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Local Dialects Impair Migrant Workers' Communication with Urbanites

Language is a fundamental barrier to communication between migrant workers and urban residents, according to a report on the language situation of migrant workers made by state language work commission.

In China, Mandarin Chinese, or Putonghua, serves as the prevalent spoken language. But in rural areas local dialects dominate communications among people.

Only 45.1 percent of rural residents could speak Mandarin, compared to 66 percent of urban residents, the report stated.

Being able to speak only local dialects made migrant workers reluctant to talk with other people not speaking their dialects, the report said.

When faced with problems, only 5.8 percent of migrant workers sought help from urban residents. The majority of migrants turned to hometown acquaintances, for fear of losing face.

Some of the migrant workers admitted frankly that they were unwilling to open their mouths to speak because they worried that their poor Mandarin skills would cause urban residents to look down upon them.

Due to the language barrier many migrant workers opt to work in close environments that require minimum contact with other people. Some workers even have to ask others to help them communicate, the report said.

Local governments and employers should offer Mandarin courses to migrant workers to help them better adapt to urban life, a Ministry of Education language administration official, Li Yuming, was quoted as saying.

Official statistics indicate that China has about 200 million migrant workers.

Chinese dialects share the same written language, but pronunciation of the same characters may vary greatly in different places, especially between northern and southern China.

(Xinhua News Agency September 3, 2007)

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