Kevin Rudd's Chinese, Analyzed

Kevin Rudd, Wu Bangguo

Kevin Rudd with Wu Bangguo

You may have heard of Kevin Rudd, the latest laowai to become famous for speaking fluent Chinese. This guy is kind of different, though, because he happens to be the new Prime Minister of Australia.

Yesterday’s ChinesePod lesson is about Kevin Rudd’s Chinese. Overall a very positive review, of course, but it’s an interesting exercise for advanced students to hear what 小语病 (little language problems) he still has in his speech.

My co-worker Clay commented that if you compare the Chinese Rudd uses in his public appearances from a few months ago with the Chinese he uses now, it has gotten a lot better. It does make me wonder what kind of coaching Rudd gets on his Chinese, and as the Prime Minister of Australia, what kind of priority does he put on improving his Chinese (a truly powerful diplomatic tool)? Is it worth 10 hours of intense language training a week? More?

Anyway, check out the lesson: ChinesePod Media – 澳洲总理秀中文


John Pasden

John is a Shanghai-based linguist and entrepreneur, founder of AllSet Learning.


  1. Maybe he is secretly following CPod?
    Maybe he is using a pseudonym?
    Like “Changye” or “AuntieSue”?

  2. Rudd is a real star. Not only does he have a high level of Chinese, but he’s prepared to use it and tell it like it is. Check this out:

  3. I would like to point out that the analysis in stuart’s link is strong evidence in support of my reading of the word pengyou as it’s used in Chinese today. To quote from the link:

    To be a friend of China, the Chinese people, the party-state or, in the reform period, even a mainland business partner, the foreigner is often expected to stomach unpalatable situations, and keep silent in the face of egregious behaviour. A friend of China might enjoy the privilege of offering the occasional word of caution in private; in the public arena he or she is expected to have the good sense and courtesy to be “objective”, that is to toe the line, whatever that happens to be. The concept of “friendship” thus degenerates into little more than an effective tool for emotional blackmail and enforced complicity.

    So I reiterate, “just say NO to 外国朋友!”

  4. I agree with your comment that speaking the same language of the Chinese Tiger will benefit the Australian relations between the 2 countries.

    It makes me wonder if other countries will follow suit. If it does then you will have more work than you’ll be able to handle. That would be a good problem to have.

    BTW…How’s the Puppy?
    Take care

  5. […] of Australia, Kevin Rudd, recently came to Beijing University (Bei Da) to give a speech.  From Sinosplice, here is a great post about Australia’s new prime minister, Kevin Rudd, who is fluent in […]

  6. Also, will Australia’s other trading partners feel alienated if Australia puts too much emphasis on China and in some ways giving them special treatment. It is also interesting to note that it was New Zealand to be the first country to sign a free trade agreement with China.

  7. I wonder if Rudd’s Chinese is better than George W’s English.

  8. I think the fact that Rudd speaks Chinese really endears him to the Chinese public. That’s the impression I get whenever I’m watching TV with friends and family.

    There’s quite a few western politicians nowadays who speak Chinese.

    One which many people don’t know is the mayor of Vancouver, Sam Sullivan. Unfortunately, his drug policies have alienated many Chinese voters.

    So speaking Chinese is good, but it’s not everything.

    I like both Sam and his drug policies, though.

  9. I believe that the more people like Kevin Rudd get exposure, the more the expectation that Westerners have to learn to speak exactly like a Chinese person will be dispelled and just like a Frenchmen can speak perfectly good English with a “French accent” various kinds of laowai accent will become normal and to some extent expected (rather than indicating someone that still hasn’t quite mastered speaking Chinese).

    If we assume that more and more Westerners will learn Chinese to a good standard and that many of them will do this outside of acedemia and whilst not living in China, then this has to be the case (sorry Da Shan).

    BTW the media lesson at Cpod was a great bonus for me.

  10. Chinese is the 2nd most spoken language in Australia, so it’s really not that much of a long-shot. Good on him for being able to speak to his constituents and neighbors.

  11. Rudd is an excellent mimic, being able to read pinyin from a script very smoothly, however, when a Chinese person recently asked him “How he learned his Mandarin, he replied, “I agree mate, the weather is certainly great today !”….so, he obviously needs a bit of work on his comprehension, i think

  12. Haha – I got a good laugh out of this. Quite bizarre to see the P.M. show up in my Chinese language studies. I’m glad you pointed it out, I might have missed it.

    I’ve seen a few comments suggesting his Chinese is not great or like the one above, that he reads pinyin from a script. I don’t think this is the case. I’ve personally heard him give a 10-minute unscripted speech on his history with China and the language, in Mandarin, and there were very few pauses or stumbles. The Chinese around me all gave his skills a very high review. One more reason to like the PM!

  13. If Prime Minister Rudd’s language skill is indeed building up such large reserves of political capital in China by endearing him to the masses and to the PRC leadership, then one can also hope that he intends at some point in the near future to finally begin speaking in clear, objective and realistic terms not only about important social and political issues inside China, but about Chinese foreign policy, as well.

    Of course it’s easy to make lots of friends when you’re good at telling people exactly what they want to hear, and when they are sure they can trust you to stay well clear of any and all controversial topics. But that’s no substitute for real diplomacy and statesmanship, regardless of who is buying your nation’s exports.

  14. Any idot can see kevin rudd has chinese blood – face shape even his hair is not european.

    • just sayin' Says: September 4, 2013 at 8:35 pm

      Perhaps an “idot” would believe that, but any idiot can look up his wikipedia profile and read that he is of English and Irish heritage. Blue eyes and what (was) blond hair? Yeah, that’s distinctively Asian…

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