I have now finished the first semester at one of Hong Kong’s universities. During that time, I met a lot of mainlanders, a significant percentage of whom come from Guangzhou.
I was kind of surprised to see the Guangzhouers speak to each other sometimes in Mandarin, but mostly in Cantonese. Possibly because of the many articles prophesying the demise of Cantonese which often appear on the Cantodict forums, I had assumed that Cantonese had already died over in the mainland. Clearly, this is not the case.
What surprised me further though, was the spread in abilities between different Guangzhouers.
For example, one girl often says ‘I only know how to say “X” in Mandarin’, and my current best buddy will then effortlessly translate. “X” is typically something related to academia – engineering terms, for example – so I wonder if this is because of Mandarin schooling in Guangzhou.
Also, Best Buddy will occasionally come out with Mandarin which I think is distinctly influenced by Cantonese, particularly in terms of grammatical structures.
Anyway, the conclusion that I reached was that whilst the vast majority of people living in China may well be bilingual, a lot of them will be significantly better in one language. So, don’t get too worked up about the apparent awesomeness of the Chinese abilities of people living in China – the difference between your Chinese and theirs is not as large as you might think.