“Learning another language is not only learning different words for the same things, but learning another way to think about things.” - Flora Lewis
From the Great Wall of China to the Forbidden City in Beijing, more and more people are opting to learn the language of China. In fact, Chinese is linked to the history of China, its customs, and culture. As a result, Chinese isn’t actually a single language but rather a collection of languages and dialects that are as varied and distinct as the culture and history of each different part of China.
Wu Chinese is one of these languages and is spoken in certain parts of the country. The language is mainly found in Shanghai, where it is spoken by around 77 million people, accounting for between 7 and 8% of Chinese speakers. This should be enough to get you interested in learning more about China in terms of its history, culture, and languages, even a minority language.
So what is Wu Chinese exactly, how can you learn it, and how can it help in Shanghai?
In this article, we’ve got the answers to those very questions.
Why Learn Wu Chinese?
“With languages, you can move from one social situation to another. With languages, you are at home anywhere.” - Edmund de Waal
Wu Chinese probably isn’t the first language you think of when you think of China. While little probably comes to mind when somebody says Wu, there are a number of good reasons to learn about this language:
- You can learn more about Chinese culture.
- You can better understand certain populations of China.
- You can discover more about the places where Wu is spoken, such as Shanghai.
- You can learn a language that is spoken by very few people in the West.
- It will help you develop transferable foreign language skills.
- And much more!
Learning Wu Chinese probably seems like a great idea given how many good reasons there are for learning it. In fact, learning a foreign language is an incredible personal challenge. From Szechuan to Kunming, Guizhou to Beijing, Chinese isn’t a single language or dialect and each place has its own flavour.
You may consider, for instance, learning Min Chinese, the language of Fujian Province...
Whether you’re travelling to a particular part of China or just travelling around Mainland China, it’s probably worthwhile getting some lessons from a private Chinese tutor specialising in the language. Your goal is probably to visit a faraway land and explore somewhere that you wouldn’t visit otherwise. Shanghai will probably fit the bill.
The bustling megalopolis of Shanghai, whose name means “on the sea”, is the biggest city in China and one of the biggest cities in the world. While the official language of Mandarin is often spoken, they also speak Wu Chinese here. It’s used in informal conversations all over the city.
By learning Wu Chinese, you can get the most out of your trip by getting the most out of the local native speakers in places like Shanghai, Yunnan, Suzhou, and Macao. In fact, in Shanghai, Shanghainese (the local dialect of Wu Chinese) acts as the city’s linguistic identity.
The Specificities of Wu Chinese
"Our language is the reflection of ourselves. A language is an exact reflection of the character and growth of its speakers." - Cesar Chavez
Wu Chinese is often thought of a dialect of Chinese and other times as a language in its own right. The Shanghai dialect (or Shanghainese) is one of the most popular forms of Wu Chinese. There are 14 million speakers around the world.
Wu is a member of the Han languages, which includes several other dialects. This soft, fluid, and light language (or dialect) is different from Mandarin in how its two tones are spoken. Originally, the language had eight, which were fused to make five. This Chinese language only kept two of them.
Furthermore, unlike Mandarin or even Cantonese, Wu has voiced consonants like “d”, “g”, and “b”, for example. It’s also different to Mandarin in how it uses older versions of Chinese characters. Modern Chinese originated from the Yue people who were found in the south of Jiangsu and Zheijang.
While Mandarin Chinese is spoken and understood in Chinese, Shanghainese is the city’s real language. Before you travel anywhere in China, you should always check to see what language is spoken where you’re going. Wu is the language of an entire group of people that differ greatly from their fellow countrymen. You can travel to China without speaking any Mandarin, in fact.
Wu is the second largest language in the People's Republic of China, after Mandarin and before Cantonese, and is the world’s biggest non-official language. What else can we say about Wu Chinese? Linguistically speaking (which is technically the only way to speak), Wu Chinese tends to create tonal liaisons between words according to a set of rules that aren’t very clearly defined.
The tones are changed usually to make the sentence sound better. This is one of the reasons why Wu Chinese isn’t really a tonal language. While it won’t be useful for travelling to other places in China, it’s indispensable in the areas where it’s spoken - that is why you should learn different Chinese languages!
Wu, without a doubt, will be worth its weight in gold if you go to Shanghai.
Learning Wu and Travelling to Shanghai
“Language is the roadmap of a culture. It tells you where its people came from and where they are going.” - Rita Mae Brown
As you’ll have understood, Wu Chinese (be it language or dialect) isn’t the most common language in the world. However, it’s definitely an interesting language and there are people who teach this language. If you have a look around, you’ll see that it’s not that difficult to find ways to learn Shanghainese or Wu Chinese outside of Mainland China.
Going on holiday is a good idea but getting help from a private tutor is better. Wu Chinese could be another ribbon in your bow. There are plenty of great ways to learn Wu and more about the people and its culture:
- With a private Wu tutor.
- Teaching yourself with online tutorials.
- Finding a tutor on Superprof.
- Meeting natives of Shanghai in the UK who’d be willing to teach you their language.
- Reading books and watching films in Shanghainese or Wu.
- Going to where the language is spoken.
There are different ways to get started with Wu Chinese but private tutorials are arguably the best way to start getting to grips with the language. There are so many different places where the language is spoken that are worth paying a visit.
Why not put an advert online stating that you’re looking for a Wu tutor?
Word of mouth will quickly do its job and you’ll be practising speaking the language before you know it. While some Mandarin tutors mightn’t mention that they speak it, it’s always worthwhile asking them if they know Wu.
You’ve probably understood that Wu Chinese is the language to learn if you’re going to Shanghai and a great way to sink your teeth into the local culture and history. While it’s not taught everywhere and is nowhere near as common as Mandarin, it is the language of one of the world’s biggest cities and you’ll be able to find ways to learn this language.
While a lot of people choose to learn Mandarin, there's nothing stopping you from taking your language learning off the beaten path. When most people say they're learning Chinese, they mean they're learning Chinese Mandarin. However, if you learn to speak Shanghainese or Wu first because you're going to where the language is spoken, when it comes time to learn Mandarin lessons London, you'll find your Chinese lessons much easier because you've already learnt a new language.
Don't get me wrong, though. The pronunciation, grammar, vocabulary and phrases you'll come across when learning Mandarin will still be tricky, but you'll have a better understanding of Chinese grammar, language, and culture and there's also nothing stopping you from having the occasional conversation in Mandarin Chinese, since it's the official language of the country and a lot of people Chinese people also learn the language to communicate with other people around mainland China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Macau.
Who knows where your Chinese learning will take you?
With such a big country, there are many ways to start learning about the language and culture, be it through Wu Chinese language courses, speaking Chinese with native speaking, reading and writing, or just studying a textbook. You can choose your own approach to Chinese languages!
Now find out how well you can recognise different styles of Chinese...