Edit: This is now cross-posted to linguistics.

Studies have shown that learning more than one language helps people of all ages learn each one of the languages. For a nice mainstream media piece on this, see this New York Times opinion article.

The studies have focused on distinct languages, such as English and Spanish, but my question is whether there are relevant studies with regard to learning Mandarin and an additional Chinese dialect.

To summarize the aforelinked opinion piece, the previous paradigm was the following: exposure to multiple languages presents us with cognitive challenges that interfere with our language learning.

The new paradigm is that these cognitive challenges, rather than interfering with our language learning, force us to reconcile them in ways that are beneficial to learning each of the languages.

Anecdotally, I have certainly found this to be the case as I learned Mandarin and Nanjing's dialect while living in the city of Nanjing for about 15 months. On an even smaller scale, I found my Spanish quickly improving while visiting Galicia, a region of Spain where a language closer to Portuguese is spoken.

Re-stating my question succinctly: are there studies on the learning outcomes for non-native Chinese speakers who learn Mandarin in conjunction with an additional Chinese dialect?

If not, I would also welcome general feedback or comments concerning my question. Thanks!

  • 3
    Don't you think this question would be more suitable for Linguistics? :)
    – Alenanno
    Dec 3, 2012 at 22:41
  • 1
    The question is pretty specific to the Chinese Language, but perhaps I'll post it there if I don't receive a satisfactory answer here.
    – user2251
    Dec 3, 2012 at 23:34
  • It's ok if it's specific. Language-specific questions are ok there. (Don't repost there right away, that is cross-posting and is highly discouraged.)
    – Alenanno
    Dec 4, 2012 at 0:15
  • 2
    This definitely belongs on Linguistics. It's a very good question, but maybe too specialized to be asked here. Dec 4, 2012 at 20:46
  • 1
    I should point out that this article says that learning a second language shows significant cognitive benefit. You're actually talking about becoming trilingual, by learning two additional languages at the same time. There's no data regarding trilingualism in the article you linked. It's possible that while biligualim provides a significant mental benefit, the mental burden of trilingualism doesn't provide any additional benefits but does incur additional costs.
    – juckele
    Dec 5, 2012 at 15:17

2 Answers 2


While I am not aware of any studies, I would add this:

From my own experience of trying to learn other dialects beyond Mandarin (Taiwanese, Cantonese), as well as simplified along with traditional characters, I'd tend to agree with the previous paradigm.

The reason is that there is so much to learn in a single dialect that starting on another one would only get you to two "good" levels of a language, rather than one near-native level. I found that I was learning the same things in different dialects, but never really improving any one dialect beyond my current strongest (if that makes sense).

So, unless you've already learned everything there is to know in your chosen dialect, or your preferences are to get to a certain level on mulitple dialects, I'd focus on one and make it awesome. Since you're a PhD student, I'm sure you can understand what I mean by "focus".

btw, interesting study that you posted.


It depends on your purpose of learning Chinese, it is a tool or a research.

Learning different dialects enables you learning the trend of Chinese pronunciation history. Also to quickly join local society, foreign people who speaks dialect is considered more friendly.

Actually standardized Mandarin (普通话) is a combination of dialects that are used by mainly Northern Chinese in Heibei and North eastern 3 provinces, originally. In theory learning the actual dialect in these area could help you memorize more synonyms. And in fact more and more words in the Northern Chinese dialect become popular all over China due to the official media tends to propagate Northern culture by accident.

So there are benefits definitely, but I don't suggest you learn other regions dialect such as Sichuan dialect, Shanghai dialect etc. Because less and less people use them, and they are very difficult to handle in fact. Learning such will lead to no benefit except on Linguistics. And I do suggest you firstly learn Dongbei Hua(North-eastern Dialect, 东北话), since it is most similar with the original Mandarin.

  • Learn some Chinese then downvote please. Dec 6, 2012 at 21:54
  • Lol I got downvoted too... not sure why because the question specifically stated "If not, I would also welcome general feedback or comments concerning my question. Thanks!"...
    – user3871
    Dec 11, 2012 at 20:33

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