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sjrb

How important is location for learning Mandarin?

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sjrb

I'm sure this has been discussed elsewhere and I can't find the right keywords to search, but I couldn't seem find the right topics. 

 

I understand that a wide variety of languages are spoken across China, with some highly similar to Putonghua and others completely different. I also understand that Mandarin is spreading and spoken by a decent chunk of the population, although I seem to get very different information as to how widespread it actually it. 

 

I'm hoping to move to China to teach English next year, and continue learning Mandarin while I'm there. Should I limit my search to only firmly Mandarin cities, or consider others? How difficult is to to find people to talk to in Mandarin in a city that speaks a different dialect? 

 

I've got current applications in progress for jobs in Beijing, Wuhan, and a few cities in Fujian, and I'm looking elsewhere as well, so any advice specific to Wuhan/Hubei and Fujian is appreciated. 

 

 

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AaronUK

Hi @sjrb

 

Welcome to the forum! I would like to share with you my experiences of learning Mandarin in the UK. I have friends from Guangdong (south china, above hong kong).

They have always been happy to speak to me in Mandarin and I forget they actually speak Cantonese. From speaking to them I found out that all young people in their local area will speak Mandarin and have a high level since learning it from a very young age in education.

 

I also have a friend from Fujian who I like to practice Mandarin with, it's said that the Fujian accent is softer and similar to Taiwan due to flow of migration from that way. I do notice his accent as I've previously had teachers from both Shanghai and Beijing. I would say if you get a very clear teacher from Beijing this is best, but being in Beijing for learning Chinese doesn't necessarily have an advantage when interacting with locals since they can have a very heavy accent and often cut out a lot of words in their everyday colloquial speech. I don't say this to put you off of Beijing since you certainly would have opportunities to advance in language. I just wanted to highlight that in other areas it’s possible that you will engage with people whose accents are mutually understandable. I also had a friend for a year studying near me who was from North West China, again I had no problems and a friend who was part Urumqi, also North West china and I was able to practice with both.  What I would say is that people I have met have been fortunate to have a good education which is how they end up in the UK.

 

Perhaps in very small cities you might notice difficulty if there is lower education, I can’t say much for Wuhan, I did have a friend from Wuhan who was living and working in Shanghai for a large technology company, while I spoke with him in Mandarin I don't know if he is representative or not.

 

Also to note, if you are completely new to the language and have bad tones people might struggle to understand you anywhere, I would recommend to try learning as much as you can before you arrive  

 

Anyway, let us know how your applications get on.

 

Thanks,

 

Aaron

 

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roddy

I think of it as a secondary concern. If you hate big cities, you shouldn't go to Beijing. If you hate cold winters, you shouldn't go to Harbin. But if you find yourself unable to choose between Dialecttown and Standardsville, let it be a deciding factor. 

 

If you're going to be teaching English you're presumably going to be in a fairly Mandariny environment anyway.

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DavyJonesLocker

 

1 hour ago, AaronUK said:

would say if you get a very clear teacher from Beijing this is best, but being in Beijing for learning Chinese doesn't necessarily have an advantage when interacting with locals since they can have a very heavy accent and often cut out a lot of words in their everyday colloquial speech. I don't say this to put you off of Beijing since you certainly would have opportunities to advance in language. I just wanted to highlight that in other areas it’s possible that you will engage with people whose accents are mutually understandable.

 

I would add that just because you're in Beijing doesn't mean you are subjected to a Beijing accent only. 9 out of 10 people I know are not actually from Beijing. Usually North East China. Of the 40 students I taught this year (MBA course for a state owned company)  only 2 or 3 after actually from Beijing.

 

In any case I think there is an advantage to be in a city where there is a large range of accents so you can familiarize yourself with the language better. 

 

There are many asain students who come to the uk and really struggle with all the different accents so being subjected to a wide range I believe is positive. Many Chinese tell me that really struggle with Indians speaking English due to the strong accent whereas UK nationals would have no issues as they have been subjected to it from an early age. 

 

Having said that, I agree with Roddy , choose the city first (within reason). Harbin maybe be pretty standard Mandarin but it's pretty grim for 5 months of the year. 

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roddy
4 minutes ago, DavyJonesLocker said:

Harbin maybe be pretty standard Mandarin but it's pretty grim for 5 months of the year. 

Case in point. I loved winter in Harbin. Unless you meant summer, in which case, yeah, grim. 

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Publius

Because of the government's relentless promotion, most people under 60 who have received formal education are able to speak Putonghua. Finding Mandarin speakers to talk to won't be an issue, especially in urban areas.

Several languages are spoken across China. Mandarin itself has 5-9 subgroups depending on how you draw the map. Some of them have rather limited mutual intelligibility. But most people, including those whose first language isn't Mandarin, can switch to standard Mandarin if you don't speak their local dialect.

So, as others have said, city first, Mandarin second.

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DavyJonesLocker
1 hour ago, roddy said:

Case in point. I loved winter in Harbin. Unless you meant summer, in which case, yeah, grim. 

 

You must be hardy! Thought I was going to freeze to death a few times there. No doubt it's beautiful with the snow and ice but lot of hassle wearing thermals to go outside and then it's to hit when you go indoors etc. Should have really got one of those long coats the locals wear. 

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imron
1 hour ago, DavyJonesLocker said:

You must be hardy!

He's scottish.

 

2 hours ago, Publius said:

So, as others have said, city first, Mandarin second.

I disagree with this somewhat.  There's a big difference between being immersed in a relatively standard Mandarin environment and being in an environment where people can switch from their local dialect to speak to you in Mandarin if they have to.

 

When I first went to China, being in a mostly standard Mandarin environment was one of my requirements and I ended up in a town in Hebei which was more or less just what I was looking for (not a big city, relatively standard Mandarin).

 

I mean sure, don't go looking for the city with the purest, most standard Mandarin (which you'll never find anyway) but there are several provinces in the north and north east with a large range of cities where the locals generally speak Mandarin.

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roddy
2 hours ago, Publius said:

Finding Mandarin speakers to talk to won't be an issue, especially in urban areas.

This is definitely true, but it's not just the people that are talking to you, it's the people that are talking around you. Can you eavesdrop on a bus, or understand when your co-worker shouts out that he's going for noodles, does anyone want to come? 

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Tomsima

I live in yichang, which is the city neighbouring west Wuhan. The locals like to think of it as a 'cultured' Wuhan, but really it's just a scaled down mini-version in my opinion. I have many friends from Wuhan, and although the accent is different, the style of Mandarin spoken here is almost the same (indistinguishable to outside people) so could give a bit of an insight if it helps.

 

The dialects here are all of the southwestern Mandarin variety. There are many similarities with Putonghua, to the extent where younger people speak a mixture of dialect and Putonghua because they don't consciously distinguish. Older generations speak with heavy accents and younger generations have trouble communicating with older people not from their local area. Younger people all speak Putonghua with local southwestern style accent (sh→s, n/l etc.) and you can get used to it pretty quickly. They also have favourite words to use in their Putonghua to give it their own style (eg. Dongbei people famously say 'gan ha', in Wuhan they say 'go mo si', and 去 is almost exclusively pronounced 'ke').

 

Before I moved to China I remember I was thinking over the same question. Learning chinese from scratch in this area of China has been great fun. Most people sadly seem to not like their accent and are always trying to standardise towards Putonghua. As a result, I've had plenty of encouragement to speak standard Putonghua (especially as a foreigner), but my ears are not well trained to the northern style of Chinese. I can understand people speaking Hubei/Chongqing/Hunan/Guangxi comfortably, but have particular trouble listening to people from dongbei/beijing

 

In retrospect, it is not the language style that is the biggest decider, but is in fact the local culture, people, city vibe and lifestyle. In the end everyone will be speaking Putonghua with you anyway (foreigner), and in some cases will even not be comfortable listening to you mimic the local style. Hope this helps a bit in your decision!

 

 

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ChTTay

I’d agree with what Imron is saying. If you move to a place with a strong dialect then they’ll essentially just use Mandarin to speak to you and any other time they’ll use their own dialect. It will impact your ability to practice by listening, picking up stuff you overhear. 

 

I lived in Yinchuan first. They have a weird accent sometimes but overall what they spoke was fairly standard and intelligible. At least at my very beginner level back then. 

 

I’d probably decide on the province or provinces then find a city in it. 

 

I live in Beijing and pick up a lot of stuff by listening. I know someone mentioned loads of people here aren’t from Beijing BUT that means most of the time they need to speak somewhat standard when out and about otherwise no one understands them.  I’ve had random people tell me jokingly my mandarin is better than theirs when ordering fast food or something. 

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abcdefg

One finds lots of dialect spoken in Kunming. Not an insurmountable problem of course, but it detracts somewhat from the learning experience.

 

A friendly vendor at the local wet market gets in my face sometimes, wagging a finger and "mock scolding" me when I don't understand what he has said. I've known him several years. He asks, "When are you finally going to learn to speak our language? You've been here a long time and still only speak Chinese." It has become something of a standing joke by now and we both laugh. But there is an element of truth in it. Mandarin is not always the lingua franca on the streets of Kunming.

 

On 12/14/2017 at 11:09 PM, ChTTay said:

I’ve had random people tell me jokingly my mandarin is better than theirs when ordering fast food or something. 

 

That happens to me too.  Especially true with less educated and older Kunming people 昆明人。

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HuayangAcademy

If you are after very standard Chinese maybe an area such as Jilin would be worth a look, 

after a recent visit I found the standard Chinese is great. 

Also the pollution was not as bad as I thought it would be around 65

 

As the above gentle mentions Kunming can be a great place, our school is in Kunming and we would be happy to have a chat with you. 

Main points about Kunming is there are plenty of students from all over China so you can speak standard Chinese when you want to, 

also the weather I'd say is best in China.

 

Shanghai and Beijing probably best for money and salary if you are that way inclined. 

Cost of living is cheap, just do your research as some cities are quite unliveable with pollution/general harshness. 

I find Xi'an to be horribly polluted and Taiyuan in Shanxi to be very bad too 

 

Also there are many places with heavy foreign populations so make sure you make Chinese friends and practice so you don't fall into the foreign circles and end up learning less 

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歐博思

If your Fujian city was Xiamen, I've travelled through there on the way from Hangzhou to Taiwan, and found a lot of the little local shops favored their dialect, which is prettty different.

 

Speaking of Hangzhou, I'd like to also recommend Hangzhou :D Beautiful city and they tend to stick to Mandarin it seemed to me.

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sjrb

Thanks for the replies everyone. For a bit more context I'm coming from Sydney so definitely more suited to warmer climates, although given most of the Mandarin areas are in the north I might have to suck it up. My experience learning Spanish has trained me to avoid the expats while overseas, so hopefully I'll be okay there. 

 

I think I'll make sure to ask the local school I'm considering about the local dialects and mandarin usage for the specific cities - I had an interview for the Wuhan position today and the person said that Standard Mandarin is extremely common, although I'll no doubt want to do more research before I settle on a place. It does sound like for the most part that I'll be okay in most places though. 

 

Thanks again for the help! 

 

 

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Angelina

Shenzhen?

It is in the South, warm, and there are people from everywhere in China living in Shenzhen, no one is from Shenzhen. 

You did not specify if you want a big city or somewhere more rural, you can choose to spend more time with locals anywhere, even in a big city you can avoid speaking too much English. 

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ChTTay
2 hours ago, sjrb said:

ad an interview for the Wuhan position today and the person said that Standard Mandarin is extremely common,

Maybe best to do your own research into that! I’m sure a lot of recruiters would tell you sausage rolls are the local delicacy to get you to go there!

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imron
4 hours ago, sjrb said:

I think I'll make sure to ask the local school

If you ask 1,000 schools I can guarantee you'll get 1,000 replies saying that of course the local dialect is not a problem and everyone will be able to speak to you in Mandarin.  This of course will not actually be the case for many of those schools, and in fact you'll hear more Mandarin on the streets in Sydney that you will on the streets of some regions of China (when I used to commute on public transport in Melbourne, I'd hear Mandarin daily).

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roddy

"Yes, of course we have the most attractive people serving the tastiest food with the most standardest accents" - every teacher-recruiter, student-obtainer and tourist-lurer in China, ever. 

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