Chinese Languages

It is important to bear in mind that an amazing array of mutually unintelligible dialects and sub-dialects are spoken in mainland China, Taiwan and the Chinese diaspora, of which Cantonese is perhaps best known to Westerners (following several waves of migration of Cantonese people to the United States and Canada).

Mandarin – China’s Official Language

Officially adopted as the national language of the People’s Republic of China in 1955, standard Mandarin Chinese, or putonghua (“common speech”), is the world’s most spoken language with over one billion speakers.

Many Chinese people speak the national language, standard Mandarin, in addition to their own regional dialect. The Hong Kong S.A.R. (a British colony until 1997) has traditionally been regarded as a stronghold for the Cantonese dialect. But Mandarin is, even there, increasingly becoming the lingua franca of business.

Mandarin is perhaps the easiest Chinese dialect to learn, as it only has four tones and a neutral tone. These tones convey differences in meaning and pronouncing a syllable with the wrong tone can give rise to confusion.