The narrator has a foreigner's accent!
I'm a native Chinese speaker who spent several years growing up in China and I opened the Chinese course just now out of curiosity. I took the placement test and I was laughing the whole time at how obvious the narrator's accent was— you could tell by the way he pauses between words, by how stilted he sounds, and by how he gets a tone or two flat-out wrong in every single sentence that he clearly spent his entire life in someplace like the US and has that same accent that 99% of such people have. Now, I'm honestly starting to get worried over how accurate the narrators in the other courses sound. Does anyone have any knowledge about this?
Some characters have indeed been pronounced wrongly whilst some non-native commented that it's neutral tone or it's because of the program. Those explanations do not have ground given the sound and the quality of the recording we hear with our native ears.
It is not a sin to talk with an accent in China. Everybody has more or less some accent. But when we are talking about teaching materials there is a higher standard. Chinese is a tonal language and thus it is an important element. Showing learners non-standard pronunciation and make them believe it is a standard one is very disappointing.
For this reason I hesitate very much to continue with Korean in Duolingo as I am afraid of being exposed to non-standard pronunciation, with which I have enough confusion and do not want more from Duolingo.
I don't care much about it having a 'standard' Chinese accent honestly, especially given that a true standard hardly even exists. That's gonna vary hugely by region.
But tones are a completely different story. It's unacceptable for that to be wrong, EVER. It's not even the same word then. It's like if you want to teach someone the word "ton" but you say "tan" instead.
To anyone that's new to the language: I have plenty of experience saying the wrong tones to native Chinese speakers. Most of the time, it's not like they can tell what you wanted to say but you're using the wrong tone. They have NO IDEA what you're saying, unless they can figure it out independently from context. It's THAT important.
You are very right. If someone says something in a wrong tone at many places it is really hard to tell what he is actually saying. Assume that Duolingo is 90% correct and someone can remember them all, he is perfectly alright in China. But most of the time learners are bound to make mistakes. If one loses 20% or 30% more, he goes nowhere with 60% 70% accuracy.
Here I share a classic joke about tones with Chinese beginners.
Once upon a time a traveller ventured into China. Tired and hungry after a long journey, he saw a food stand in front of him. A pretty and young Chinese girl was selling Chinese dumpling soup. The dumplings looked so succulent and tasty. The traveller, knowing that he would come to China, had learned the language and could not wait to try using it. He approached the food stand to make his first food order in Chinese.
A minute later he found himself slapped on the face and made soaking wet by a bucket of water.
He tried to say “姑娘，一碗水饺多少钱？”; Unfortunately what he had actually said was “姑娘，一晚睡觉多少钱？”.
I noticed it too since my mother is Chinese and that's often the language she uses to speak to me. I think it's going to be a huge problem for those who don't have a live tutor (like my mum) on hand to correct tonal mistakes in speech because even now I still mess up words like learn (xué) and blood (xuè), both which I can hear the difference in tone but can't pronounce it well.
It's not dialectal. The Taiwanese dialect is a very pleasant one and Hong Kong/Macau speak completely the mutually unintelligible Cantonese. And I can tell you it's no more dialectal than Donald Trump's pronunciation of "bad home-brayz" is an actual dialect of Spanish.