Top 10 Foreigners Who Speak Chinese Better than Me


Considering my parent’s are immigrants from Taiwan and I’ve been studying Chinese since I was a kid you would think I would be pretty good at Mandarin.  However, I suck.  While it doesn’t take much to find someone who speaks better Mandarin Chinese than me here are 10 non-native Chinese speakers who rock the language. I was inspired by the Peking Order’s blog post Laowise – China’s top 5 famous foreigners. For anyone who thinks that Chinese is impossible to learn let these guys serve as your inspiration.

10.  Hong Lao Wai (Real name unknown)

Hong Lao Wai is an American supposedly self taught Chinese speaker who protects his identity and has a penchant for singing Chinese national pride songs.  As you can imagine he’s popular with the Chinese people.

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9.  Uwechue Emmanuel (aka Hao Ge)

Hao Ge is from Liberia, Africa who is now a celebrity in China who sings songs in Chinese.  He reminds me of an African R-Kelly… who sings songs in Chinese.  Interesting tidbit “Before getting his career off the ground in China, he was a country music singer and astro-physicist by profession.”

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8.  Tom Haze (Real name unknown)

I found this guy on youtube under the username tomhaze.  His profile says his location is Canada so I’ll assume he’s Canadian.  According to his comments he spent 4 years studying Chinese to get to that level.  Pretty impressive.

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7.  Kevin Rudd

Kevin Rudd is the current prime minister of Australia.  He used to be ambassador to China work for the Australian Embassy for the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade so he spent many years living in China and as you can imagine he’s pretty fluent.  Other interesting tidbit is that all his children are studying Chinese…

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6.  Jeff Locker (aka Jiefu)

Jeff Locker is an American author, radio host, and actor.   He’s famous not in the United States, but in Taiwan where he writes Chinese books, hosts Chinese radio programs, and acts in Chinese speaking films.

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5.  Steve Kaufmann (aka “The Linguist”)

Steve speaks 9 languages fluently and because of his skills now runs a language learning blog called and a language learning company called  Interestingly enough his first business was a wood company.

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4.  Jonathan Kos-Read (aka Cao-Cao)

Jonathan is an American actor who’s been acting in many Chinese movies and shows.  He’s famous in China and describes the characters he plays as  “nerdy computer guy, evil British soldier, ruthless executive, kindly diplomat, friendly guy, etc…”

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3.  Risteard O Deorian (aka 董漠涵)

Risteard is Irish and living in China as a radio and tv show host.  Along with him and the gentleman below in this list they host a TV program that’s all about China through the eyes of a foreigner.  The girl in the video is pretty good at Chinese as well…

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2.  Julien Gaudfroy (aka 朱力安)

Julien is French and before becoming a celebrity in China was actually a professional cellist.  After a career ending injury he decided to learn Chinese.  He studied Chinese and “could not rest until he attained the level of a native speaker.”

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1.  Mark Henry Rowswell (aka Da Shan)

Mark or Da Shan (literally “Big Mountain” in Chinese) is a Canadian living in China who is the guy many foreigners want to aspire to become.  He’s hugely popular in China and as many will note speaks better Chinese than Chinese people do.

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26 Comments For This Post

  1. Magnus Says:

    They put us all to shame!!

  2. Michael Says:

    I don’t think Kevin Rudd was ever the Ambassador to China. He worked in the Embassy for the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

    I think your list was pretty much spot on though, except I would have put the Irish man in the number one spot.

  3. ben Says:

    @ Michael, yup I messed up my titles for Kevin Rudd! Thanks for point that out I’ll update it. The irish guy was harder to find examples of him speaking. The guy Jeff Locker was pretty impressive too. He was mixing in Mandarin as well as Taiwanese.

  4. vel Says:

    Dashan doesn’t live in China. He moved himself and his family back to Canada because he couldn’t stand it any more, and wouldn’t allow his children to be brutalized by the education system.

  5. The Peking Order Says:

    Thanks for the shout out.

    Vel, The Peking Order demands you substantiate this claim! Mandarin-speaker-philes await your confirmation. It was not too long ago that I saw the man himself, with family in tow, in Steak and Eggs – the average-but-loved Western diner in Beijing’s embassy district.

  6. ben Says:

    I’m starting to look into this claim a little more carefully. It’s had to find anything online, however, maybe there is some truth to Vel’s claim, but also the Peking Order, you could be right as well. According to this LA Times article as posted on Da Shan’s website:

    The Dashan character provides Rowswell with more than just a $500,000 annual income. Commuting several times each year between China and his home in Canada, he carries the personal satisfaction that his efforts may chip away at the Great Wall of cultural misunderstanding between China and the West.

    So it sounds like he spends time both in Canada and China…

  7. Sheila Cornelius Says:

    When I worked in Tonghua, Jilin Province, in 2003-4, I really appreciated Dashan’s twice-daily TV programmes teaching Mandarin to foreigners.

    I wonder there are no women on your list. I’ve studied Mandarin part-time for about 15 year in London and I notice that the most fluent laowai’s in my upper-intermediate class are mostly female.


  8. ben Says:

    I figured women would have just as good if not better language skills than men…it is surprising that not many women have risen to prominence like the men have …

  9. Jonathan Kos-Read Says:

    The main reason is western girls don’t usually date Chinese guys. All the guys on this list (me included, I’m #4) learned most of their Chinese from their girlfriends or wives.

    So women come to China with language skills equal to or better than the guys but then they fall behind.

    There are actually two girls who should be on this list – Kerry Brogan, an actress and Aihua, a TV host. Both speak kick-ass Chinese and both of them (surprise) date Chinese guys.

  10. ben Says:

    Hey Jonathan, thanks for stopping by and adding your input. It’s some interesting insight, but makes sense since I know most people say that the best way to get better at a language us to date/marry someone who speaks it natively. Your experience seems to confirm this.

  11. Kevin Says:

    Great list with some intimidatingly accomplished people on it. They’re certainly something to aspire to.

    I started learning Chinese in May 2007 when I took a job as an English teacher in Huizhou. I started writing Mandarin songs in late 2008 when I was living in Changde. I’ve written about 30 songs in Mandarin, some slow some fast and some in-between

    I hope to join the ranks of these people myself someday 😉

  12. TheKippies Says:

    @Jonathan Kos-Read

    Are you serious? Please tell me you are joking about males having better Chinese than females because they date/marry Chinese women.

    I’ve known plenty of females who have dated and married Chinese men, and plenty of males who have dated/married Chinese women and speak terrible Chinese if they speak at all.

    I’ve noticed that males usually have a hard time with the tones in Chinese, and me and some other friends have jokingly started saying that people who have bad tones speak “boy” Chinese. I think perhaps more are famous because a) more males come to China than female and b) the author left people off the list. I actually haven’t heard of anyone but Dashan off the list.

    Also note: 90% of the people the author mentioned are white too. What about 大龙, the African American Chinese speaker who just was featured in the latest Ge You movie. Also 10-6 on the list actually don’t speak that good of Chinese.

  13. TheKippies Says:

    Correction – I have heard of 2 on the list: DaShan and Kevin Rudd.

  14. David Says:

    Steve Kaufmann shouldn’t be on this list. He pretty much sucks at most of his foreign languages. He might be able to parrot the language in a prepared speech, but can’t carry a real conversation beyond something really basic.

  15. David Says:

    Steve Kaufmann should not be on this list, he’s a fraud.

  16. Janessa Rumpel Says:

    This topic was very informative and well written. I plan to do some more research on this. Thanks for sharing this timely information. We need more like this.

  17. Ong Chen Liang Says:

    I was in china (Beijing) since February 2009 until February 2010. I wish soon i can speak better mandarin 🙂 well it is too hard LOL.

    Love Beijing people accent. The ‘r’ accent… 🙂

    Da Shan is the best mandarin speaker…

  18. Justin Liu Says:

    I just watched Julien’s interview. He makes some very astute cultural observation.

  19. vince Says:

    Julien …. france shame … came in china through a GF~

  20. SonicAbyss Says:

    Why isn’t Dashan on this list? He speaks better then any of them. No one will come close to his success not to mention flawless Chinese. He is also Canadian BTW!! ^_^

  21. SonicAbyss Says:

    Never mind it’s late and I wasn’t reading clearly. Although I do agree with most here. Women likely aren’t on the list mainly because of the fact that China like most Asian Countries is pro male. I would be very surprised seeing a female Celebrity in China due to this fact. Although who knows it could happen lol.

  22. ordinary malaysian Says:

    Johanthan Kos-Read is right. You forgot to mention Charlotte Macinnis or Aihua as she is known by her Chinese name. She currently has a programme teaching Chinese over CCTV English Channel called 成长汉语 Growing Up With Chinese. She speaks flawless Chinese that also puts me to shame even though I am also a Chinese myself.

  23. Geeta Says:

    I fully agree with Jonathan that there are many females, probably not so popular, who can speak very good Chinese. In particular, I feel Asians are best in learning languages, which your list does not mention at all. I am from India and have learnt Chinese for years. I am proud to say that my Chinese is pretty good. Particularly it does not carry an added accent which the westerners generally have, Chinese say so.

  24. rifatkarlova Says:

    Hello everyone, i am Rifat My Chinese name is 吳鳳, actually it is my stage name. I am from Turkey but i have been living in Taiwan for almost 5 years, I do may Chinese shows and want me to put in this list, i maybe not be in the very front but definetly can be in 5 or 6 :)) i love Chinese people and appreciate all these foreigners which they invested their time and love in Chinese language. China is getting more popular in the world and thats why many people are willing to learn Chinese. I never been to Mainland before but want to visit soon, hope i can meet more people and show them what i do on TV and stage. All the best wishes from Taiwan.


  25. Dan Says:

    Steve Kaufmann is definitely A FRAUD.

    Don’t belong in this list.

  26. jeff Says:


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  1. You can pry hanzi from my cold, dead hands! | X in China Says:

    […] the last laugh (over me and Chinese) as he’s become probably among China’s most famous Chinese-speaking White Guys,* up there with Da Shan, Jon Huntsman and the guy who plays the British guy in all the Cantonese […]

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