SHANGHAI pupils may have their first Shanghai Dialect textbook next semester
to learn and practice Shanghaihua, the city's native dialect, which many fear
will fade soon as the number of young speakers is quickly dropping.
"Now only one or two pupils in a class at many downtown schools can actually speak Shanghaihua and most of the rest could hardly understand it, or only speak broken," said professor Qian Nairong, a Shanghaihua linguist and author of the new schoolbook.
Mandarin, or Putonghua, is the only language allowed in regular school classes in China's mainland.
Local parents have repeatedly expressed worries that their children will lose their own local dialect, which many see as a key part of the city's culture.
The professor said the textbook was developed in response to calls several local elementary schools and parents.
"These schools had tried teaching the students Shanghaihua but teachers often found it hard to carry on due to a lack of systematic guidance and teaching materials," Qian said.
To make it easy for students to accept and understand, the textbook includes 20 lessons that teach using riddles, children's folk stories and cartoon illustrations, the author said.
The office promoting Shanghaihua under Shanghai Education Commission is supportive of the dialect textbook. The commission is now considering introducing the book to local schools in the semester that begins in September.
But the effectiveness of such an initiative is still in question since it's impossible for the new program to get a slot among the already overpacked daily class schedules.
"It's most likely that the book will be used for some extracurricular classes or hobby groups," the author said. Extracurricular courses are held less frequently than the daily classes.
"It's better than none. We need to set up some stable teaching hours for children to practice Shanghaihua and cultivate their interest in the language," Qian added.
"Children are at the best period of their lives to master a language."
The nation stresses a unified language to ensure smooth communication given the numerous regional dialects.