Chinese Language Query

I was pondering on maybe learning to speak a bit of chinese but from what i have read theres more than one version of chinese, was wondering if anyone here knows what the different versions are and which is the predominant version (whats spoken mostly, world wide)

There are between six and twelve main regional groups of Chinese (depending on the classification scheme).[1] The largest by far is Mandarin (with about 800 million speakers), followed by Wu (about 90 million), and Cantonese (about 80 million). Chinese is classified as a macrolanguage with 13 sub-languages in ISO 639-3, though the identification of the varieties of Chinese as multiple “languages” or as “dialects” of a single language is a controversial issue.

The standardized form of spoken Chinese is Standard Mandarin, based on the Beijing dialect. Standard Mandarin is the official language of the People’s Republic of China and the Republic of China (Taiwan), as well as one of four official languages of Singapore. Chinese—de facto, Standard Mandarin—is one of the six official languages of the United Nations. Standard Cantonese is one of the official languages of Hong Kong and of Macau.

looks like mandarin is the way to go :slight_smile:

Ah nuts…

Mandarin (Simplified Chinese: 官话 or 北方话; Traditional Chinese: 官話 …

I see… Although it says Cantonese is spoken in Hong Kong and i know in chinese take aways ive seen S&S Chicken Hong Kong Style and Cantonese Style. Maybe this does’nt have anything to do with which language is spoken, man im confused :confused:

Ok Does anyone know what version is spoken in the uk ?? Mandarin ?? dont we get alot of people from Hong Kong over here.

I’m spending about half my time in China at the moment, so this is like my unofficial specialist subject :wink: :bigsmile:

Mandarin is the official language of China, and all people in China [I]should[/I] speak it.
Not all of them do, but that’s the government line, and they’re sticking to it. :stuck_out_tongue:

All areas of China have regional languages, which may or may not be similar to Mandarin - which is based around Bejing. Most people speak their regional language first and switch to Mandarin if they are having trouble being understood.

All Chinese languages use the same symbols - that means everyone can read the same daily newspaper, even if they don’t speak the same language… which I still find odd.
Mostly the modern simplified Chinese symbols are used now; only grammar nerds, old fashioned people or poets / writers / artists who wanted to express something a certain way, would use traditional Chinese. They are teaching simplified Chinese in schools now.

Most Chinese immigrants you meet in the UK will speak Cantonese - this is historical due to the areas of greatest immigration from China.
Most of the people I’ve met in China who speak Cantonese have actually been foreign visitors from Chinese backgrounds :iagree:

The choice of language should be Mandarin, unless you are only going to a Cantonese area.

Also, the easiest way to learn is by Pinyin - this is the official way that phonetics are transcribed into english alphabet, and it shows the tone of each word too (which is critical to understanding).
Nearly all young Chinese use pinyin as it is the way to type Chinese with a western language keyboard - then when you hear a new word they can write it for you and you can say it again - which is near impossible when looking at a symbol.
Learning symbols is difficult - I’ve only managed about 4 or 5 so far, and the meanings don’t exactly translate as precise words into English… some of them are more concepts than exact words.

Good luck :bigsmile:
(It’s actually much easier to start speaking than you think, as there is no grammar, no conjugation of verbs, no tenses, and the word order is more of less the same as English, with all the difficult bits missed out. The main problem is tones - that just takes practice)

p.s. Cantonese is much harder to start with than Mandarin - Cantonese has 7 tones, plus some other tones which aren’t counted because they’re toneless :confused: , while Mandarin has only 4.

Thats good to know, thought it was going to be some really hard to learn. So with Cantonese do words mean the same but are just said a bit different ??

Oh thanks for the info.

Hi again. The Chinese characters are the same for all the different languages, but they are spoken completely differently.
If one person speaks Mandarin, and another speaks Wu, they can’t understand each other at all, but can read the same characters with the same meaning. Kind of hard for foreigners to understand how that works.
When people want to be understood, they often write the characters they mean, because they can’t communicate by speaking.

It also means all Chinese films are subtitled - the speaking is usually Mandarin or Cantonese (depending on where the film was made) but everyone can understand the subtitles whatever Chinese they speak.

So Mandarin it is then to start with.


Internationally probably Mandarin and Simplified Chinese will be most widely used. Only Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macau still uses Traditional Chinese. Most younger generation in mainland China speaks Mandarin, even in Cantonese speaking regions (except HK and Macau). Chinese is my first language so I can’t really comment on how easy it is for an adult to learn, but I think the hardest part is the Chinese characters, once you get a good idea of the commonly used parts that make up the character, it’s actually not hard to remember them. And (imo) the Chinese grammar is very simple, much simpler than Japanese grammar, and somewhat simpler than English.

I agree :iagree: I find the grammar ok and the characters near impossible (in fact I’ve just avoided learning them :o )
For me the most difficult bit has been the tones… I know the word I want to say - but when I actually say it no one understands…

Uhm, can you say that in a different tone, please? I didn’t understand a word you just said! :confused: :stuck_out_tongue:

Certainly :iagree: I can use the English tone of sarcasm :iagree:

I’m [I]sure[/I] you can understand me now… :wink:

Does that mean there’s a sarchasm between us? :stuck_out_tongue:

Oh my, did I take this thread completely off-topic?! :o

Some nations outside the mainland China have used the Chinese character for millenia. Korea, Japan, many tribes of Mongols and Turks, Vietnam, etc.

China has nearly always been larger than Europe in both land area and population. Just think about the differences among French, Spanish, Italian, Latin, Portuguese, etc. and those among German, English, Dutch, etc. Since there are more people and more distance, the dialects tend to differ more. There are many words that sound too similar among Chinese, Korean, and Japanese.

However, there is only one character. Traditional Chinese and Simplified Chinese look differently but they are actually one character system. The same character system is used for the Japanese language and the Korean language. The Koreans invented their own characters in the 15th century but Chinese is used even in the 21st century. My name Shin is Chinese. Dae Han Min Gook is Chinese. Learning the character is far more important. That is the main difference between Chinese and European languages which I have always believed was the key reason why East Asia failed to keep up with Europe for the recent 300 years or so.

As for Mandarin and Cantonese, there are many other dialects than Cantonese. In South Korea and China, everything originating from where the emperor, or any other kind of ruler, resides is official and national. Everything else is provincial and has much less meanings and importances. Most of you call this language English. Most South Koreans call their national langauge “National Language” instead of the Korean language. The area including Seoul and its nearest regions is called “Capital Area” where about 25 million people live.

The grammar and the literature aren’t that easy, but you have to learn the characters first to understand how complicated they could be.

For most Westerners, it is easier to learn Chinese than for us South Koreans to learn English.

Hi Kenshin,
I’m curious… When you say Korean’s developed their own characters separate from the traditional Chinese characters; was there a reason why?
I was wondering if it was for reasons of preserving a different culture from the dominant Chinese one, or other reason?

I’ve noticed in China that the regions which don’t use Chinese characters (such as Tibet and the western most areas that use Arabic style script) are finding it harder and harder to preserve their languages, as more of the young people are educated in Mandarin. Most of my Chinese friends tell me that this is to “encourage” uniform acceptance of culture.
Just kind of interested how this is seen in Korea :iagree:

Tibet is a region though partly autonomous of China, the People’s Republic of China, or Red China, or whatever. Once many called it “Communist China.” South Korea called it “China Communist.” South Korea is not part of China at all, but was a part of the Japanese Empire from 1910 to 1945, under the US military rule from 1945 to 1945, and then became Republic of Korea, or ROK. Tibetians don’t even have a small army while South Korea has at least four or five million troops.

As far as I know, most tribes, nations, peoples in East Asia had their own character systems. Just like all ancient languages of Europe, Indian subcontinent, central Asia, and the rest of the world, most such languages and characters lost importance. I don’t know exactly what the few millions of people who may identify themselves as Tibetians think of their own character, but I know what most South Koreans feel about Han Gul.

Simply speaking, China conquered Tibet. Japan conquered Korea in 1910, or some could say 1876, or 1894, or 1905, but couldn’t destroy the Korean language and its character system Han Gul because the United States defeated Japan in 1945. The US military didn’t require the newly created ROC regime to give up the language though the first president and his wife and most of their friends and important supporters spoke English fluently enough.

I don’t think the reason why the Korean language character Han Gul was created in about 1446 or who did it will ever become known for sure. Some Chinese scholars insist it was Ming. Most South Koreans believe it was the state-sponsored body of scholars of Jo Sun helped by some Ming scholars sent by the request of Jo Sun. Jo Sun’s the Korean dynasty started in 1392 and annexed by Japan in 1910.

It’s South Korea that sends more students to the US for English-language study annually than any other country in the world. China has nearly 30 times more students and India has nearly the same number of students, but South Korea is nationally a lot more “connected” with the US. The two millions of Korean-Americans are more than ten times richer and politically much more powerful than the two (or maybe three) millions of Korean-Chinese. So future South Korea will speak (and write) English plus Korean, not Chinese plus Korean. Expect far more South Korean children will visit the US and other (= cheaper) English-language countries in the coming decades.

Edit: Perhaps you don’t know what Han Gul characters look like so I’m attaching a screen capture. :slight_smile:

Hi kenshin,
Thanks for reply :iagree: There are a lots of Korean’s in the area I live in, so many restaurants and stores with Korean characters on the front - it’s such a distinctive script, I don’t think it could be mistaken for anything else
I was kind of curious about it after spending so much time in China, and learning a bit more about the characters and language (and eating in Koran restaurants when I’ve had it with Chinese food :wink: )