For musician, the sweet sound of Chinese

By Viva Goldner (China Daily)
Updated: 2007-11-16 10:05

When circumstance put an end to Julien Gaudfroy's first great love, the former musician discovered his passion for the Chinese language.

Before carving a career as a media personality in Beijing, the Frenchman was a professional cellist, performing at the Paris Conservatory with top classical players and conductors.

The gifted 28-year-old was forced to stop playing due to injuries eight years ago - which he still does not want to mention - and decided to focus on the "challenge" of learning a new language.

With the same dedication that saw him rise to the top of European musical circles, Gaudfroy would not rest until he attained the level of a native speaker.

Those impeccable language skills, coupled with a good dose of charisma and keen sense of humor, propelled Gaudfroy into the limelight. He co-hosts a Chinese talk show, broadcast daily by the CRI network, called "The Foreigner's Point of View". He travels China as a popular TV host, and is an accomplished cross-talk performer.

Gaudfroy began studying Chinese in 1998 while still in France, creating within his Paris apartment an "almost 100 percent Chinese environment". Helped by a Chinese girlfriend, he studied at home for hours and engaged in conversation with any Chinese person he happened upon.

"I didn't have much else to do so I would spend all day long studying Chinese in any possible way," he says. He tried a language course at a Paris university, but lasted just weeks, finding tapes and self-study to be a more suitable method.

Gaudfroy recovered from his injuries two years later, but was not prepared for the investment it would take to revive his former musical career. He used to practise cello for up to eight hours a day, and risked recurring complications from his earlier injuries. Instead, he chose to further his Chinese studies.

"It was some kind of desire," he says. "I think the main thing is, from the start, I really wanted to get myself to the level of a native speaker."

Hailing from Lille, Gaudfroy first came to China in 1999. He left the following year, but returned in 2002 and has lived here since. To improve his reading and writing skills, Gaudfroy consumed whatever Chinese language material he could - novels, newspapers, magazines and historical texts.

He constantly listened to television and radio shows, and would repeat new phrases to himself until he was sure the pronunciation was perfect.

Gaudfroy believes his musical background helped him pick up the tonal sounds of Chinese, but puts his successful quest in learning mostly down to hard work.

He is a regular performer of cross-talk, the popular art of stand-up comedy with a linguistic bent. He says it has brought a new level of sophistication to his Chinese.

"It has helped me with the way I use it, to feel the rhythm of the language for the stage," he says.

Video clips of Gaudfroy talking Mandarin on various Chinese TV stations have found their way onto YouTube and other websites, prompting awed students of the language to contact and ask for his secrets. He has posted detailed remarks on his experience on the website forum,

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