Shanghai pupils taught to speak like a local

Updated: 2012-07-05 08:17

By Wang Hongyi in Shanghai (China Daily)

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The first Shanghai dialect textbook will enter classrooms in the autumn to revitalize the city's regional language .

The city's younger generation is reluctant to speak the dialect, prompting fears the language is being forgotten.

"At present it's hard to find a pupil that speaks standard Shanghai dialect in many downtown schools. Many pupils speak the dialect broken," the textbook's author Qian Nairong said. "Schools need a textbook to use as guidance to teach children how to correctly pronounce and speak."

Qian is a Shanghai dialect expert and the director of the Research Center of Linguistics at Shanghai University.

The book, titled Pupils Learn to Speak Shanghai Dialect, includes 20 lessons that present the Shanghai dialect in the form of local folk tales, children's rhymes, riddles and cartoon illustrations.

"I have compiled many Shanghai dialect books for adults, but this is my first time compiling a book for students," Qian said.

The linguist has studied the Shanghai dialect for nearly 50 years and has edited more than 500 books on the language, including the first Shanghai dialect dictionary and a bilingual book for foreigners who want to learn the tongue.

"Under the age of 11 is the prime time for children to learn language," Qian told China Daily. He said the book aimed to make learning enjoyable.

"The more fun they find in learning, the more willingness they have in practicing what they have learnt," he said.

In 1992, the country began to promote Putonghua, or Mandarin, in a nationwide campaign that strongly encouraged Putonghua in classrooms.

"Putonghua is rigidly required in classrooms. Though there are no hard rules in after-class activities, many schools also require teachers and students to speak Putonghua," said Xiao, a primary school teacher who wished only to be identified by her family name.

"Now schools are competing with each other. Speaking the local dialect will affect the school's overall performance in comprehensive assessment," she said.

Qian said children are taught Shanghai dialect by their parents before they start formal education.

"They begin to forget the dialect as they enter kindergarten and school due to a lack of a proper language environment," Qian said.

A report released by the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences earlier this year stated only 60 percent of Shanghai students can fully understand their local dialect.

"I'm always trying to talk to my son in the Shanghai dialect at home. But he sticks to speaking Putonghua and said it's the rule of his kindergarten," Xu Yunlan, the mother of a 6-year-old boy, said. She said her entire family was born in Shanghai.

"Though he can catch what I say, I still worry that he will lose the dialect gradually. Language is a key part of the city's culture, I don't want my son to feel estranged in his home city," Xu said.

The effect the Shanghai dialect textbook will have on students is difficult to predict, because it will only have one slot among the pupils' already intense study schedules.

Qian said the textbook is likely to be used in extracurricular classes or hobby groups, which are less frequently held than daily courses.

The Shanghai Education Commission declined to give a definite answer when asked if it will promote the use of the textbook in schools.

In recent years, many Shanghai natives have called for protection of the dialect over concerns the language is dying out.

Earlier this year, Shanghai Airlines started broadcasting the city information in Shanghai dialect in selected routes and is planning to cover all flights landing in the city by the end of this year.

The Shanghai Meteorological Bureau also announced the city's weather forecasts will be broadcast in Shanghai dialect to further protect the "dying" local language.

Last month, a long-running TV program News Workshop started a Shanghai dialect version. It is also the first TV news program in China to be broadcast in Shanghai dialect.

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