Chinese is an important language in today’s era, especially in business, economy, and trade. It is also one of the official languages of the United Nations. However, there is something special about the Chinese language that you should know: “Chinese is not just one language.”
China is a great country that has a variety of cultures and languages. Maybe a lot of people only know Mandarin when talking about the language in China, but that’s not true. Because apart from Mandarin, there are various dialects that are spoken in China, including the Hokkian dialect, the Cantonese dialect, the Shanghai dialect, and so on.
The Chinese language world is actually a group of languages and dialects, which, in some cases, are so different from each other that a person who speaks a Cantonese dialect may not be understood by people who speak the Shanghai dialect. Vice versa. To put it simply, many Chinese people can’t talk to each other because the “Chinese” versions they have are so different.
So when you want to travel to Chinese territory, first understand their culture and language. For example, if you’re going to go to Hong Kong, you better learn Cantonese dialect rather than Mandarin. Because in Hong Kong, the majority of people are speakers of Cantonese.
Meanwhile, when you want to visit Shanghai, you should also learn about the Shanghai dialect. But parts of Shanghai society also have Mandarin skills.
Here enjoyshanghai.com will provide a brief guide to the language in Shanghai.
What Languages are Spoken in Shanghai?
Infographic by enjoyshanghai.com
Shanghainese is a dialect spoken in the city of Shanghai and its surrounding areas. Compared to standard Mandarin, this Shanghainese dialect has a unique pronunciation, and it can be said that traditional Mandarin speakers hardly understand when communicating with people who speak Shanghainese.
So when visiting Shanghai, you are recommended to learn the local dialect, the Shanghai dialect, at least common words or phrases that you may need. But if you want, you can also learn Mandarin dialect because many people also speak Mandarin in Shanghai.
This is because most of the Shanghai population are expatriates, or immigrants from outside Shanghai, or even from outside China.
Apart from Shanghainese and Mandarin, the Shanghai people also have standard English skills (at least for some communities). This is due to the fact that Shanghai is the center of business, global trade, and economy, which makes people learn English.
And also in general, the people of big cities in China like Shanghai already have the ability to speak English, at least more than the ability of people who live in small cities.
Is Mandarin or Cantonese Spoken in Shanghai?
Map of dialects of Wu: Shanghainese is in dark red, in the top-right
China is a large country that has a very diverse culture, as well as its language. Indeed, the lingua franca in China is Mandarin (or also known as Putonghua), but Chinese has many other dialects that even differ from one another, both in terms of pronunciation, words, and phrases.
Examples of dialects in Chinese are the Mandarin dialect, Hokkien dialect, Cantonese dialect, Shanghai dialect, and so on.
Then are Cantonese, and Mandarin dialects also are spoken in the city of Shanghai?
Not both, the people of Shanghai speak more Mandarin dialect. One of the reasons is because Mandarin is the official language in China, so automatically, the Shanghai people also have to understand and learn it, at least to some level.
The Shanghai and Mandarin dialects have several differences. One of the fundamental differences is that the word “hello” in Mandarin is “ni hao”, while “hello” in the Shanghainese dialect is “nong no”. So, if you are planning to live, work, or vacation in Paris in the east, make an effort to learn the Shanghainese dialect or both.
But apart from the Shanghai dialect and Mandarin, some people in Shanghai also have the ability to speak English. This is very reasonable because Shanghai is a bustling city, the center of the economy, business, and international trade. And also, most of the people of Shanghai are migrants, expatriates, migrants or business people who do not speak Chinese who come from outside Shanghai, even from outside China.
Essential Words and Phrases
侬好! (Nóng hō!)
早晨好! (Zō lǎng hō!)
夜里相好! (Yà lī xiāng hō!)
晚安! (Wö ä!)
再喂! (Zä wēi!)
是额 (zǐ e)
弗是额 (fé zǐ e)
有可能 (jǒu kū nēng)
好额 (hō e)
谢谢! (Yá yà!)
弗用客气! (Fé yōng kē qì!)
I’m sorry/excuse me
对弗起。(Dēi fé qì.)
My name is…
吾叫。。。(Wú jiō …)
吾从。。。(Wú zóng …)
I’m (not) traveling alone.
吾（弗是）一嘎陡旅游。(Wú (fé zí) yē gā dóu lǔe yóu.)
I’m traveling with…
吾帮。。。一道旅游 (Wú bāng … yē dāo lǔe yóu)
I don’t speak any Wu
吾弗讲中文/上海闲话。(Wú fe gāng zōng wén)
sǎng hä ä wú.
I don’t understand that
吾弗懂。(Wú fé dōng.)
Do you speak …?
侬讲。。。？(Nóng gāng …?)
Does anyone here speak…?
格的有额宁讲。。。？(Gé de yóu e níng gāng …?)
Could you write that down please?
请侬写下来。(Qǐng nóng xiā wū lä.)
Is English Spoken in Shanghai?
Indeed, at the national level in general, the ability and fluency of the Chinese people in English are not that good. But indeed, education in China encourages and obliges people to learn English, so many Chinese people learn English, but maybe not many are conversational.
It could be said that the Chinese people who have “fluent” English skills come from big cities, including Shanghai. But fluent means that they have conversational abilities at a certain level.
But because Shanghai is one of the favorite destinations, especially in the fields of business, trade, and even travel, many Shanghai people have standard English skills. Those who have standard English skills are generally those who work in certain fields that require English language skills.
As a traveler, when you visit Shanghai, you don’t have to worry about having trouble finding a location or finding a destination. You don’t need to be afraid of getting lost in Shanghai, especially when you don’t have the ability to speak Mandarin or the Shanghai dialect.
Because when visiting Shanghai, a traveler will not find it difficult to communicate, especially at the airport, famous tourist attractions, at 4 or 5 star-hotels, famous restaurants, major shopping stores, and banks. Because the staff in such places generally have the ability to communicate in English, at least conversational and about their work.
In Shanghai, especially young adults and a growing number of children are able to speak basic English words and phrases like “hello”, “how are you”, “OK”, “thank you”, etc. But not many of them have conversational skills in English.
Is Shanghainese a language or a dialect?
Chinese, for many foreigners, maybe one of the most challenging languages to learn. Moreover, the speed at which they are pronounced, the way they are pronounced, the grammar, and of course, the beautiful but complicated artwork for foreigners – the writing.
Not only that, but Chinese language also is not just “Chinese”, because there are many dialect groups in it. These dialects also have differences from one another. Examples of dialects are Mandarin, Shanghainese, Cantonese, and others.
The dialect was born due to the differences and uniqueness of each region and influenced by the region’s history. Every region in China may have a different dialect, so don’t think that Chinese people only have one language. In fact, Chinese people who come from different regions may not understand each other because of these dialect differences because of their different dialects.
Sichuan Province uses the Sichuan dialect, Hong Kong uses the Cantonese dialect, while the people of Fujian Province make up the majority of speakers of the Hakka dialect. So each region may have its own local dialect, as well as the city of Shanghai, which uses the Shanghainese dialect or the Hu dialect.
So Shanghainese is a dialect, not a language. Because the official language or Chinese lingua franca is Mandarin. Therefore the Mandarin dialect has the most speakers in China.
Need help speaking Shanghainese or Mandarin? Try these applications
Maybe when you visit Shanghai or other China regions, you don’t have time to study it, because maybe your trip was planned suddenly, or you were too busy. But don’t worry, there are many apps that can help and guide your language while in Shanghai. This application will make it easier for you to translate from Chinese-English or vice versa, namely English-Chinese. Or even from your national language.
The following are applications that you can use as your language guide:
To translate the Shanghai dialect, you can use one of the translator applications developed by Google. This application is equipped with a very sophisticated Artificial Intelligence, so it is beneficial when you use it.
Indeed, when you use the application, there is no specific choice for the Shanghai dialect on Google Translate. This is because the Artificial Intelligence (AI) system owned by Google Translation has unified all Chinese dialects into one, “Chinese”. So when you want to translate any dialect in China, including the Shanghai dialect, just select Chinese in the language selection menu in Google Translate.
Or you can use their feature, namely Language Detection. This feature is very sophisticated because whatever words or sentences you type in this feature, they will immediately know what language it is. So it can help you to translate words or sentences easily.
One of the other advantages of Google Translate is that you can translate words or sentences in foreign languages in images. So you don’t have to bother translating word for word while reading bulletin boards, restaurant brands, restaurant menus, and others, just take a picture and, Google Translate will automatically translate it.
Available: Android, IOS, Mac OS, Windows, Online (website)
This application is a rival to Google’s translation. This application made by Microsoft has a conversation feature, although the list of languages it has is not as comprehensive as that of Google Translate.
Microsoft Translator is integrated with many other Microsoft products such as Bing, Microsoft Office, SharePoint, Microsoft Edge, Skype, Internet Explorer, Windows Phone, and others. This, of course, will assist you in translating the Chinese text into your language.
Available: Windows Desktop, Android, IOS and Online (website).
As an alternative to Google Translate and Microsoft Translator, you can use iTranslate as your guide when traveling to Shanghai. This language translation application from Austria has a very simple way of operating. One of its interesting features is automatic voice translation.
The way it works is very simple, after setting the two desired languages - Shanghainese and English, for example — the user can just touch and hold the button in the application, then start speaking in their own language. iTranslate will immediately detect what language it is and present the translation results orally.
From there, the user just has to touch and hold the button in the app again, then invite the other person to, well, speak again in their language. And iTranslate will again detect what language it is, then restates the translation results automatically.
This is very useful when you are traveling abroad. For example, when you again want to ask the price of a product to a shop in Shanghai, and they don’t speak English, with this application, you and the shop owner can speak directly, and this iTranslate application will translate it automatically. Both the sentence you say and the sentence the shop owner is speaking.
Available on: Android, IOS, Mac OS, Windows
This application is not a translation application, it is different from the three applications above. But this application helps users to learn foreign languages easily and quickly. This application offers unique features such as Slangslider, Word Bank, and Cultural Info.
When traveling, the feature you probably use the most is the Word Bank feature. In this feature, word sets are grouped into several categories. Users just have to choose what category fits the situation they are in.
For example, when you are in a taxi in the city of Shanghai, TripLingo will show you how to ask for the destination, the fare, and the estimated time to your destination. Users also don’t need to worry about mispronouncing it because each word is equipped with audio and pronunciation that are very easy to understand.
TripLingo also has a Slangslider feature. They provide alternatives in pronouncing sentences according to the dialect commonly used by the local population. So, good news! This application can help you to understand the local Shanghai dialect, Shanghainese.
The last feature, Cultural Info, provides brief information about the culture in a certain area. The aim is that users are not surprised and familiar with the differences in customs and habits that they will experience in other countries.
So this TripLingo has become a complete package to accompany your trip to Shanghai!