Since we’ve been here, we’ve met people from a variety of provinces, municipalities, and villages. And what we’ve found is that even though the Chinese language in written format is consistent, the spoken language varies greatly, with many dialects. Which leads to the story of the Lori/Pat dialect.
While in Shanghai, Pat and Lori began practicing some Chinese words that we could use to break the ice with the people we would meet during the exchange. Pat had downloaded an e-book on her iPad that contained basic vocabulary words (e.g. hello, numbers, yes, no, thank you, etc.). The best part (at least what we thought was the best part) was it has an audio function that allows you to hear a word pronounced — very important for a language that has four distinct tones (at least for Mandarin speakers – Cantonese has more!) What this means is that a single “word” can have four different meanings, depending on the tone used when speaking the word.
Pat and Lori began to practice with each other by listening to the dulcet tones of our audio e-book instructor and carefully repeating after her. We thought we were doing well until we met up with Angela and began practicing our words on her – she couldn’t understand us at all! Neither could the Mandarin speakers that we’ve met from various libraries – but we were able to understand each other – so we determined that we had inadvertently created our own dialect, in a country that already has many.
What’s been most humorous about this attempt to “learn” a little language is that we continue to practice words together – often muttering repeated words or people’s names to each other in the car or other random times – as we try to speak in the appropriate tones, which likely makes us sound a little nutty to those around us. Can you imagine hearing someone repeating the word for library several times to themselves? While we have made some progress in recognizing certain words in conversations, we still struggle with the pronunciation of many words, but we’re determined to keep working on our Lori/Pat dialect until it becomes recognizable to others…