Shanghainese: a Flash soundboard

Not long ago, when trying out some soundboards (normally used for prank calls), an idea came to me. Why not make a soundboard for an educational purpose? OK, so it’s not nearly as funny, but the idea had potential. It wouldn’t leave me alone.

A few weeks ago I made a whole bunch of sound recordings. Then I learned the basics of Cool Edit Pro and edited the crap out of them. In the two weeks to follow I struggled through the process of teaching myself the Flash MX necessary to do what I wanted to do. Timelines, scenes, keyframes, buttons, mask layers, preloaders, ActionScript… I eventually got through it all. To make this “soundboard.”

What this Flash soundboard does is provide audio samplings of a collection of basic Chinese words/phrases in pairs: one in Mandarin (普通话), and one in Shanghainese (上海话). It’s really very simple. Place your cursor over the sentence you want to hear and click. You can even switch between pinyin and Chinese characters, and view my notes on the soundboard.

I expect there to be a few issues with the soundboard, particularly with the Chinese character representations of Shanghainese. The problem is that there’s no real standard, and even native Shanghai speakers do not necessarily know the original (often archaic) characters which correspond to the words they speak (if they even exist). I haven’t gotten around to picking up a better book on Shanghainese, and the stupid bookstore I need to get to closes at 6pm on weekdays.

In essence, it’s a very scholarly notion reduced to a hobby side project in soundboard form. So if you’ve got the Chinese background, just enjoy it. Even if you don’t understand Chinese, you may still enjoy hearing the difference between Mandarin and Shanghainese.

Crank up the volume.

Check out the Shanghainese soundboard.


John Pasden

John is a Shanghai-based linguist and entrepreneur, founder of AllSet Learning.


  1. I enjoyed your soundboard. I had heard a little Shanghainese before, but never direct comparisons to Mandarin like that. Very interesting!

  2. Cool! I linked it to Racingmix. See you in Shanghai soon, brotha!

  3. Well done! I really enjoyed this. And your speech actress has a much more pleasant accent than the ladies at my local Kedi.

  4. This sort of reminds me of a toy from Play-School when I was a baby. Nice idea. It also reminds me of how i learned some things via songs.

  5. Pure genius. Nice work, fherfhead 🙂

  6. Grace Wang Says: March 19, 2004 at 5:22 am

    Shanghainese is much softer than Mandarin…

  7. Is that your girlfriend speaking?

  8. Very Nice. Kind of like verbal flash cards.

  9. You sir, are awesome. No, it’s not as amusing as Samuel J. Jackson, but incredible nonetheless.

    Planning on doing anymore? Maybe a Mandarin-Cantonese one? Excellent job!

  10. Hey, I’d love to host one of these on Tianjinhua …

    Very cool.

  11. If I provided the sound clips, is this at least somewhat straightforward to remake?

    Imagine if all the mafia members did this for all of the cities they lived in?

    And I have a Sichuanese friend …

  12. Thank you, everyone, for the support!

    Zod: no comment. 🙂

  13. Adam,

    Conceptually, it’s very simple. For anyone well-versed in Flash, it’s a breeze.

    If you’re not familiar with Flash, though, actually making it happen is a bit of a challenge. (I actually had the added advantage of learning the basics of Flash 4.0 back in college.) Despite the simplicity of the movie, my ActionScripts were buggy for a while and I couldn’t figure out why. I eventually fixed it, but I kind of feel like I got lucky and just stumbled upon the fix. Still, learning Flash won’t hurt you….

  14. tis awesome and unlike many quick little programs people come up with, it actually looks nice too!

  15. It is good:-)

    Do Shanghainese people say word “love” now 🙂 Its pronunciation in the dialect sounds somewhat strange. I remeber people used to use the word “like” (欢喜 -- note the order of these two characters) instead. �t�

  16. Wow… great stuff

  17. Very interesting, nice work! I had never heard Shanghainese before, grew up listening to Mandarin in movies and of course learning putonghua…so it’s really interesting to hear how different this dialect is!

  18. I like the different tones used on “I Love You” – the voice model used says it with sincerity 😉

  19. Amazing work, ah~~

    I just agree with what JH said. It sounds a bit weird to say ‘ai’ in some dialects, and people usually prefer saying ‘xihuan’ or ‘huanxi’. And, in the sentence you used, it’s read as 欢喜, not 喜欢 – check it out!

  20. JH and Rainbow,

    Yes, you’re right about 喜欢. Just a careless mistake. I’ll fix that… when I get around to it.

    As for 爱… I think that Shanghainese has recently evolved along with Shanghai’s culture to the point that the word is used in Shanghainese. This is not the dialect of some small town in backwoods China, this is the dialect of China’s most populous, fashionable, and “open” city!

    (Also, note that these are not my own translations.)

  21. That’s awesome! I can’t wait to try it out in Shanghai and blow away 上海话 speakers with my feeble grasp of their dialect. Then I’ll impress them further when I can’t respond to their simple questions in 普通话.

  22. Hmm.. Cantonese uses “love” all the time …. it’s ngoi.

    Learning flash? I got an election to “cover” er …. I mean, write about.

    Heh 😉

  23. Da Xiangchang Says: March 22, 2004 at 3:10 am

    VERY, VERY WELL-DONE! I’m enjoying the soundboard immensely. Now, if you can just make some prank calls . . . 😉

  24. nishishei Says: March 28, 2004 at 5:37 pm

    Great flash!

    But the host speaks a lot softer than the actual dialect today, and some syllables are lengthened off meter (too long, kind of awkward). It doesn’t quite sound as natural as the putonghua direct-comparisons you have. This is typically because there’s no formal Shanghainese education, and most Shanghainese are not very knowledgable of their own dialect. When they are not put on the spot, they speak normally and are not aware of how they speak (short/long syllables, voicing/de-voicing, tone neutralization), but when they are told to speak certain set phrases, they often overcorrect for a “proper form.” For example, the la and va question particles in the flash are pronounced WAY too long. They are supposed to be short glottal stops in normal speech (like off the tip of the tongue), in the recording they are like a full syllable (like the Mandarin ma) and very loud. Also in goodbye, zeiwei, the wei is supposed to experience tone sandhi (neutralization) in normal speech, but in the flash the zei and the wei are pronounced separately.

    But of course, it could just be a regional variation in Shanghainese. I grew up in 虹口区. But I do think that the examples I mentioned are consistent for all forms in the city (they seem applicable for all Wu dialects too).

  25. I have one question as Zod: Is this your girlfriend’s speech? 🙂

  26. John, do you have more recordings of Shanghainese? Or even good links to online audio? There was one good site before but it seems under permanent reconstruction.

    • Hi, you can find around an hundred of shanghainese sentences audio (and soon more)
      here in the random sentences, choose shanghainese and then show another, and you will have shanghainese sentences (98% of them have audios) with their translation in english/mandarin and sometimes in other languages

  27. The soundboard is great, I in particular love the 2, 12, 20, 200, 222 example. Have you found any more online audio for Shanghaihua?

  28. I had the very same (almost) idea. Using soundboards for the dissemination of knowledge. Not only for language learning for for other fields as well.

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