There are many young Chinese women, from all over the country, working in the office where I sometimes spend the day. There are a lot of giggles and much laughter whenever they take a break. One of the young women sits in a room with me, away from the others, and was just in their office talking to them about work when I decided to take a break and pop my head in.
We all started to discuss weekend plans and where we are from. I tried to practice my Mandarin and was grateful to receive positive feedback. I asked my officemate something and everyone started giggling. When I asked why I was told that my Mandarin is better then hers. This is impossible for me to believe, so I asked why they said this. It turns out that she is from the south and her local dialect is different enough from Mandarin to make it difficult for her to have casual conversations with them.
I asked how long she's been here. She said 'half year.' I said 'liu-ge yue?'. She looked around for a translater and someone else said 'six months' in English. My pronunciation was off though so some of the girls spoke the words so that I could mimic them. When my office mate tried to say it she said 'niu' instead 'of 'liu.' Her dialect doesn't use 'l.' Some of us started to say 'liu' for her to mimic but her efforts results in 'niu' and laughter from the coworkers.
I looked her in the eyes, took her hands, smiled, and walked her back to our office so that we could practice without an audience. 'Liu' is difficult, too many different sounds, so we broke it down into l - i - u.
She's now sitting at her desk, practicing the 'l' sound. She says it perfectly every so often and I start jumping up and down excitedly, letting her know that she's got it.