外国人 (wàiguórén, lit. foreigners, people who are not ethnically Chinese) who learn Chinese to a near native level of fluency and then appear in the media are still somewhat of a rarity these days. The few foreigners who make it to that level sometimes gain a following in China and become celebrities for their language skills. Below I’ve listed the ten foreigners that I’ve been most impressed by. Feel free to add to the list in the comments below if you’ve discovered other impressive non-native Chinese speakers.
1. 大山 (Dà Shān), Henry Rowswell
The Canadian born Mark Rowswell (otherwise known as 大山) mastered the Chinese language and went public with it by appearing in advertisements, on Chinese TV shows, and in the annual 春节联欢晚会. You can check out his personal website here. Below is a YouTube clip of him performing 相声 (xiàngsheng). If you’ve spent any time in China, chances are that you’ve already heard mention of 大山 (lit. big mountain). There seems to be almost a unanimous decision among Chinese people that his Chinese language skills are hands down the best of all foreigners. Chinese language learners in China often experience a conversation at some point about how their Chinese compares to 大山’s Chinese, followed by a discussion of what country 大山 comes from and a mention of his Chinese wife.
2. John Pasden
John Pasden, a native of Florida, is known for hosting tons of lessons on ChinesePod, the best-known of all the Chinese language learning podcasts. He is a master at clearly explaining the meaning and usage of Chinese words and phrases. His Chinese is amazingly good, and he has helped out countless numbers of people to take their language skills to the next level. He also started his own company last year, AllSet Learning, a consulting firm for helping people in Shanghai study Chinese. His blog, Sinosplice, has gained a lot of attention with Chinese language learners because of the interesting posts, tips for language study, and little bits of wisdom.
3. 大牛 (Dà Niú), Daniel Newham
Alternate China-friendly video: http://v.ku6.com/show/IyBuZ6w4DlDRPLhO.html
4. 朱力安 (Zhūlì ‘ān), Julien Gaudfroy
This Frenchman has rocked the Chinese language learning world with his flawless Beijing accented Mandarin. In the interview below he explains about how he learned to perform 相声. In the video he also performs a few crazy Chinese tongue twisters. Julien has appeared frequently on Chinese TV, often as a host for large scale media events. In some ways he is even more impressive than 大山, considering that he was able to reach a similar level of fluency at a much younger age.
Alternate China-friendly video: http://www.tudou.com/programs/view/oZnfvGowUPE/#
5. Jiefu – Jeff Locker
If you watch the clip below you’ll see why I’m impressed by this Chinese speaking American, Jeff Locker. Apparently he is famous in Taiwan for his comic work on TV. He has also appeared in several Taiwanese movies. Here he is impersonating a Chinese speaking George Bush. Does anyone know more about Jiefu?
Jonathan Kos-Read is an American actor from California who appears frequently on Chinese soap operas. IMDB says that he has been in more than 25 prime time TV shows and films and has starred in more than 50 soap operas. He also had a reality show about his life in China.
Alternate China-friendly video: http://v.rbc.cn/play/Play?id=39279
8. 董漠涵, (Dǒng Mòhán), Risteard O Deorian
Risteard is an Irishman who performs 相声 and hosts several TV programs in China. More recently he has remade himself as a one-man band under the name “Low Bow”.
Alternate China-friendly video: http://v.ku6.com/show/2sgs7qMMsCQx2vlD.html
8. 大龙 (Dà Lóng), Andrew Ballen Da Long
Big Dragon made a name for himself by hosting a travel show called “Getaway”. In the show he traveled all over China talking with people from all walks of life. Later on he turned to business, organizing and promoting hip hop music and culture in Shanghai. In the following interview he discusses his path to China and his process of learning to speak Chinese.
9. 郝歌 (Hǎo Gē), Uwechue Emmanuel
Hao Ge (his name has the same pronunciation as 好歌, lit. good song), from Nigeria, has made it into the spotlight by singing on Chinese tv. He sings in Chinese with a kind of R-Kelly soulful style. New York Times reports that he has quite a fan base with middle-aged ladies who watch American-Idol-style singing competition daytime TV shows. He is also one of the first Africans to break into the mainstream media in China.
Alternate China-friendly video: http://v.youku.com/v_show/id_XMjgxNjMzNTYw.html
10. 那比尔 (Nàbǐ’ěr), Nabil Huening
那比尔 is another American who has broken into the world of Chinese tv shows. He has appeared in a bunch of CCTV dramas and sitcoms. You can check out his Chinese in the following clip from a WWII made for tv drama. Aside from his acting work he also is an accomplished pop singer and songwriter. Check out the alternate China-friendly video to see him chat with 大山 and then sing a well-known Chinese pop song (不得不爱).
Alternate China friendly video: http://v.youku.com/v_show/id_XMjc1NjQxNzYw.html