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Use it, or lose it

(China Daily)

10:09, September 17, 2012

Cao Jingjing, 8, from Wuhan, Hubei's provincial capital

Cao's parents, both Wuhan natives, can speak Mandarin but talk in the Wuhan dialect at home.

Cao started to study Mandarin at kindergarten, age 3. Before that she could speak a little Wuhan dialect.

"The kindergarten required her to speak Mandarin and all the kids spoke it," says Cao's mother Huang Jieyu, 34, who works at a car insurance company in Wuhan.

"It's good for her to speak the same language with her friends."

To provide a good environment for Cao to study Mandarin, her parents principally talk with her in Mandarin at home, although they still use Wuhan dialect when talking to each other and other members of their family.

A grade-two student in primary school, Cao is studying pinyin and most of the time, speaks Mandarin, because "the teacher will criticize us if we speak in dialect".

The mother is worried that "the kid is too young to handle two kinds of different pronunciations, and speaking dialect will probably block her from acquiring pinyin correctly".

Huang and her husband keep talking with their daughter in Mandarin, hoping that their dialect will not have a negative effect on Cao's learning of Mandarin.

Cao has forgotten how to speak the Wuhan dialect but she can still understand it. When her parents talk to her in the Wuhan dialect, she will respond in Mandarin.

Zhang Tiantian, 24, an English trainer from Shanghai

Zhang grew up in Shanghai, while his parents are from nearby Jiangsu province and have stayed in Shanghai for more than 20 years.

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In most cases, Zhang's parents speak Mandarin. Rarely do they speak their own dialect, even if they are at home.

"They hardly had a chance to speak it and thus lost the habit of using it," Zhang says.

Zhang speaks Mandarin with his parents at home while speaking Shanghai dialect with his friends and colleagues. He acquired the Shanghai dialect from his teacher, who is a Shanghai native.

Zhang used to speak a little of his parents' original dialect when he was very young but is unable to speak it now.

"It's because I don't have the environment to use it and don't have someone to talk with," Zhang says.
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