Speaking their language

Speaking their language

CHINA - Mandarin is considered one of the hardest languages for a native English speaker to learn.

But, as if China's main dialect weren't difficult enough to master, Jayme Lawman decided to also take on Shanghainese.

The Englishman has become so proficient that he was featured in the documentary Searching for the Shanghai Dialect on Shanghai television in March.

When the film starts, Lawman - introduced by his Chinese name Luo Sijie - is shown greeting a shopkeeper in Shanghainese.

"Oh, you speak it very well," the middle-aged woman says, surprised to hear a foreigner using her native tongue, since many young Shanghainese are abandoning their dialect.

"How long have you been living in Shanghai?"

The Northampton, England, native came to China in 2008 to attend Shanghai International Studies University. He was content knowing only Mandarin for the first three years. Then his Shanghainese girlfriend invited him to the first dinner with her parents.

"I am sitting there at the dinner table, and I don't know what anybody is saying," the 23-year-old says in a video call.

"It was frustrating. It was like starting all over again."

And start all over again he did, using the same method he used to learn Mandarin. Since he doesn't like textbooks, Shanghai's streets became his teacher.

"The best kind of people who learn languages are like babies. When you're born, you don't make a conscious effort of learning a language. You just pick it up from your surroundings," he says.

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