is also a finn has the same cavet too. Practise intensively how to pronounce ch and zh would be helpful for your pronounce :)

    Sara Reply:

    Kiitos Bo Pang! My teacher have also told me to pay attention to c and z, ch and zh. I really appreciate your opinion and always love to have feedback from a native Chinese speaker. Thank you!

  • Bobby

    Hi Sara, it seems like you have problems with the second tone. For example in 南方, “南” should be second tone, but it sounds like a third tone, I think.
    人们 the “人“ sounds like a fourth tone when you said it, but again, it should be a second tone.

    I had trouble with it too, for example, 南京 of course is pronounced “nan2jing1” but when I went to Shanghai, I told the taxi driver “nan3jing1lu4” and he quickly corrected me. I used to live in 浙江省温州市 and their Mandarin pronunciation is even less standard than the Cantonese, so I had to learn to listen to tones first, and forget about pronunciation if I was going to understand anything. Because of that, I think I’m pretty good with tones, for a Westerner.

    Sara Reply:

    Thank you so much for your help Bobby! It’s overwhelming how helpful everyone have been and giving me so much advice. It’s also comforting to hear about other laowais who have had problems with the tones but have managed to master them. Makes me want to study harder so thank you!

  • Bob

    I understood it.

    You could emphasize the first (really sing it on a high note), second (start in the middle and go up) and third tones (start low, go lower, come up a little) more. Before reading the text you could use a pencil to mark the tones on the characters.

    最 zui should rhyme with “way” (dz-way)

    Sara Reply:

    Thanks for the tips Bob! I’m planning on making a new audio or even a video soon to find out if there’s been any improvement.

  • heahe

    I am a Chinese. Your chinese is very good and I can completely catch it. The pron. sound has a taste of south of china. The speed of your speaking may be a little bit fast. The tone is too smooth and soft. I have some advices: your mouth open more large, slowly speaking and weighting tone. Generally, speaking need a short break before each chinese word. More practice makes perfect.

    Sara Reply:

    Thank you heahe!

  • heahe

    The difference of chinese and western langu. is the syllable. One chinese word is only one syllabe, but western lang. is mutiple syllables in one word. So your mouth must be bigger and speed is slower when you speaks in chinease.

  • Momo

    Your Chinese is pretty good! and you do have a Cantonese accent, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.  Keep up the good work! :)

    Sara Jaaksola Reply:

    Thank you Momo! Maybe the Cantonese accents just gives a bit of personal flavour :)

  • 姚紫兰

    :) First time on your blog and I’m eating up all the content ! It’s great to see someone else’s view of China… how we all go through pretty much the same process.
    I actually arrived in China around the same time you did, March 2010. But I have been back in Mexico for a year now, my dream only lasted 2 years. Still, I miss so many things, and I feel like a part of me will always be in China, so I can easily relate.
    I think your chinese is impressively good (I would say you still miss some tones, but that probably comes from the fact that no cantonese speaking person actually gets them right ^^) (Not that my chinese is any better…) What I found really interesting, is that (admitting that I have never spoken to a finnish person, at least that I recall) your english sounds, to me, like spoken by a Chinese ^^ (In no bad way, just interesting).
    Well, good luck in your further experiences, i will meanwhile keep on reading on your posts.

    Sara Jaaksola Reply:

    Thank you so much for you comment! I think I should record a new audio soon as it’s been a long time since this one. I’m also taking a new course in the uni about correcting my pronunciation, it would be great to track that too.

    I can understand very well that you miss China. I don’t know what would I do if I were to leave China one day.

  • 呵呵


    Sara Jaaksola Reply:


    呵呵 Reply: