Chinese is not a particular language in the same way that, for example, Kannada or Hindi is. Rather, it is the common name of a group of related languages (rather like the common label ‘Dravidian’ for related South Indian languages such as Kannada, Telugu, and Tamil).
There are several related languages spoken in different parts of China, such as Mandarin (spoken by 960 million people in the Beijing area), Shanghainese (spoken by around 80 million people), Cantonese (spoken by about 60 million people including those of Hong Kong), and Taiwanese Hokkien (spoken by about 70 million people in Taiwan and elsewhere in China). The difference is that while Kannada, Tamil, etc. are not only spoken differently but are written differently as well, the languages of China are spoken differently but share a common written form, called ‘characters’. Perhaps for this reason, the spoken forms of Shanghainese, Cantonese, etc. are referred to as ‘dialects’ rather than as ‘languages’.
The official language of China and Taiwan is a standardized form of Mandarin. Today, it is the medium of all formal education and official communication in both these countries.
Some interesting facts about China
- China is one of the world’s oldest and richest continuous cultures, with a history dating back to more than 5000 years.
- China is the second-most-populous nation in the world, with over 1.4 billion people.
- There are over a billion native Chinese speakers in today’s world, comprising around one-sixth of the world’s population. In addition to the People’s Republic of China and Taiwan, Mandarin Chinese is also spoken by the significantly large Chinese communities of Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Brunei, the Philippines, and Mongolia.
- China is the second largest economy in the world and is one of the largest trading partners of the United States.
- Every year, more and more non-native-Chinese people around the world are learning Mandarin with enthusiasm and success. If they all can learn it, so can you!