Sunday, September 26, 2010

A Chinese chugger


A couple of days ago I spotted a Chinese chugger as I was walking back to work, a golden opportunity for conversation that cannot be missed. For more information on what a chugger is (or may be) either follow the link I gave or watch this video. I will use the word chugger for the rest of this post, I am aware that this vocation is not all good or all bad, even though my choice of the term chugger may seem somewhat derogatory.

Generally I don't have a lot of time for chuggers, if I want to donate to a charity I will do so on more than just a brief invitation and introduction (with sales pressure techniques etc.) I have both observed chuggers and sometimes engaged then in conversation (to get a feel for their techniques) I would be fascinated to see some of their training, as they have to break down barriers fast, introduce a concept to a stranger and get them to sign over regular payments all in a short period of time, their techniques and approach have a lot to do with language use and learning.

This particular chugger was pretty obviously Chinese, so I started off right-away by confirming that (in Chinese) and then took the opportunity for a little conversation practice.

The practice

My chugger seemed a little surprised but then discussed my Chinese learning background for a bit, she assumed I was a teacher or lecturer (of what I do not know) based on the fact that the only person who had talked Chinese with her to-date was a lecturer (of what I didn't ask) and to be fair we were quite close to Bristol university. She also asked if I was English (I hadn't spoken any), this happens quite often now, sadly I suspect because other Europeans are considered to be better at languages than us Brits. I was pleased that she seemed quite happy to continue in Chinese, so I was treated to an introduction to Amnesty International in Chinese. I could follow along quite well and could break it up a little by adding comments that led to discussion about myself. Chuggers are supposed to engage you in conversation and explore you opinions etc. the idea being to make you receptive to the sale. During the whole process there were only a few places where she switched to English briefly. On one occasion she was explaining how Amnesty International influences various world organizations (she either didn't trust my Chinese or had learned the script in English and wasn't entirely confident of translating it to Chinese on the fly) on two other occasions she used phrases that had obviously been taught to her as important parts of the sales script and were designed to engage my emotions (the "magic" is much less likely to work on me if not in my mother tongue).

The time was rapidly approaching the sale, I needed a get-out, fairly easy on the one or two occasions I have talked with English chuggers but my Chinese is not good enough for anything complex (and I didn't want to be rude). I explained that I am a computer programmer and although good with computers I was rubbish at managing everyday life so my wife manages everything in that department (although not entirely true this is plausible ;)). I got a comeback that the direct debit wouldn't start straight away etc. so I could check with my wife but I stuck to my guns and that was that.


Chuggers are trained to communicate, the guys (for example) will act more like one of your mates if you are a guy, they may flirt subtly with you if you are a girl and if an older women they will either flirt or present themselves as a nice young man (whichever looks like it will work the best). Some of their techniques for breaking down communication barriers can be reused to break down communication barriers when practicing a language. This Chinese girl is unlikely to be hampered by her English (I don't know how good her English is), she is short and pretty so is looking up at most Western guys in a cute way, also well versed (or a natural) in the simple subtle flirtation that will break down barriers with a lot of guys; leaning in slightly and a quick touch on the forearm with her hand when explaining something or sharing some snippet of knowledge all done so quick you barely notice (but your subconscious will). Studying sales and dating techniques etc. in your own language will certainly give you pointers for communication.

Follow up

I will follow this up by acquiring some extra vocab. and better strategies for exploiting my next language chugger. If in a foreign country studying language then I would definitely find many more of these opportunities. Some people have to communicate with you it is their job, why not exploit that opportunity, of course you would have to be prepared to avoid the date or sale or con. or whatever if that wasn't your goal. I will also track down some Amnesty International information in Chinese online, it will reinforce or remind me of some of the things she said (may put something into active language that was only passive before or move something up from unknown to passive).

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Chinese voices

Some fun with recording.

Two different ways I have been playing with sound.

Searching for a voice

Computer crash this weekend has made this post somewhat harder than it should be, I am going to be doing much more output in the future, even in the area that I hate (recording), I have had hangups with telephones even with English, I have used Skype for Chinese (but each time a bag of nerves beforehand) and a microphone always reduces me to a self-conscious wreck. I have very little nerves talking face to face though.
I need get over this, perhaps I will have to take a test where I record my voice or participate in a telephone interview. So increasingly I will record voice files both off the cuff and as part of other exercises. I am not happy with my recorded voice at all, this latest example is particularly slushy and inaccurate but I gave myself one shot to say what I wanted to say (that will force me to get better in real-time). I have fixed on using Audioboo for now as they offer a quick convenient way to record and upload short sound files from an Ipod Touch.
This example is simply about my Chinese voice (I haven't found one yet), obviously I don't want to talk like a girl or a tough guy from and old movie. I summarised it down (a little hurriedly to fit a Twitter post as follows. One reply already points out that rather than referencing movie voices from old films I would be better off looking to TV and new films (true but I still don't know who would be appropriate to copy).

Zombie School

I am always running crazy scenarios in my head, I had one provoked by a Chinese lesson at Popup Chinese, they have some crazy lesson content, but solid Chinese that helps to remember things and some good examples of Northern dialect and pronunciation. The lesson provoked an imaginary movie advert in my head, when I wanted to play with some new Ipod Touch software I decided to pull the advert out into the real world. Over 20 years ago it took a hardware sampler and couple of computers to do this kind of thing now you can do it with an Ipod touch and £8.99 0f software. This is just a bit of fun, the strange beat is to match the syncopated but fast movement of the zombies, and it only really works with headphones or good speakers (the heartbeat I made by modifying a drum sample is too low and quiet for example).
All the voices are me, sampled through a standard IPod mic, just messed around a little with reverb etc. They are pretty much what I hear in my head, I am least satisfied with the news reporter. The guy that says "They are my sons friends, his fellow students" gets played twice because although I don't know how authentic that voice is I heard someone talk just like that when he was being interviewed on a Chinese news program. Yes I know it doesn't make a lot of sense without the video cut scenes that only exist in my head but I had fun.


I sound forced and self-concious, also I seem to make mistakes that I am less likely to make when talking for real (a friend confirmed this for me). I actually feel more comfortable with a microphone when trying to act a part. I will definitely continue experimenting with sound though. And pursue more recorded project similar to the fake film advert.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Change of style

Official notice that this blog is going to change quite considerably in style as my Mandarin Journey alters. There will be some strange (but hopefully thought provoking posts) and details of a journey towards becoming a highly literate Chinese speaker (I have plans and will have fun).

For a blog that is more focused on the early stages of learning a language (after applying what I have learned whilst learning Chinese) than please visit my Thai learning blog.

My next post this weekend will include an audio file that I made with music and some Chinese speaking (I said it will get strange ;)). I think it was an exercise that started me on a journey towards a much higher level of Mandarin.

Mandarin has five tones

Just a quick thought in passing, I have always considered Mandarin to have five basic tones, not the often quoted four. I guess it comes down to how linguists define tones but four tones + the neutral tone in my mind adds up to five. Not using the neutral tone correctly can make works sound wrong or even change the implied meaning. I appreciate that the neutral tone has more of a role to play in multi-syllable words etc. but come on, surely it is a tone? It adds a similar mental load.

I will admit that Thai "feels" a little more like a five tone language, as the middle flat tone in Thai gets a bit more emphasis and can apply to single syllables in their own right rather than just their position in a certain word or phrase, For me though Mandarin has five tones.

Disclaimer: I am ignoring all the bits and pieces that may happen in speech like third tones that may become second (but not quite second) etc. and any extra tones that may sneak into "near Mandarin" dialects.

Anybody else back five tones???