Born in Shantou, a city in the east of Guangdong Province in China, I grew up with the sea, fresh air and delicious seafood. Before I went to high school in Guangzhou, I spent my entire childhood in Shantou. I am proud of the Chaoshan dialect, the dialect of Shantou. I love speaking in Chaoshan dialect, but I had a hard time struggling with it.
I grew up in a town called Chaoyang in Shantou and I spoke with the Chaoyang accent. My parents are also Chaoyang people with the Chaoyang dialect. When I was in primary school in Town Chaoyang, I had a great time with my classmates. Several girls with Chaoyang accent, including me, often played games under the splendid sun and chatted with each other in the dormitory about delicious food and interesting books.
But all had changed since I moved to another town, Longhu, in Shantou, and went to middle school in Longhu when I was eleven years old.
In Shantou, people from different towns have different accents. I can understand Longhu accent but some of my classmates from Longhu did not understand my Chaoyang accent. Moreover, Longhu is the wealthiest town in Shantou, while Chaoyang is a relatively poor one. Speaking with Chaoyang accent with Longhu people made me feel inferior. Hence, I kept speaking Mandarin with them, which seems weird while the majority of them spoke with Longhu accent. I was also afraid to talk with my classmates or become too close with them.
On a Friday afternoon after class, my classmates were discussing about a famous TV soap opera in Longhu accent in the classroom.
“Jessica’s clothes are all very fashionable. I really want to know the brands of these clothes.”
“I think Mike will break up with Amy in the next episode.”
Hearing the conversation, I could not wait to join the discussion and say excitedly, “I loved that play, too! The plot is so interesting.” using Mandarin.
Suddenly, the crowd abruptly became quiet. Then, they switched to Mandarin.
“Do you think Emily will find a da bou (Longhu accent)…I mean, nan peng you(Mandarin)(means boyfriend in English) .”
“No, I think she will remain dua sin (Longhu accent)...um… dan shen (Mandarin) (means single in English).”
While speaking Chaoshan Dialect, everyone felt relaxed and joyful, but while transferring to speak Mandarin with me, everyone felt difficult and embarrassed.
“I am the culprit that prevents them from talking in a comfortable way.” I told myself.
When I recounted my unpleasant experience to my mum, however, she encouraged me, “Why don’t you try to learn Longhu accent?”
“Will it be difficult to change the accent that I speak with for eleven years?”I asked myself.
“However, if I managed to speak with Longhu accent, I will be able to talk with others relaxingly.” Replied myself.
I started to learn to speak with Longhu accent, but I still keep my Chaoyang accent and talk in Chaoyang accent to my family.
I watched local TV shows, plays, news every day intensely because almost all the local programs were recorded using Longhu accent. I also chatted with my neighbors and my classmates more in Longhu accent. I studied the differences between Longhu accent and Chaoyang accent through the Internet and by imitating my classmates carefully.
I found that in Longhu dialect, people use a rising tone while in Chaoyang dialect, people use a falling tone, which makes Chaoyang people sound angrier. In Longhu dialect, the emphasis falls on the second character of a phrase; in contrast, the emphasis of Longhu dialect falls on the first character of a phrase. The biggest distinction is the pronunciation of “u”. In Chaoyang accent, “u” sounds the same as the one in Mandarin, which is pronounced by the mouth. Nevertheless, in Longhu accent, “u” is pronounced by the throat, which is more soft. Another example is that in Chaoyang accent, present is pronounced as “Li Vei”; in Longhu accent, “present” is pronounced as “Loi Vei”. “You” is pronounced as “Lur” in Longhu accent and “lu” in Chaoyang accent. I noticed these differences and always remembered to correct them while speaking with Longhu accent.
My effort paid off, soon I can fluently talk with my classmates with Longhu accent.
On a Monday night, my roommate said in the dormitory, “I kind of fell in love with a boy.”
“Who? Is he from our school?”
“Is he handsome? Is he tall?”
“Does he treat you well?”
After a long discussion in Longhu accent, my roommates said to me in surprise, “How come you can speak so fluently and naturally in Longhu accent?”
I smiled, with the pride of my day-and-night devotion to learning Longhu accent.
A long time since then, I always recall that little girl who was shy and timid to speak with others just because she cannot speak with Longhu accent on that awkward afternoon. When she learned to speak with Longhu accent, she became confident enough to speak with friends in Longhu accent and became much happier, much more relaxed. Neither was she afraid to join in the discussion among classmates, nor considered herself an outsider of the class.
It is Longhu accent that helps me get closer to my classmates. It is Longhu accent that helps me integrate into a new community—my middle school community.