Shanghai Dialect for Foreigners

Shanghai Dialect for Foreigners

Edited by 徐子亮 (Shanghai Haiwen Audio-Video Publishers, 2005)

Review by: John Pasden

Make no mistake — this new Shanghainese textbook’s audience is foreigners. Although there are some Chinese instructions or translations here or there, the overall impression is of devotion to the English-speaking foreigner. This is not a Mandarin textbook, and as a result you will find no pinyin. All pronunciation is given in IPA. The CD comes with the book.

What impressed me about the CD was that the dialogues were between older speakers instead of young people. Living in Shanghai, I feel that I most often hear Shanghainese spoken by middle-aged men and women women (think convenience store clerks, guards, taxi drivers). Consequently, the CD’s dialogues feel particularly familiar and helpful. The drawback was that the British English speaker on the CD talks very slowly, as if he were addressing a non-native speaker.

The textbook devotes an impressive 17 pages to pronunciation, covering all consonants and vowels in multiple positions, presenting a wide variety of Shanghainese syllables, all glossed in IPA. Despite this thoroughness, tones/sandhi are given barely a mention and do not appear later in the vocabulary lists either.

Each lesson is broken down into (1) Daily Sentences, (2) Dialogues, (3) Key Words, (4) Vocabulary Development, and (5) Shanghai Culture. Notably absent is notes on grammar.

Although it is light on grammar and the particulars of Shanghainese’s tones, this 144-page textbook offers foreigners a competent introduction to Shanghainese with little fluff.

[For a more complete listing of materials for studying Shanghainese without extensive reviews, see the Sinosplice Weblog entry: Shanghainese study materials.]

John Pasden

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


  1. hey john, any of those can I get in pdf format to download, you have anything like to sugest that a can just take a look? They seam all to advanced for me. Thanks!

  2. This sounds as though it would be a passable introduction to Shanghaiese. Is this book available online anywhere?

    • You can usually/often find “Shanghai Dialect for Foreigners” on eBay. That is where I bought mine. Can’t stand the use of IPA in this text.

  3. Strange things about this book:
    The book uses ridiculously detailed IPA symbols for all vowels and consonants, yet it leaves out tones. If you want to show the pronunciation in detail, you CANNOT leave out the tones!

    There are some little cultural passages where the author talks about the history of a special Shanghainese saying… but then never tells you what the saying is in Shanghainese. In English, yes, in Mandarin, yes, but not in Shanghainese. That’s strange.

  4. Rafa 穆凡 Says: August 25, 2010 at 6:04 pm

    I’m Upper-Intermediate /Advanced, studied Mandarin in Beijing for 1 year then continued forced to learn while doing my major in 对外汉语 also in Beijing, now I wanna learn, at least basic 嘉兴话 (Northern Wu Dialect) to speak with my girlfriend, do you think this book can help me? My GF said, yeah, kinda. John, I e-mailed you maybe 2 years ago, do you remember? btw, happy 10 year anniversary… in a month is gonna be my 3 years… 哈哈

    • Hi Rafa! Good to hear you’ve made it so far. I do remember your email, because your name is special.

      I think the book might help you a little bit, but not a whole lot if you’re really serious about 嘉兴话. You might get a book like this, and then make lots of notes in it about how 嘉兴话 differs from 上海话.

      If you’re really serious, you’d probably be better off looking for linguistic research in Chinese, since you’re not going to find a book for foreigners on 嘉兴话.

  5. The book now has a new edition–Shanghai Dialect for Foreigners (Pocket Edition)!
    This new book has an easy-to-use pronunciation system for Shanghai dialect!
    The Mp3 is also wonderful!

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