Dashan is THE most famous foreigner in China. Pretty much anyone in China who has had a TV at home knows him. Dashan is known for his super fluent Mandarin Chinese and his crosstalk on the Chinese TV. Crosstalk or 相声(xiàng shēng) is basically the Chinese style stand-up comedy. Dashan had been doing crosstalk since 1988.

Time Stamped Show Notes

  • [1:22] – Dashan started studying Chinese since 1984 at the University of Toronto when he was 19 years old
  • [1:37] – Dashan was surprised to hear from his teacher that it will take 10 years to achieve fluency
  • [2:09] – Dashan enjoyed learning Chinese
  • [2:34] – A lot of people can reach a functional level of Chinese with just 2 years of study
  • [3:30] – Why did Dashan learn Chinese?
    • [3:32] – Dashan learnt Chinese just for fun
    • [3:54] – Dashan learnt French at the beginning
    • [4:06] – Dashan didn’t want to learn French
    • [4:21] – Dashan learnt Chinese was a backlash against learning French
    • [4:26]Dashan denies that he is gifted in learning languages
    • [4:40]It’s all about interest
  • [5:10] – Why is Chinese a good language to learn?
    • [5:16]Chinese not that difficult, Dashan compares Chinese with French and English
      • [5:28] – In French, all nouns have a gender
      • [6:09] – French has more complicated verb tenses than English
      • [6:31]Chinese grammar is simple (no verb conjugations, no tenses, nouns have no gender)
      • [7:01] – English grammar is complicated
      • [7:35]Chinese tones and Chinese characters are more difficult than English
    • [7:59] – Opportunities gained through knowing Chinese
      • [8:09] – Even just learning Chinese for 6 weeks would be very beneficial
        • [8:33] – get train tickets, negotiate with taxi drivers, simple transactional Chinese
        • [8:42] – Chinese is relatively easy to communicate
        • [9:10] – Chinese people love it when foreigners make an effort to learn their language and culture
      • [9:37]So much is lost in translation, the communication between China and the West are talking in parallel
        • [9:53] – It’s a tremendous disadvantage to doing business with China if you don’t know Chinese
        • [10:22] – At least 25% of efficiency is lost if you only use a translator for your communication
        • [11:06] – Doesn’t matter how good your translator is, it’s the process of the translation itself
      • [11:13] – There is a huge Mandarin-speaking population in the world
      • [11:23] – Dashan travels the world performing his stand-up comedy in Chinese
        • [11:31] – Dashan can use his Chinese everywhere he goes
        • [11:49] – Victor finds it weird to talk to Dashan in English
  • [12:16] – How did Dashan learn Chinese?
    • [12:28] – Dashan is sceptical to just settling on any specific technique
    • [12:50] – You have to use the language in your daily life
    • [13:02]Dashan talks about turning a foreign language into your second language
    • [13:32] – Chinese is Dashan’s second language
    • [13:43] – Dashan treats Chinese as his own language, not a foreign language
    • [13:59] – Dashan talks about practising Chinese tones enough to have the feel for the pronunciation
    • [14:31] – Use it, make it your own
    • [14:38] – Practice but express yourself with your own words
    • [15:47] – Dashan’s grandparents visited China in the 1920s
    • [15:59] – Dashan initially learnt Chinese in university
      • [16:04] – Dashan thinks it’s a disadvantage for the Chinese language education to be postponed until university
        • [16:17] – the majority of westerners start to learn Chinese in universities
      • [16:39] – Dashan took a Chinese course in the first year of university
      • [16:59] – Dashan enjoyed learning Chinese and majored in Chinese in the second year
      • [17:02] – Dashan focused on learning Chinese in the third and fourth year
      • [17:16] – Dashan got his BA in Chinese Studies
    • [17:20] – With no long term plan, Dashan went to Beijing University for independent studies of Chinese and then got into comedy
    • [17:55] – Dashan was invited by a TV station randomly to do a show
      • [18:08] – You get all kinds of opportunities when you are travelling the world
    • [18:25] – Dashan met some of the outstanding comedians of the day in China and started learning crosstalk
      • [18:35] – Dashan fully immersed himself in the Chinese language environment
      • [18:43] – It’s hard to be immersed in the Chinese language environment when you are surrounded by foreigners and Chinese who wants to practice English with you
      • [19:18] – Dashan had no opportunities to speak any English with the Chinese comedians
    • [19:37] – Dashan has already reached a functional level in Chinese when he first arrived in Beijing
      • 19:45 – There’s a video record of Dashan’s Chinese level in 1988 after learning Chinese for 4 years in the University of Toronto
      • [19:58] – Back then, Dashan could read newspaper, engage in relatively complex discussions, but still had heavy foreign accent
    • [20:16]Dashan worked on his accent just by being immersed in the environment
  • [21:01] – Dashan talks about the Erhua and the Beijing accent
    • [21:18]The Beijing accent is almost the same as the standard Mandarin but uses a lot more Erhua
    • [21:32] – Dashan sees Beijing accent as a kind of a lazy Mandarin. Lot of words are sort of like half-swallowed at the back of the mouth
    • [22:03] – Dashan demonstrates the difference between the Beijing accent and the standard Mandarin for “that brings to the end to the program”
    • [22:31] – Victor gives another example for “I don’t know”
    • [22:56] – The Beijing accent is now Dashan’s own accent but he tones it down sometimes
    • [23:24] – Erhua is still the standard Mandarin Chinese
  • [23:35] – Dashan points out that sometimes the tones people use are different to the official Mandarin standard
    • [23:41] – Dashan talks about the pronunciation of 谊(yi) in 友(yǒu)谊宾(bīn)馆(guǎn) / Friendship Hotel
    • [23:44] – In standard Mandarin 谊 should be the fourth tone but in real life, people use the second tone
    • [23:55] – Victor says that he would use the second tone when speaking
    • [24:31] – Dashan points out that you may have the correct pronunciation from the dictionary but that may not be the way people speak in real life
    • [24:49] – There is no government body determining the standard in English but in Chinese and French there is the government standard, which is used by the broadcasters
    • [25:54] – Victor points out that when people talk in real life, people don’t pay attention to the government standard
    • [26:01] – Victor shares that although he knows that 玫瑰 (roses) should be pronounced as méi guī but he still pronounce it as méi guì because it sounds weird to pronounce 瑰 in the first tone
  • [26:38] – What had been Dashan’s biggest challenge in learning Chinese?
    • [26:34]Dashan thinks that the tones are only hard for the first couple of months
    • [27:14]Dashan thinks that the characters are hard to learn at the beginning
      • [28:08] – Dashan thinks that the more you know the easier it is to learn new ones
    • [28:47]Dashan thinks that the most difficult things to learn are the set phrases like “sour grapes” in English
      • [29:56] – Set phrases are not necessarily 4 characters. Sometimes they are historical references, sometimes they are from poetries, sometimes from classical literatures
      • [30:13] – Dashan still occasionally stumble on set phrases after learning Chinese for 30 years
      • [30:23] – Dashan talks about the Chinese expression 胸(xiōng)有(yǒu)成(chéng)竹(zhú), which is an expression that describes someone as confident/prepared
      • [31:16] – You never finish learning these and it shows how well-educated you are in Chinese
      • [31:29]Set phrases makes the Chinese language very concise and beautiful, but there is always a clumsy way to express yourself
      • [31:50] – Dashan talks about a time he didn’t understand a English word
      • [32:46] – Dashan thinks it’s important to enjoy learning
  • [32:58] – How did Dashan deal with accents?
    • 33.09 – Dashan talks about Chinese dialects in China
    • 34.12 – Dahan thinks accent is to do with flexibility and dealing with accents is all about exposure
    • [34:40] – Dashan had a lot more exposure to Cantonese than Mandarin Chinese back in Toronto
    • [35:29] – Dashon shared a story when he helped a Cantonese-speaking man to find direction in Toronto while his wife, a Beijing Chinese, couldn’t understand anything the man said
  • [37:03] – Embarrassing moment: Dashan went to a friend’s mother’s birthday party and said to his friend, “I brought your mother a 花(huā)圈(quān) ring of flowers.” Flower rings are normally used at funerals. Dashan should have said 花(huā)篮(lán) basket of flowers instead
    • [38:13] – Chinese measure words are a bit complicated
  • [38:56] – A difference between the Chinese culture and Dashan’s own culture
    • [39:07] – Dashan talks about the Chinese saying 礼(lǐ)多(duō)人(rén)不(bú)怪(guài), which means “nobody complaints about having too much manner”
    • [39:31]Being too polite will make it hard for you to build relationship with people
    • [40:09] – A representative of a group will be treated as the group rather than an individual and As a representative of the Westerner, Dashan works hard to break through that.
  • [40:56] – How does Dashan connect with Chinese?
    • [41:08] – The first thing is to get away from the “foreigner” label
    • [41:29]Dashan flips the traditional stereotypes by looking for things that he is in common with the people he connects with rather than looking for differences
    • [43:13]Dashan talks about the Chinese tradition to have a clear cut between Chinese and foreigners
    • [43:45] – Dashan points out that there are things that do not fit in one category and Chinese are gradually adjusting to
      • [44:45] – Dashan is finding more Chinese using the word 西(xī)人(rén) Westerners instead of 外(wài)国(guó)人(rén) foreigners and 华(huá)人(rén) Chinese instead of 中(zhōng)国(guó)人(rén) Chinese (literally means China people)
    • [45:36] – Victor points out the advantage of being a foreigner that Chinese appreciates foreigners speaking good Chinese a lot because it’s still relatively rare to find foreigners speaking good Chinese
    • [46:53] – Dashan gets tired of being praised how good his Chinese is but Victor won’t mind people praising his English
  • [47:58] – Humour of Chinese vs. humour of the West
    • [48:05]Dashan thinks that there is no difference in the sense of humour but the content and cultural references are quite different
    • [48:50] – There is also a big difference in what’s considered socially acceptable
      • [49:37] – Context and demography are important factors in determining what’s appropriate

Dashan’s Favourite Chinese Quote

  • [54:08] – 抬头见喜 – Look up and see the joy
    • 抬(tái) – lift
    • 头(tóu) – head
    • 见(jiàn) – see
    • 喜(xǐ) – joy

Dashan’s Advice for Chinese Learners

Connect with Dashan

  • 55:56 – Website: http://dashan.com
    • Links to Dashan’s social media profiles and email contact form can be found on his website.

Resources Mentioned:

  • 51:00 – Pleco – Chinese dictionary app
  • 52:23 – China in Ten Words – A unique, intimate look at the Chinese experience over the last several decades.
  • 53:05 – Baidu – The Chinese version of Google
  • 53:42 – Baidu Dictionary – Look up Chinese phrases

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