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Why is a learning the Beijing dialect important?

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Friday

I have studied Chinese for a year at a US university and will soon be going to China to continue my studies. I have not chosen a school yet. My language professors insist that I study in a region where the Beijing dialect, or similar "official" accent is spoken. I have had no success getting them to explain why this accent is important. The best I can surmise is that American accent + regional accent = stigma. Can anyone explain why learning the official dialect is important or describe some reasons why I should (or shouldn't) base my decision of which school to study at based on dialect?

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wushijiao

Just for the sake of this post, let's define languages as a type of speech that is mutually not understandable, and dialects as something as something that has a bit different pronunciation and words (or slang) but is still understandable. For average Americans, the English spoken in northern English would be a dialect/accent, while the French would be another language.

Take a look at the dialect map on this website about Shanghainese:

http://www.zanhei.com/intro.html

Basically, Friday, your teachers want you to study in one of the brown zones (Mandarin) on that map. Why?

People there speak Putonghua as their native language. Everywhere you go, you will hear Mandarin. In the south, as you can see from that map, people speak different languages as their native language. Most young people and educated people can now speak almost perfect Putonghua. But, if you go to school in the south, your teachers may fear that you will pick up an unstandard accent. People in the south pronounce the pinyin the ch, zh, sh "incorrectly". Also, I persoanlly feel it is better to study in the north (at least initially) because you can basically eavesdrop on people all day long. You can't really eavesdrop on people who speak Min or Wu, unless you are planning to learn those languages. Also, I also feel that the HSK is slightly biased towards using phrases and vocabulary in the listening section that are more common in the north. Maybe I'm wrong.

So, to sum up, you will have a better accent and you will have more chances to listen to Mandarin. That is probably what your teachers mean.

By the way, there is also a case to be made that studying in the south isn't all that bad. First, unlike 10 or 20 years ago, Putonghua is much more widespread. Most of your friends will likely be educated or under 30, so they will all speak Mandarin just fine.

Second, studying in the south might force you to work on tones a bit harder. Right now, for example, I study International Relations at Fudan in Shanghai. Some of my profs speak Mandarin with heavy Shanghaiese accents (although they are still understandable). But if I am having problems understanding a lecture, I will really listen hard for the tones. Generally speaking, people can misprounconce the pinyin of a word and be understood, but they will always pronounce the tones correctly. So, across the widespread accents of speaking Mandarin in China, the tones are the strong backbone, and the pinyin is the weak flesh. When I was in the north, I would usually just listen for the pinyin when lsitening. Of course, I should have been listening for both. But anyway, I sometimes think that studying down south might force you to have better tones. I really may be wrong on this point, however.

Third, about half of the people who speak Mandarin speak with a southern accent. Also, Guangdong, Fujian, Zhejiang, shanghai...etc are the most prosperous parts of China. So, in the long run, if you want to go into academia or business, you will need to be able to understand the way southerners speak Mandarin (although it is not that big of a differences from standard, really). Still, no matter what langauge you are studying, you will wnat to expose yourself to a variety of accents and speaking styles.

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trevelyan
Generally speaking, people can misprounconce the pinyin of a word and be understood, but they will always pronounce the tones correctly.

So.... we have an optimist in the crowd. ;)

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YETIboy1230
Maybe I'm wrong

i give my vote to you....

wow wow wow....at my own risk i guess you have a rich experience in china so much so that you are inclined to become "谦虚“ as chinese are considered to be.....haha...i am alreadying making a digression

...since wushijiao gave a very detailed[and i want to say "perfect"] explanation,i will simply add[我有点画蛇添足了?] a little bit...

like java 's slogan"write once,run everywhere",i'd like to put on/change the coat of it here"learn [Mandarin] once,[you can] chase [girls] everywhere [in china]":mrgreen:

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fulgentius

Yeah, what Wushijiao said.

Every culture has its standard and prestige dialects, and second langauge learners all over the world tend to learn them because they are considered more correct and more prestigious by almost everyone (including those who don't speak them). Should they? Well, they do, that's the way it is.

Also, as a fellow beginner (almost one year of instruction now), I would definitely want to avoid heavy accents at this point in my education. There are many native Cantonese speakers in my class and I find their accent very confusing.

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Xiao Kui

I wouldn't trust that map at www.zanhei.com They put Chengdu in the brown Mandarin speaking section. Hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahhahahahahahahhahahahahahahah!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Generally speaking, people can misprounconce the pinyin of a word and be understood, but they will always pronounce the tones correctly.

Sadly this isn't true of people speaking Mandarin who are native speakers of Sichuanese (the dialect spoken by Chengdu people) Because in Sichuanese some of the tones are actually reversed, when many Chengdu people speak Mandarin they adopt Sichuan tones. Thus you can say your destination to the cab driver in perfect Mandarin with perfect tones, and he will repeat it back to you with different tones. You will then think you are nuts. Or worse yet, you will assume he is right since he's Chinese and adopt his crazy tones and repeat them in your Mandarin class. then you will be crazier and more confused.

Go to Harbin, freeze your pigu off, drink the poison water, and eat that huge fish that is only found in the Songhua river that has been bottom feeding off garbage and toxic waste its whole life - but you will at least learn to speak Mandarin correctly, perhaps with an overdose of r's added onto words, and Harbinren are some of the friendliest Chinese I've met so far.

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wushijiao

Interesting Xiao Kui. :D So, Sichuan may not be a great place to start out. I think the problem with that map might be that is uses the "mutual intelligibility" standard.

Anyway, as far as Shanghainese people, or other southerners, when they speak Putonghua they usually speak with the correct tones at least. Maybe that is because they can't superimpose their own tones system onto Mandarin. :conf Although I might be wrong.

"learn [Mandarin] once,[you can] chase [girls] everywhere [in china]"

Are you saying get your Mandarin to the point where you can get a boyfriend/girlfriend that you can speak Chinese to? Hehe. That's the langauge method Berlitz and Pimsleur don't want you to find out about.

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skylee
People in the south pronounce the pinyin the ch, zh, sh incorrectly.

what a generalisation ...

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wushijiao
what a generalisation ...

Hehe. Only according to the standard. Unlike English, Mandarin does have a standard (maybe in the future there will be multiple accepted standards. You might say, and as I suggest in my post, there already is another unofficially accepted standard). But I didn't invent the rules! For better or for worse, if you were to say "sh" as "s" on the 普通话水平测试 it would count against you.

Like I have said many times, I think teachers of Mandarin should at least expose students to common forms of "unstandard" Chinese. I know in my personal case, I had trouble understanding the way southerners talk because it is never taught, despite the fact that about half of the Putonghua-speaking world speaks that way!

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ange9s
Are you saying get your Mandarin to the point where you can get a boyfriend/girlfriend that you can speak Chinese to? Hehe. That's the langauge method Berlitz and Pimsleur don't want you to find out about.

I'd say you still have a better chance of attracting a mate by learning guitar, instead.

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realmayo

I know this has been *partially* covered elsewhere in the past but seeing as this is a live thread I thought I would ask:

Already vaguely low intermediate, I'm considering studying for a year in a university in China: either Beijing ... or somewhere like Hubei, Hunan, Sichuan -- ie all mandarin places where plenty of people can speak decent putonghua but plenty of others on the street will instead speak non-standard.

How significantly do you think the non-standard mandarin of these areas would affect my Chinese, given that I'll be studying most of the time with teachers who speak standard putonghua? I can see how such a place would be a problem for someone who is learning just by picking up the language from locals, but, as I say, this won't be the case with me.

Having lived south of the Yangtze for a couple of years in the past I do tend to turn my sh into s and my zh into z and my ch into c, unless I make an effort: but surely there are worse crimes? thanks.

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vkim67

This is a pretty old post but I hope someone gets back to me about this~

So I'm trying to choose some universities to study Putonghua next year~ (Currently studying Harbin for this year). My first couple choices are Zhejiang University (Hangzhou), Peking U, Yunnan/Normal University in Kunming.

Now... OUTSIDE of the Chinese language program at those schools, I would like to audit a course or two at the university. Do a lot of the Yunnan/Zhejiang U professors have a STRONG accent? On top of that, I heard their way of speaking (for ex. the way they compose their sentence or even addition of adding words from their dialect, 说法) may be difficult to understand. Particularly at Zhejiang. Is this so? Can anyone expand? I'm afraid this may be detrimental for my Chinese level!

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anonymoose

Professors don't necessarily come from the local area. They may well speak with a strong accent, but even if you go to Peking University, this still may be the case. So just choose a place that you like, and don't worry about the accent too much. In any case, if you really want to become competent at chinese, you'll need to learn to cope with accents sooner or later, because in real life, people are not always going to be speaking like CCTV newscasters.

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vkim67

Hi, thanks for the quick response~ Yes, I am aware of the benefits of learning to understand different types of accents but I also think it's really important to get down "standard" sentence structures and what not. At my current level, it really wouldn't help me to pick up dialect words and incorrect syntax and be UNAWARE that it's a mixture of putonghua and dialect. Then use it in other places as it's really hard to unlearn. If my Chinese level was higher I would have an easier time distinguishing. I would REALLY like to live in Hangzhou (esp after a year in HARBIN!!) but this is my biggest concern!

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anonymoose

Well, as I say, whichever university you go to, many of the professors will not be local. At a guess, I'd say probably Peking University has the highest proportion of non-local professors, simply because they can attract the best people from all over the country.

If the professors are speaking in mandarin, as they inevitably will be when giving a class, then the only issue might be accent. I don't think sentence structure will change significantly (at least for Wu languages, sentence structure is almost the same as mandarin anyway), and dialectal words will be few and far between. I mean, I suspect even in Harbin, the locals use some dialectal words that outsiders would not understand.

Of course this is only my feeling, also as a learner of Chinese, but I don't think this should be a deciding factor in where you decide to go. If you are attracted to Hangzhou as a city (and Zhejiang University has a good reputation), then I would seriously consider going there. After all, you also want to be happy in your living environment.

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vkim67

I put Zhejiang as my second choice (it was initially my first) ~ To be honest I can be happy anywhere I go (as long as the showers are not disgusting and my room is decent haha) because there are things about each place that I like and my first and foremost goal is raising my Chinese proficiency. I know it's also just a year and will have many opportunities to come back in the future.

thanks for your insight~ 很有道理 i do feel a lot better about Zhejiang though. :)

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greenarcher

I studied for 2 semesters in BLCU and only 1 of my 8 professors was from Beijing (born and raised in Beijing only, parents are from elsewhere.) I had teachers from Dongbei, Tianjin, Shandong, etc.

None of them speak like the old Beijinger with the extremely strong R accent. But they do add R to a lot of words which Southern/Taiwanese people don't.

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xuefang

I'm studying putonghua here in Guangzhou. On the street if someone wants to talk with me they will start with putonghua, only those people who doesn't speak putonghua try to speak to my in Cantonese. So I haven't seen that as a problem. Also I have teachers from different areas and from them the only one speaking erhua (Beijing dialect with lots of R) is the one that no one seem to understand. His accent is something really special. Also here on the campus are students from all parts of the country so I can here lots of different dialect but a lot of putonghua too.

The reason why I will have a crappy southern accent is because my boyfriend's putonghua is quite bad ;)

So I wouldn't worry about it so much. And where ever you end up you can always find a tutor with a standard accent and let him or her help with your pronunciation.

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vkim67

Thanks Greenarcher & Xuefang~

I'm not looking to pick up the excessive er-hua culture i've heard so much about haha. So was a bit of an accent the only problem you guys faced? Were there any professors that mixed in words from their dialect or said sentences in ways that was not considered standard? (For ex. there are more westernized sentence structures that follow English syntax which are not necessarily grammatically incorrect~ but are not completely normal to/commonly said by native Chinese speakers; similarly sentence structures may mimic a dialect's syntax and if the dialect is completely different then it may be wrong as opposed to just not normal).

Well this can't be avoided and I've already made my selections for the universities.... but Im just wondering now.

Vkim67

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xuefang

The problem that I've had with people from the south is that they mix L and N. They can say ni zai lali when they mean ni zai nali. Or they say hailan when they mean hainan. So sometimes I have to think about it a while what someone said or ask him/her to write it down. But if they use some sentence structure that isn't standard then I don't know. My Chinese isn't good enough to discover that.

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