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Astana, Kazakhstan • 25 July 2022

How Well Does The President Speak Chinese? Teacher Reacts

Emerging TikTok star analyzes pronunciation of Kassym-Jomart Tokayev

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Photo credit: gov.kz Background: canva.com
Photo credit: gov.kz Background: canva.com

Sanzhar Dildabekov, a teacher from Kazakhstan, published a video on TikTok in which he analyzes the pronunciation of Kassym-Jomart Tokayev in Mandarin Chinese. QazMonitor presents the interview with the author citing Tengrinews on his teaching experience and the President's language skills.

Life in China and teaching

Sanzhar Dildabekov has lived in China for more than eight years. At age 16, he received a scholarship for a language course, which led him to pursue language studies in Zibo (Shandong Province), a small town in northern China.

"I was good at the hardest part - pronunciation. I had to work twice as hard because of my stuttering, and I wanted people to have no difficulty understanding me," he says.

Sanzhar began teaching by chance. About three years ago, a few of his acquaintances had opened a Chinese language school in Kazakhstan and they needed a teacher.

"A couple of months ago, the idea came up to create short video lessons for the TikTok audience. I came across a video in which a blogger was evaluating celebrities' English skills. And so that inspired the idea to assess our president's language level since many say that he's really proficient in the Chinese language," said the teacher.

TikTok with the President

According to Dildabekov, the head of state has a good understanding of the tonal differences of the language. For example, in Mandarin Chinese, the official state dialect of China, the word 'ma' can have different meanings depending on the pitch. There are four tones in the Chinese language.

I was surprised that the President said 'zheng ge er' and not 'zhen ge'. The "er" is particular to the Beijing dialect. Most likely, he said this phrase out of habit. (...) I also heard that there are tones in the President's speech. Of course, not all of them are perfect, but I noticed their presence. 

What struck the instructor the most was the instance in which the President conveys the meaning of the subtitles in his own words.

"It was no longer rote [automatic repetition] but a conscious rendering of the text. He also used a phrase common for native speakers. This shows that his level of understanding is clearly above Intermediate," he said.

Sanzhar also commented on the video clip of Tokayev demonstrating his knowledge of the language.

The accent is almost unnoticeable

"Chinese, unlike Russian and Kazakh, has a so-called pace of speech. And the President clearly has a command of it. In addition, in this video, Tokayev's accent is almost unnoticeable, at least it's hard to differentiate his speech from that of a native speaker," he comments.

Chinese has so many vowels and consonants that are not found in Russian or Kazakh, Sanzhar stressed.

"They are called pinyin (Chinese transcription) – te, yuan, shi and so on. The president has a good command of sounds that we don't have in our native language. There is indeed a lot of hard work behind it. To be fair, there are also moments with tones that sound slightly imperfect in some expressions," summarized Sanzhar Dildabekov.

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