Learn Shanghainese Part 2: Basic Phrases

Learn Shanghainese: Mandarin vs Shanghainese

Learn Shanghainese and Explore the City

Learn Shanghainese and Explore the City

This blog is part 2 in Carl Cheung’s series on beginning to learn Shanghainese

One of the most confusing things when learning Mandarin from Cantonese is that the same characters will have different meanings in the two languages.

The same thing happens when starting to learn Shanghainese; the same words have different purposes.

In fact, some of the characters used in Cantonese don’t even exist in Mandarin, and some of the words spoken in Shanghainese don’t even have a proper character.

Learn Shanghainese: You, Me, We

The most common replacement character used is most likely the character for you (“ni2”) and is pronounced “nong” with a low-to-high tone closing your airway with the back of your tongue at the ng. Character for he, she, that (“ta1”) is replaced with “yi” with a low-to-high tone. We, you guys, and they are replaced by “a la”, “na”, and “yi la”.

Quick Reference: Mandarin/Cantonese/Shanghainese

Learn Shanghainese: You, Me, Us

Learn Shanghainese: You, Me, Us

我 / 我 / 我

你 / 你 / 侬 (nong)

他 / 佢 / 伊 (yi)

我們 / 我哋 / 阿拉 (a la)

你們 / 你哋 / “那” (na)

他們 / 佢哋 / 伊拉 (yi la)

Learn some more basic phrases as well as some of the differences between Mandarin and Shanghainese with LTL student Richard:

Learn Shanghainese: Basic Phrases

Learning Shanghainese: Hello

Learning Shanghainese: Hello

The first phrase everyone learns in Mandarin is hello or 你好 “ni2 hao3”. The same is true when beginning to learn Shanghainese, Shanghainese equivalent is “nong hoh”. The “hoh”, which sounds very similar in Cantonese, is just a low-to-high tone “hoe”. The second phrase in Mandarin you probably know as well is thank you or 谢谢 “xie4 xie”, or in Shanghainese “xia xia”. The first “xia” is a low-to-high tone and the second one just stays high.

The last one I’ll break down is the translation for sorry or 对不起 “dui2 bu2 qi3”. The replacement character for “bu2” is a very clipped sounding “va” or 勿. So the whole thing is “deh va qi” and sounds like “day v-chee”.

So putting all that together, I can at least express some basic things like “xia xia nong” or “a la deh va qi”. I’ll throw in one more, “jioh” means “jiao2” or 叫, so a quick introduction to someone might sound like “nong hoh, ngoh jioh Carl”. Hopefully, that will be enough to get around Shanghai and get some impressed (confused) looks!

Carl’s Learn Shanghainese Blog Series

Follow Carl’s journey of learning Shanghainese. You can find part three of his Shanghainese adventure, or if you missed part one on you can find it here! 

Learn Shanghainese Part 3

Learn Shanghainese Part 1

Want more from LTL?

If you wish to hear more from LTL Mandarin School why not join our mailing list. We give plenty of handy information on learning Chinese, useful apps to learn the language and everything going on at our LTL schools! Sign up below and become part of our ever growing community!