Fears for Shanghai dialect as youngsters rank below average

0 Comment(s)Print E-mail Shanghai Daily, February 8, 2014
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More Shanghai residents can speak Mandarin than Shanghai dialect, according to a report released yesterday by the Shanghai Statistics Bureau.

The report surveyed about 1,000 people aged 13 and over, locals and non-locals.

It showed that 97 percent of respondents could speak Mandarin, compared to 81.4 percent who could also speak Shanghai dialect.

But there is concern that the number of younger speakers of Shanghai dialect is dropping rapidly.

The report said young residents were worse at speaking the local dialect than their elders.

Respondents born in Shanghai and aged between 13 and 20 scored 3.9 out of 5 in a Shanghai dialect listening test, 0.4 lower than the average score of all age groups.

Their speaking ability was even worse with a score of 3.1 out of 5, the lowest of all age groups. The average was 4.1.

Nearly half of the respondents could speak English and 30 percent other Chinese dialects.

However, some 86.7 percent of respondents advocated protecting native dialects and ethnic minority languages.

About 35.5 percent said they were willing to learn or improve their Shanghai dialect, 6.6 percent more than those who wanted to improve their Mandarin but 4 percent lower than those keen to improve their English.

Shanghai has been taking several measures to expand the use of Shanghai dialect — introducing textbooks into primary schools, teaching games and songs at kindergartens, broadcasting TV and radio programs and adding announcements in the dialect on some buses, Metro lines and in hospitals.

The Shanghai Education Commission is committed to promoting the teaching of Shanghai dialect in school and has listed it as a key task for this year.

"To save the dialect, the government must introduce a compulsory course into local schools or the situation won't get any better," said Liu Mei, a Shanghai dialect teacher at Tongji University.

Liu said a major reason why children found it difficult to learn the dialect was that the majority of teachers in Shanghai were non-locals, forcing young children to speak Mandarin in school.

"When small children are used to speaking Mandarin, they are reluctant to talk to their parents in dialect. Similarly, parents who always speak Mandarin at work also speak the same language at home," Liu said.

Liu said measures must be taken quickly to save the native dialect as the majority of people who speak it are now in their 50s and 60s.

Liu said community schools should make the best use of retired Shanghai natives by organizing Shanghai dialect lessons for young people.

"It will be a waste of resources if we don't encourage those who can speak Shanghai dialect to teach," Liu said.

"When the old generation passes away, there will be no one teaching the young generation."

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