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Cake

Should I not learn in this city because of its local dialect?

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Cake

Hello Everyone,

First, Thanks for reading this. I've been invited to live in Chengdu for an extended period of time. But, because my goal is to learn Mandarin, I've been wondering if I should pursue work in a different city. How strong is the Chengdu dialect? How much and in what ways will I be effected by it?

 

Although I don't if it's true, from what I've heard I was under the impression that:

-The dialect spoken in Beijing and North East China is the closest to the textbook standard taught in schools throughout China. A higher number of people would be able understand me if I spoke with that dialect compared to any other. So if I learned to speak there the skill would be more "valuable". (No disrespect intended to speakers of any other dialect.)

 

-Every day listening and learning in public outside the North East may be more confusing because of the differences from standardized Mandarin and from that which I learned in Rosetta Stone. I've heard this can be particularly troublesome when listening for tones. Since I plan on studying on my own time, not at a university, how different the public example is from the standard should be an important factor in my decision where to go.

 

-If I did speak in a dialect that isn't from the North East, then people from the North East might think I sound less proper, like I'm speaking more like someone of a lower class. (Though it's wrong.) I might not make as good of an impression as I could have on them and they might look down on me. It could be better to speak with a "proper" North Eastern dialect in a professional setting.

 

Is all of that right? Maybe parts of it are, parts of it aren't, and some parts are kind of both. Knowing how true or untrue these things are and to what degree I would be impacted by them would really clear things up and help me pick where to go. Would it be okay to learn with a Chengdu dialect?

My next choice city would be Shanghai. I've heard that the dialect there is only mildly different from the standard and is understood most everywhere else in China. Would it be comparatively better to learn with a Shanghai dialect? I would really appreciate any information on the distance the dialect there can be understood as well.

 

I've read many of the threads here about dialects, but none have discussed how far of a distance their particular dialect reaches before there is a problem a with communication and then becomes mutually unintelligible (if ever). I welcome all conversation about how your local dialect has impacted your study and level of effectiveness when using Mandarin, no matter what city you're living in.


Finally, I'm sorry for this being a long, kind of redundant first post based on things I've only heard, but I hope that our discussion can help everyone! Thank you!

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Flickserve

You are confusing dialect with accents.

Chinese speakers are amazingly tolerant of accents. There is even a sizeable proportion of the population that do not speak Mandarin.

For speaking, try to follow standard mandarin.

For listening, everybody speaks with one accent or another so that is something is second language learners have to get used to whether in Beijing Shanghai or Chengdu.

There seems not to be an attitude of being looked down upon if you do not speak with a North Eastern dialect.

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Chris Two Times

I lived for five total years on two occasions in Chengdu. I say...GO! While you may struggle with the Southwestern Mandarin at first, the important thing is that you put yourself out there and talk and talk and talk with a wide variety of people--in my experience, Chengdu was a very good place to do that. People were very patient and supportive of my language learning endeavors and they were willing to give me the time for conversation--this is of utmost importance, having such people and Chengdu does have them.

 

As Chengdu is an up-and-coming second tier city, I have found that it has been drawing in many people from other parts of China. Generally, you can find people who speak Mandarin or "Southwestern Mandarin lite".

 

If I did speak in a dialect that isn't from the North East, then people from the North East might think I sound less proper, like I'm speaking more like someone of a lower class.

 

Why be concerned about what people from the Northeast think? I'm not sure they would think this and how often would you come into contact with 东北人 anyway?

 

I would say the most important thing would be to simply GO! and DO! Come to China and get your fill of language learning wherever you may be and watch your Mandarin soar.

 

Good luck with it all.

 

Warm regards,

Chris Two Times

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abcdefg
Would it be okay to learn with a Chengdu dialect?

 

Agree with Flickserve. You are asking the wrong question. Dialect 方言 and Accent 口音 are not at all the same.

 

If you live in Chengdu a long time and talk a whole lot with natives, you may wind up with a Chengdu accent. That's OK. You won't learn a Sichuan dialect unless you set out to do that and spend a large amount of effort mastering it. That's not recommended for most foreigners because of its limited usefulness.

 

I have a Kunming accent now. But people from other parts of China understand me fine and I understand them. They just ask, 哦,你是不是昆明人?

 

Chengdu has a whole lot going for it.

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Lumbering Ox

Based on the Wikipedia article there are different flavoursof Mandarin. Some of which are more like accents and others of which are mutually not intelligible.

BTW the article also refers to them as dialects.

 

Based on the map and where Chengdu seems to be this si what they speak

Southwestern Mandarin, spoken in the provinces of Hubei, Sichuan, Guizhou, Yunnan, and the Mandarin-speaking areas of Hunan, Guangxi and southern Shaanxi. There are sharp phonological, lexical, and tonal changes, and intelligibility with Beijing is limited to varying degrees.

 

Shanghai locally speaks Wu Chinese, not Mandarin. I won't comment further as I'd be speaking out of my ahem... but I'd hazard a guess that the Mandarin that is spoken there would be more diverse but also leaning more to the standard mandarin. I am sure someone else who knows better will fill you in.

 

How important is it.

I knew a guy from Manchester. Because of slang and just the extreme accent I had a lot of trouble understanding him. I'd ask him to repeat himself in English more than one would expect. I'd say half the time because I had no idea what he was saying and the other half was just taking the piss as they say. I'd love to hear him protest that he was speaking English. All in good fun. Like calling Scottish, Welsh and Irish people English if the person in question is reasonably chill.

 

There are some extreme Scottish and Irish accents that I have a lot of trouble following also.

 

I don't think class would be the important consideration but actually being understood.

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daofeishi

You are confusing dialect with accents.

 

I wouldn't say that, I'd say you are the one confusing the Chinese concept of 'fangyan' with the linguistic concept of a dialect. A classification of a language into dialects is a classification into mutually intelligible sub-varieties of that language that can have slight variations in phonetics and/or grammar, and are usually tied up to some geographic community in the area where the language is spoken. 

 

 '方言' is more of a political/ethnographical term, used to mean "the language that is spoken a certain place inside China". It contains no notions of how linguistically similar two languages are. Therefore, Kunming mandarin and Beijing mandarin, two languages that have a high degree of mutual intelligibility, are said to be fangyans, but so are Tibetan and Minanese, which are very different from the two. There's a good reason why Victor Mair invented the word "topolect" to substitute for fangyan. Too bad it hasn't caught on.

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Flickserve

OK. So I speak London dialect English as opposed to New York dialect English or Geordie English.

 

Definitions aside, how does that help the original poster? In the end, on a practical point, he/she is referring to Mandarin and the variations across the country.

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daofeishi

Definitions aside, how does that help the original poster?

 

Generally speaking, I think it's a good idea to to try to be as accurate as possible when we answer questions. What is essential here is:

 

There is such thing as a 'Chengdu-dialect', namely Sichuanese Mandarin. Sichuanese Mandarin diverges quite a bit from the northern versions of Mandarin. From wikipedia: "Although Sichuanese is generally classified as a dialect of Mandarin, it is highly divergent in phonology, vocabulary, and even grammar from the standard language." I'm not an expert, so I can't go into detail about exactly how Sichuanese compares to other Mandarin dialects, but wikipedia lists a less than 50% lexical similarity to northern Mandarin. The OPs question is  a good one, and he/she isn't "confusing dialects for accents" in asking it.

 

What is important: Everyone in China is forced to learn standard Putonghua from an early age. Everyone born in the last 40 years or so in the mainland are good at code-switching into Putonghua when it is necessary. You will learn standard mandarin in Chengdu, even if your accent might be colored by the local dialect. The situation is essentially the same no matter where you go in China, because no one except for newscasters speak Putonghua exactly according to the decided-upon standard. However, someone else has to comment on how likely you are to encounter Sichuanese in everyday life in Chengu. I know that in Hainan, there are families who still have to rely on Hainanese in everyday life because the elderly don't speak Putonghua well (I'm married to someone from one of them), so the prominence of the local topolects can vary from place to place. 

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abcdefg
Should I not learn in this city because of it's local dialect?

 

So the answer to the OP's question is -- No. Do not fear the local language environment. You can move to Chengdu. You can live, work, study there. You can still learn good Chinese there.

 

Welcome to the Forum. You will usually get a wide assortment of answers here. Some will be more precise and scholarly than others. Taken together, they will provide you with a spectrum of valuable information.

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Cake

Great Thanks to Every individual person for contributing and clarifying that. I feel much better. Truly.

I'm also very interested in hearing about your experiences communicating with people who speak with a dialect from Shanghai (wrong term?). Or, If you have a Shanghai dialect yourself, How was it communicating with people from other parts of China?

This is really helpful information to know with the time to buy a ticket coming soon!

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Cake

Thank you very much imron. That definitely helps me to know that Chengdu will be a good place to learn. Which, thanks to this thread, I am gaining confidence in and will probably chose. 

But do you only mean that it will be fine and possible to communicate, and that the differences are able to be overcome? (which i did ask, so thank you all for answering)

But I'm sorry, I'm really looking for something more specific regarding the level of difficulty in learning and communicating based on where I decide to study compared to another. That is with the exception of learning from a certified teacher which is good to know about too, but in this case I mean learning from the public example. I apologize for not asking in this way from the beginning. That's my fault. Here is my real question,
 

 

Communication with them won't be difficult if you already speak standard Mandarin, but there will be an initial hump you need to get over - just like someone from Texas and someone from Scotland might have a bit of difficulty understanding each other at first but eventually they'll develop an ear for their respective pronunciation differences and be able to communicate with each other.

What is the actual size of this "hump" going to be when communicating with the general majority of other speakers of Mandarin throughout China depending on which accent I speak in?

What is my experience going to be like depending on if I'm speaking in Chengdu accented standard Mandarin versus when speaking in Shanghai accented standard Mandarin throughout the country and which reaches more people more easily?


Just so we all can get a better reference of this idea,

Would communication in Chengdu accent or in Shanghai accent, to most other speakers of Mandarin in China, be more similar to the experience of:

-someone from the Mid-Western part of the United States communicating with someone from California, (No difficulty)
-someone from the Mid-Western part of the United States communicating with someone from New-York, (Low difficulty)
-someone from New-York or London communicating with from someone from the far Southern part of the United States, (Medium, definitely present difficulty)
or like
-someone from Texas speaking with someone from the Scotland (High difficulty)

 

Also, I recognize and appreciate you actually stated "Communication with them won't be difficult" But I'm really wondering which will "better" depending on which city I pick to study in by comparison to the other.

*sigh* I actually feel bad for being so nit-picky about this question and phrasing it so specifically like this but this is very important to me, I will truly be using the answers to decide where to live, and the discussion could very likely help others in the future too. Getting a comparison like this would really put things into perspective for me regarding what to expect and I would be so very grateful for that!

Everyone has already already helped so much, even if there is no further discussion, Thank you, Sincerely!

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imron

As a beginner learner, there will be a medium to high difficulty.  As your Chinese improves and as you become familiar with regional variations it will probably get down to no->low difficulty.

 

The point is really moot if you are a beginner though (because all communication will be difficult) and unless you are planning on being in a remote village somewhere, I don't think these issues are large enough to make it a determining factor.  You'll be able to learn and practice standard Mandarin in almost any major city in China.

 

Some people will say go to the North East because speech there is closer to the standard and it will be easier to understand and communicate with people around you and you're more likely to pick up a 'standard' accent.

 

Others say exposure to regional accents will make your Chinese better because you'll be able to understand more than just your teachers and news presenters.

 

There are pros and cons to both approaches.

 

What are your primary motivations for going to China?  If it's for a work opportunity, then go where the work is.  If it's for language learning, then full-time work will certainly get in the way of that and you might be better off seeing if there are other options available (government scholarships for studying Chinese etc).

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msittig

FWIW, and just to add another point of anecdata, I lived in Shanghai for almost 10 years and barely learned a lick of the local dialect. The only times I can remember this getting in the way of normal communication were (1) speaking with old people, who sometimes told me I "spoke very good Shanghainese", which I found very cute, and (2) when the principal at my daughters' preschool would code-switch into Shanghainese for emphasis during parent meetings, usually but not always repeating something she had just said in Mandarin. Like somebody mentioned above, the bigger the city the more likely it will have a significant population of Chinese from all over China, forcing *everybody* to use Mandarin for day-to-day communication. The middle school science department at my last school had an all-waidi (non-Shanghainese: Jiangxi, Gansu, and I think Anhui) physics section, and department meetings were held in Mandarin for their benefit. In fact, it's a common concern in Shanghai that the young people are not learning the local dialect, and efforts are being made to promote and preserve it.

 

Also, if you learn "standard Mandarin" in the northeast you'll still end up with what Shanghainese -- and anybody outside the northeast -- would consider a North-eastern accent, which can sound just as country-bumpkin-ish as a farmer from Anhui. Or pirate-ish, with all that -r-r-r-r and region-specific slang.

 

The point being, go to whatever big city you want. By the time you start learning more Chinese outside the classroom than in the classroom, you'll have the ability to distinguish between Mandarin and the local dialect anyways.

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imron

See also this podcast (referenced from another thread) which goes in to quite a lot of detail about learning Chinese, from people who are living/learning in Sichuan province.

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Flickserve

If you follow your teacher's pronunciation, (assuming your tones and pronunciation are fairly decent), I would say you will have no difficulty in being understood in other parts of the country because this is what is happening to me right now.

 

Listening skills are something else and requires exposure. Frankly speaking, you are in a far better position in Chengdu that I am in HK.

 

As Imron says, you will go from high difficulty and progress to low difficulty the more experienced you get (which is exactly the same for English).

 

If there is a difference between cities, it is going to be so small that most non-native language speakers on this forum don't think it is an issue.

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abcdefg

Cake -- You are overthinking this. Just pick a city that will provide a decent living environment, go there, apply yourself to learning Chinese in addition to your other activities. The language will come. It will all work out OK.

 

If there is a difference between cities, it is going to be so small that most non-native language speakers on this forum don't think it is an issue.

 

The point being, go to whatever big city you want. By the time you start learning more Chinese outside the classroom than in the classroom, you'll have the ability to distinguish between Mandarin and the local dialect anyways.

 

Agree with Flickserve and Msittig. Well said!

 

I've been invited to live in Chengdu for an extended period of time.

 

Chengdu is a great place. You are fortunate. Go there and thrive!

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roddy

Yep. I bet more people have gone to Beijing thinking it would have standard Mandarin and struggled to learn due to finding too many opportunities to speak English, or not coping well with the weather or pollution, or not enjoying living in such a large city, etc, etc; than have gone to Chengdu and struggled to learn due to local pronunciation issues.

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realmayo

Speaking from similar experience of a city like Chengdu:

 

the only way you'll run into trouble is if you spend a couple of years learning just by what you pick up from how friends and others around speak. That might leave you with a too-strong accent and lots of non-standard vocabulary. And you would probably want to correct it later.

 

But if you're learning with teachers or tutors, then -- unless they're bad -- they'll make sure you are learning standard Chinese, no matter what you're hearing around you. So even if you spend loads of time with locals too, your teachers will make sure you don't pick up any bad habits; any slight accent you pick up under those circumstances will not be a problem or cause for regret.

 

If you're getting tuition, go to Chengdu, accent won't be a problem. If you're not getting tuition, it's a bit more complicated.

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