Learn Shanghainese

I believe the first question jumping out when a foreigner decide to relocate to Shanghai is, should I learn some Chinese to survive there? The variation of the question for people who can speak Chinese is, should I learn some Shanghainese?

I talked about it in my Oct article: Mandarin or Shanghainese?. Today, I received an email from Bryan:

I recently stumbled upon your blog and really relished those informative bits that you care to share with us. In fact, they are rather useful in helping me gain some understanding of Shanghai since I will be working there in May.

Coming from Singapore and of Chinese descent, I have heard of the importance of learning to speak the native tongue in order to begin to establish good relations with the local business folks. How true is that? While I can speak Chinese decently, I am really baffled by my Shanghainese friend when he speaks in his native tongue.

Do you know if there are any radio stations in Shanghai that dish out programs in the native tongue? How can I prepare myself somewhat adequately in the language basics before leaving for Shanghai?

I’d like to talk more about Shanghainese.

I Don’t Speak Shanghainese

After living here for 9 years, I still cannot say simple words of Shanghainese. This is the case for most of friends who are not native. I am able to understand some Shanghainese. This happened after 3 or 4 years after I am here, since I didn’t intentionally try to learn the language.

People Here Speak Shanghainese All the Time, But Not to Me

People here prefer to speak Shanghainese, as long as there is a chance. You can hear Shanghainese everywhere on the street. However, the good thing is, if they know you cannot understand Shanghainese, they will switch to Mandarin rapidly. I appreciate it.

No Shanghainese Radio Station

There is no Shanghainese Radio Station (so far as I know). The city is encouraging using mandarin as first language. Students are required to use mandarin at school so there is not many chances to learn the language. Everyone in the city (with higher education background) can speak mandarin.

Shanghainese – Nice to Know

Although it is not required to survive in the city, it is a great plus if you know some, especially for those whose native language is not Chinese. You will definitely surprise your friends here.

17 thoughts on “Learn Shanghainese

  1. Wang Xiao Mao is a very bad program, stupid plot and horrible taste.

    If you know some old Shanghainese, esp. those rich guys in 1930-40s, you will find Shanghainese can also be so beautiful and elegant. One of my relatives can do so but I can’t. What’s more, I found some young kids can’t speak Shanghainese at all.

    As to Shanghainese radio/TV programs, I really don’t understand why every province can have its local dialect programs except Shanghai. My feeling is that the goverenment is deliberately killing Shanghainese.

  2. First of all, thanks Jian Shuo for creating such a wonderful & interactive blog on Shanghai. Great job man!

    Like Bryan, I’m a S’porean. I was living in Shanghai for about 1.5 years before moving to Guangdong province mid last year. To me, Shanghai is an exciting cosmo city, and it’s probably the “closest” place to home for a 1st timer outa Singapore.

    During the whole time, I didn’t speak any Shanghainese. Tried to pick it up once, but could bearly do “1-10”. I figured it was due to the teaching in int’l phonetic, instead of “hanyu pinyin”… Anyway, there was no problem getting by without speaking the language.

    I think the native language (or known to me as dialect) is something very “personal” to the Shanghainese. I’ll like to quote a Shanghainese friend as an example. She has returned to China after living for more than 10 years in the US, and could speak excellent English & Mandarin. However, when it comes to meeting another Shanghainese, even in a group, they’ll just take off in their own dialect. It seemed a little awkward at first, but I realise the language makes them feel “closer”, and identify each other as fellowmen. Eventually, they’ll all come back to the group and speak the common language, be it English or Mandarin. It’s sorta like speaking “Singlish”…

    Mandarin, on the other hand, is a must-know for smoother adaptation. Knowing how to read and write Chinese would be a plus. While more Chinese (people) could speak English today, it’s still a foreign language to most of them. You will get more information and communicate better if you know mandarin/chinese well.

    Lastly, language is only one of the many elements needed in order to adapt in a foreign land. Culture and habits are very important too. Always look at things from different perspectives and go with an open mind. Shanghai is a great city, love it!

    p/s: I’m going there for the weekend, can’t wait to see it again.

  3. Yes, like what Spanky said, it helps to know the dialect to establish closer ties but it isn’t really crucial to surviving.

    I’m also from Singapore and I’ve been in Shanghai for 2 months now. Though my Shanghainese colleagues speak the dialect amongst themselves, they always use Mandarin or English to communicate with me. Sometimes, you can’t help but feel a little out of place as the Shanghainese talk in their native tongue and you can’t contribute to the conversation.

    I think if you know the dialect, it’ll greatly help you to become part of the “inner” circle…

  4. Shanghaiese? Where did you guys create this word? Because China => Chinese? Japan => Japanese? What about America => Americanese? English => Englishinese? France => Francinese? Russia => Russianese?….

  5. yes i was going to mention 王小毛 too. i used to listen to it. it’s gone now? that guy must be pretty old now. he’s kinda funny.

    i’m surprised you are not born in shanghai.

  6. Like Li Jingyi said, every province has a PERMANENT modern dialect broadcasting program except Shanghai. Two years ago, there was a commercial in Shanghainese (advertising a local cough drop brand), and within 2-3 days, the Shanghainese was replaced with Mandarin because of “complaints.” For a city with 14 million native Shanghainese speakers, there’s not a single “in modern times” (and not 19th century story telling) radio station dedicated to Shanghainese (not even a 30 minute program). Not one weather report or local news program is in Shanghainese. AND THIS ISN’T because the Shanghainese don’t like their dialect. They are really fond of their dialect, and really identify themselves with it. The reason there’s no Shanghainese program in Shanghai is all political (Beijing), and is part of a campaign since the 1970’s to eradicate the dialect through silence, and the denial of Shanghainese education. There is no exposure of its modern form through public broadcasting, or any form of mass media. Many youths today think Shanghainese cannot be written using Chinese characters (because “it is so different from Mandarin pronunciation”; most have ridiculously been made to believe that Shanghainese is an uncultured, bastardized, and unorthodox dialect of holy Mandarin).

    Mandarin in Shanghai has entirely been an act of UNNATURAL cultural imperialism (imposed by law and discriminate regulation). Shanghainese (and its Wu cousin dialects) has been treated differently from every other southern dialect. What these regulators are saying is that Shanghainese has no future in Shanghai (as the “financial capital of China”), and that NOT EVEN A SINGLE opportunity may be allowed for the dialect to develop its future. I’m not against cultural imperialism if it comes in an unmanipulated environment that provides choices for the residents. The case for Shanghai, however, is designed and decreed cultural imperialism.

  7. In the 18th and 19th centuries when the Europeans colonized much of the world, most didn’t bother to learn the local languages of their colonies. Those who did were derisively referred to as “having gone native”. The “ruling class” actually sought to keep themselves isolated and seperate from those they lived among and ruled.

    It sounds like what is happening in Shanghai. Chinese Mandarin speakers, feel no need to learn Shanghainese because the Shanghainese will speak Mandarin to them. It is the “I will not go to them, they will come to me” attitude.

    If you are Chinese and live in Shanghai, work in Shanghai, claim Shanghainese as your friend and colleagues, yet you refuse to learn Shangahainese, it can be only one of two things – arrogance or laziness. Hopefully it is laziness.

    Everyone should have the right to speak, and learn in their own language. China should look to the modern European model, where most people are bilingual, or multilingual. I can speak Cantonese, Mandarin, Taiwanese and English, and I am the richer for it.

    China should be confident enough to accept diversity within unity. No one is saying that speakers of Wu, Xiang, Gan, Yue, Min or Hakka (Kejia) are not Chinese. What makes China interesting, colorful, and rich is the diversity of her people.

  8. Definitely definitely agree with Shen. Cultural imperialism…umm, may I change it into “cultural colonialism”? The prosperity and cultural richness of Shanghai was created by Shanghainese-speaking people from 1840 onwards, but when the Communists (non-Shanghainese-speaking folks) took over, they found it alien in such a city and then began to impose mandarin, just like when the Britons captured HK, they started to impose english. It’s colonialism! To make matters worse, Beijing wants to replace shanghainese by mandarin, while english and cantonese coexist peacefully in HK. Shanghainese should be given adequate attention and room for expression in Shanghai. At least a permanent TV channel and a radio station should be permitted!

  9. Shanghainese is a nice-to-have, but is not an essential skills for foreigners living in Shanghai. An advantage of knowing Shanghainese is that it allows to listen to conversations between locals, at least when they’re saying bad things about you :)

    If you want to learn Shanghainese, here’s an article on how to learn Shanghainese online

    Exchange ideas at http://www.bordercrossed.comA traveler trying to cross national, cultural, and ideological borders

  10. please, if you have pleasure that your nice language could survive let know to the world a romanized normal dictionary on line NOT strange dictionaries like I see online without sense.

    plse help your language to survive and to be known

    bonvolu, se vi havas plezuron ke via bela lingvo pretervivos permesu diskoni al mondo latinigitan vortaron tute normala kaj ne la strangaj vortaroj kiel mi vidas en linio, tute sensencaj

    thankyou, xiexie dankon grazie

    mario righi

  11. Hi – that was a nice post. Actually it for the same reason that I pushed my girlf friend to starting a blog to teach people Shanghainese. It’s in the making but it can surely help since it is helping me.


    hope that helps

  12. Hi everyone!

    I can speak Shanghainese fluently(I’m a kid), and if you would like to LEARN Shanghainese, please contact my Mom or Grandma(for Grandma, you must be able to speak Mandarin, another dialect) Those will email you back with details and prices. Well worth learning!

  13. I was reading that the Chinese languages have different names for paternal Grandmother and maternal Grandmother, which is nice. What are the options for that in Shanghainese? and is there a term for a Grandmother who isn’t an actual blood relation? I would love to know.

    Thank you.

  14. Im a singaporean and my dialect is shanghainese.

    There are more than 1 shanghainese dialect depending on the provinces so u guys gotta learn whichever dialect u are going. Mine is ningpo.

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