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Benefits of non-standard Chinese?


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Since I didn't want the University forum to get too off topic, I thought I'd pose this question here.

Have those of you that know a bit of non-standard Chinese (be it Shanghaihua, Kunminghua, Guangdonghua, etc.) found that learning some local speech has been useful?

This seems obvious to me, but so many people seem to bring up the non-standard Mandarin as a "con" for studying in places like Kunming, Shanghai, or Chengdu (I was advised against it!). I definitly felt like living in Kunming and learning some Kunminghua alongside my Mandarin was more of a benefit to me than it was a hinderance. With a little bit of a background in Kunminghua, for example, I had an advantage when travelling to rural areas where people *didn't* speak Beijing Mandarin. My friend who comes from Hunan tried a bit of Hunanhua out on me, and to my suprise, it was similar enough to Kunminghua that I got what he was saying, although both are pretty different from Beijing Mandarin. Especially in the south/southwest, the deviations from Mandarin tend to be fairly regular, and with a solid background, its not really that hard to pick up on the differences.

I think its practical to learn some of the local dialect. I don't think prospective students should be scared off by regional language differences. If you want to go to any larger city in China and speak only Mandarin, you won't have a problem. However, I see the strong presence of a local language as a bonus. Most people studying in China have a decent background in Chinese (I don't think Chinese Universities are that great for an absolute beginner, no matter where they are), so why let a local language be a deal-killer?

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It is always to your advantage to pick up several local words and phrases from regional dialects in China. Some are more useful than others: Shanghai dialect, for example, is spoken by nearly one fifth of the high ranking China embassy staff in Washington DC. However beginners should concentrate their efforts on mastering Mandarin and to that extent Beijing remains the best environment. One can always find native speakers of regional dialects in Beijing and by befriending a Yunnan or Sichuan pengyou in the capital you literally buy one and get one free.

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I think there are two separate issues here. One is learning regional languages and dialects. I think it is useful as in many parts of China you will be continually exposed to them.

There is another issue and I am not sure if this is what Tsunku meant. It is learning to understand people who speak Mandarin with an accent that is non-standard. Chinese language education seems to be quite obsessed with ensuring that every student of Chinese learns to speak with a Beijing accent. Yet this is ignorant of the fact that most Chinese people themselves only speak Mandarin as a second language and often there is strong interference from their mother tongue in pronunciation and also sometimes choice of vocabulary and grammar.

I am not saying people should give up learning Beijing accented Chinese and start learning Taiwanguoyu, but it would be a good idea if the existence of non-standard pronunciation and usage was paid a little more attention.

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That's exactly what I was getting at Wix, you said it better than I did. :)

The fact is, most of China does not speak pure Beijing Mandarin, and I tend to believe that the sooner a learner of Chinese is exposed to non-standard Chinese, the better. Travelling around China would be extremely frustrating if you expected everyone to speak the Beijing putonghua. From living in Kunming, and learning putonghua while at the same time being exposed on a day to day basis to the local language gave me a very good foundation for being able to understand local speech in other places as well.

I don't see the point in pretending like other forms of Chinese don't exist. I feel like students should be encouraged to listen to regional speech and exposed to Chinese other than Beijinghua. I don't think putonghua is useless either, or that it should be given up, but learning to recognize and adapt to non-standard Chinese is an important part of living in China, and one that I think gets ignored mostly, which is a shame.

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At the same time, it don't feel it's in someones best interest to learn non-standard putonghua. By living in a environ where local diealects are used you are being influenced by their accents which usually are somewhat different from standard mandarin. That's why I feel that for beginners it is best to learn in beijing. Once ou have a foundation, you can go wherever you want.

and as for learning in a differen region in order to better understand the average person's chinese... well, I always found that on my travels throughout china I was able to get used to a person's accent after only a few minutes of talking to them.

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