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wushijiao

Thoughts on Shenzhen as a place to learn Chinese?

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wushijiao

I’ve always kind of heard negative things about Shenzhen: it’s new and sleazy, has no real culture, no history, it has a lot of crime…etc. My friend once moved to there, coming from Shanghai, and he really didn’t like it.

So, my overall impression (or stereotype) of Shenzhen was decisively negative. Besides, I had thought, why would anyone live there when one could live in Hong Kong, just a few miles away?

However, after a few recent day trips there, I’ve started to have a change of mind. In fact, I have started to wonder if it might actually be a good place for the foreign learner of Chinese. Why?

1) Although it is a big city, it seems as though the foreign population is still relatively low (compared to Shanghai or Beijing). It seems like it might be a bit easier to ditch the foreign crowd. Also, since the city has many young educated professionals from around the Mainland who have recently moved there, I would guess that it might be easier to find Chinese friends who are welcome to meeting new people (foreign and or otherwise).

2) Significantly, it seems as though almost all people in restaurants, supermarkets, fruit stores…etc will speak to you in Putonghua (on average), whereas in Shanghai they will often attempt to speak to you in English. It could be that, as most of the workers are from outside provinces and had studied English in a non-communicative way, they might not even have the ability to speak in English, even if they wanted. So, compared to other big cities, it seems like the socio-linguistic environment is more conducive towards Chinese emersion.

Other positive things about Shenzhen:

1) The Restaurants. It seems to me that since Shenzhen has such a high percentage of people from other areas, the Sichuan, Hunan, Xinjiang, Dongbei…etc. restaurants tend to be authentic, and are easy to find and often fairly cheap.

2) The proximity to Hong Kong. One could always make day trips to Hong Kong for cultural events, to go to dim sum, HK’s mountains, bookstores, shopping, or whatever.

Anyway, my point is that I had never even considered Shenzhen as a good place for learning Putonghua. Now, after going there a few times, I have to question that. Are there any people who been there for a long periods of time? What do you think of the city? Would it be a good place to learn Putonghua?

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madizi

I was in Shenzhen just for few days and it seems to me that people go there only to do business. The whole city is some kind of business city. City without the soul.

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kdavid

Though I have yet to visit the south (I'll be there this summer, finally), their version of 普通话 drives me crazy. A buddy of mine was working for a plastic molding plant down there and I talked to his girlfriend on the phone a few times and I had a difficult time understanding her with the screwed up tones, regional slang and no huge differentiation between x/q/s/z/zh/sh/etc.

I'm a strong advocate for foreigners serious about learning Mandarin to study the 东北 accent, as it can be understood by everyone. We have enough obstacles as it is just being white (or another non-Asian color). Add to that a bad regional accent and it's you're just asking for disappointment.

If you want a "ditch" without a lot of foreigners, try Harbin. No one here speaks English and there are very few white people to run into (aside from Russians). You're also sure, with hard work, to develop a clear accent.

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wushijiao
Though I have yet to visit the south (I'll be there this summer, finally), their version of 普通话 drives me crazy. A buddy of mine was working for a plastic molding plant down there and I talked to his girlfriend on the phone a few times and I had a difficult time understanding her with the screwed up tones, regional slang and no huge differentiation between x/q/s/z/zh/sh/etc.

I know what you are saying kdavid, but in this case, most people who are in Shenzhen are from somewhere else. So, you hear all sorts of accents of Putonghua.

I also would guess that people are more socio-linguistically sensitive and aware in an immigrant place like Shenzhen than they might be in a Putonghua-speaking place that doesn't have a high percentage of immigrants. For example, in Henan, some people aren't 100% clear what words/phrases are used only locally, and which are understood by the country at large.

In contrast, of the few conversations I've had with people in Shenzhen, I noticed that, although they didn't seem to come from places that spoke "pure" Putonghua, their Putonghua was very clear. I'd bet that the average Henan guy who comes to Shenzhen for work learns pretty quickly which words are phrases, and even pronunciations, are understood by others, and which are only understood back in his hometown. Then, when he speaks to you (the foreigner) he would speak a bit clearer, and with a more "standardized" vocabulary (than if you were speaking to him in Henan and he had never left his home province). (Does that make sense? :conf )

Basically, I'm making big guesses about some of these socio-linguistic social dynamics. I wonder if anybody else has noticed the same thing?

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lilongyue

Isn't Cantonese the principle language in Shenzhen? Or at least the language of choice by locals? Chinese from southern, Cantonese speaking areas have a reputation, even among Chinese, for either not liking to speak Putonghua, or at best not speaking it well. Were I able to move to Hong Kong I would go in a heartbeat, but it would be pointless to go there for learning Putonghua, but great for Cantonese. Since it's not seen a just a lowly 方言, but a real language, there are schools that teach it to foreigners. I myself plan to learn Cantonese some day.

After re-reading the post, seems that I misunderstood the OP's point, so most of what I said is invalid. Sorry! Be curious to know how much Putonghua is spoken in Shenzhen on a daily basis. Is the majority of the population really immigrants from Putonghua speaking areas?

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flameproof
Isn't Cantonese the principle language in Shenzhen?

It's really not. It's hard to find people in SZ that speak, or even understand Cantonese. Mandarin is by far the most spoken language in SZ. Once you leave SZ, then Cantonese becomes more spoken.

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wushijiao

lilongyue, I think most people in Shenzhen tend to be from northern China, or from parts of western China that speak a variant of Mandarin (like Sichuan or Hunan).

I really haven't spent much time in Shenzhen, maybe 4-5 day trips at the most. But I would say that I heard/ overheard 90% Putonghua, 10% Cantonese. But again, that's a rough guess. I have no demographic data to back that up.

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yonglin
One could always make day trips to Hong Kong for cultural events, to go to dim sum...

Actually, the dim sum in Shenzhen is at least as good as the dim sum in Hong Kong. It's just about finding the right place.

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