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What do people in Shanghai speak?

Mandarin is the standard spoken language in China. To make life even more difficult, locals also speak the Shanghai dialect, or Shanghainese, which sounds very different from Mandarin, although you probably won't notice for a while!

Most Shanghai residents are the descendants of immigrants from the two adjacent provinces of Jiangsu and Zhejiang who moved to Shanghai in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, regions whose population, in general, also speak Wu Chinese. In the past decades, many migrants from other areas of China not mentioned above have come to Shanghai for work. They often cannot speak the local language and therefore use Mandarin as a lingua franca.

English is not yet widely understood by locals - your best bet is to speak to someone young if you need help, as their English tends to be pretty good.

If you don't speak any Mandarin, you're destined to get lost at some point so please take a business card of your hotel or a copy of the address written down in Chinese so you can show taxi drivers or anyone else that can help you.


The vernacular language is Shanghainese, a dialect of Wu Chinese, while the official language nationwide is Mandarin.There is no standard written form of Shanghainese and it rarely appears in writing. The Shanghainese language is mutually unintelligible with Mandarin, and is thus an inseparable part of the Shanghainese identity. Though the language is the everyday spoken language of Shanghai, it isn't used in education and is only occasionally heard on local radio stations.

The bulk of vernacular Mandarin Chinese literature was written not by native Mandarin speakers but by native Wu and Shanghainese speakers. As result, a lot of today's Mandarin Chinese vocabulary comes from Wu Chinese via these literary works. The words and usages have become so well adapted into Standard Mandarin that most speakers assume they are indigenous to Mandarin rather than being cognates of Shanghainese.

Mandarin & Shanghainese

Mandarin and Shanghainese are distinct languages which are mutually unintelligible. Some of the differences include:

Number of tones- 5 in Shanghainese vs. 4 tones in Mandarin

Voiced initials - not used in Mandarin

Changing tones - affects both words and phrases in Shanghainese, but just words in Mandarin


Chinese characters are used to write Shanghainese, as there are many other Chinese variants. The written language is one of the most important factors in unifying the various Chinese cultures, since it can be read by most Chinese, regardless of their spoken language. The primary exception to this is the split between traditional and simplified Chinese characters. Simplified Chinese characters were introduced by the PRC in the 1950s, and can differ greatly from the traditional Chinese characters still used in Taiwan, Hong Kong, Macau, and many overseas Chinese communities. Shanghai, as part of the PRC, uses simplified characters.

Sometimes Chinese characters are used for their Mandarin sounds to write Shanghainese. This type of Shanghainese writing is seen on Internet blog posts and chat rooms as well as in some Shanghainese textbooks.

Modern Shanghainese

Because the younger generation of Shanghai residents were educated in Mandarin Chinese, the Shanghainese they speak is often mixed with Mandarin words and expressions. This type of Shanghainese is quite different from the language that older generations speak, which has created fears that "real Shanghainese" is a dying language.

Interest in preserving Shanghainese is strong, and many young people, even though they speak a mixture of Mandarin and Shanghainese, see Shanghainese as a badge of distinction.


Number Pronouncer

Learn the Pronunciation of Numbers in Chinese


This feature also helps you pronounce, either in Mandarin or in Shanghai dialect, a string of consecutive figures (such as a telephone number) as well as any cardinal number up to 100 billion.

In Chinese numbers are divided by every four digits as opposed to three in English. And multiples of ten are known as:

"x 10" =十(shi)

"x 102" =百(bai)

"x 103" = 千 (qian)

"x 104" =万(wan)

"x 108" =亿(yi)

For example:

356,712,832,197 = 3567, 1283, 2197 = (3 x 103 + 5 x 102 + 6 x 10 + 7) x 108 + (1 x 103 + 2 x 102 + 8 x 10 + 3) x 104 + (2 x 103 + 1 x 102 + 9 x 10 + 1)

Therefore the number should be read as "san qianwubailiushi qi yiyiqianerbaibashi san wan erqianyibaijiushi qi" in Mandarin.

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