The word ‘Chinese’ refers to standard Chinese based on mandarin. Still, it also refers to many languages and dialects spoken throughout China and the world. Sinitic is another name of Chinese languages and it is a sub-family of the Sino-Tibetan language family. Chinese is not a single language but rather several related dialect groups united by a common written language, a standard writing system. All Chinese languages are tonal, meaning the tone you use defines what you are saying. You say it if you change the style, the context, and the sense of the word commutes.
The history of Chinese languages:
Around 4000 BCE, the Sinitic languages or the Chinese languages that existed developed from Proto-Sino-Tibetan. From around 1250 BCE belonged the first written examples of Chinese. Oracle Bone Script is a form of Chinese used to write it, sculpted onto turtle shells and animal bones used for divination. A more recognizable form of Old Chinese developed during the Zhou dynasty between 1046 and 256BC. It is present on bronze carving from that period and in some literature, like ‘classic of poetry.’ The common view is that the Chinese had not yet developed tones during this time. Those are set later in the transition to middle Chinese. Between this period and the end of the Han dynasty, in the 3rd century CE, the form of Chinese that developed is called classical Chinese or even referred to as literary Chinese.
Varieties of Chinese:
People often refer to the standard language as mandarin as it is based on the Mandarin dialect of Beijing. Still, to be precise, the word Mandarin refers to a range of northern dialects. Mandarin, or the standard Chinese, now fulfills the role that classical Chinese used as the official written language used by speakers of all varieties of Chinese for most purposes. But written vernacular languages still exist and are used in some informal situations. Now the question is, how many varieties of Chinese are there? Well, that depends on how you count and categorize them, but it is often said that there are over 200 separate varieties of Chinese that comprise about 13 separate dialect groups. The local dialect within these groups are often intelligible, so it is reasonable to consider these groups as languages. Seven out of thirteen groups are generally regarded as paramount, including Mandarin, Yue, Xiang, Min, Gan, Wu, and Hakka.
The Chinese writing system:
Chinese characters are used for writing Chinese. All the speakers of all the different varieties write in Mandarin, which is the standard Chinese. Even though the language they speak is different. When they are reading traditional Chinese out loud, the Chinese graded readers will probably pronounce each character the way it is pronounced in their local variety of Chinese. This has led to a common misapprehension that all Chinese languages are identical except for their pronunciation. The fact is that Chinese languages often differ in grammar and vocabulary as well as pronunciation. Most of the characters used are alike. Still, they will be pronounced differently, and some characters might be used to represent the different vocabulary. The order of the characters might be separate to define different syntax.
Countries with most Chinese speakers:
More than 1.3 billion native speakers of Chinese are present if we include all its varieties. Mandarin, also called standard Chinese, is the official language of the Republic of China and some other countries. It is also one of the four official languages of Singapore. Many diaspora communities throughout Asia, like Malaysia, Indonesia, and Thailand, and different communities worldwide also speak in the Chinese language.
- Hong Kong: Hong Kong’s national language is Chinese, but Hong Kong Cantonese is generally used when communicating.
- Macau: Chinese Cantonese and Portuguese are the official languages in Macau.
- Singapore: Singaporean Mandarin is common in the country. The government does not recommend the use of the Chinese language. The use of standard Mandarin is encouraged by the government and is utilized in schools, commerce, media, and business.
- Taiwan: Taiwanese Mandarin, or the standard Mandarin, is the official language of Taiwan. Nonetheless, Taiwanese and Hakka are most commonly used in communications. Taiwan is physically separated by water from mainland China. However, China views Taiwan as part of China while Taiwan does not. They may disagree on government and political issues, but they still use the same language of communication as Mandarin.
- China: Mandarin or Standard Mandarin is the official language of the country. There are almost 300 languages or dialects used in China. These languages have diverse origins.
How to learn the Chinese language outside China?
Students worldwide are still very interested in learning Chinese and experiencing Chinese culture. However, most international students can still not cross into mainland China (see updates here). What alternatives exist for studying Chinese outside of China’s core?
Chinese education outside of the mainland Unique chances and insights into the Chinese language and culture can be found in China. Due to the long history of Chinese populations there, a rich fusion of Chinese and Southeast Asian culture has developed in nations like Malaysia and Singapore.
As you can see, Chinese is a large and diverse group of languages and not a single language. Moreover, the language is spoken in many other countries apart from China either as the official language or locally spoken. Many Chinese populations abroad still speak their native tongues alongside Mandarin, such as Hokkien or Cantonese. Therefore, if you decide to study here, you may have more opportunities to pick up non-Mandarin Chinese languages.
You could notice that the local accents and learning approaches are different from those in China. You might learn authentic Chinese characters rather than simplified ones!
The Chinese diaspora and the Chinese-speaking community worldwide have worked hard to develop possibilities for students to study Chinese outside of Asia, even as far away as the US!
Learn Chinese anywhere!
Outside of China, there are numerous locations where learning Chinese is feasible and a fantastic opportunity! Chinese is neither the only language spoken in the world nor the only language spoken by a significant portion of the population outside of mainland China. You can immerse yourself in the Chinese language and culture in Taiwan or Singapore. Or learn Mandarin in Malaysia’s or the US’s broad cultural melting pot. Even though students cannot cross the border into mainland China, learning in one of these places can be an excellent investment.
Outside of mainland China, you may have a better chance of learning the Chinese language other than Mandarin. Today, the most common dialect of Chinese is Putonghua, a dialect of Mandarin Chinese. You will study Mandarin Chinese written in the Simplified script in the PRC. There may be more options to learn Traditional Chinese or a non-Mandarin language, such as Cantonese, Taiwanese, Hokkien, or Hakka, outside of China.
It will undoubtedly be simpler to integrate if you study in a nation where many people speak Chinese as their first language. But if you work hard at your studies, you can learn Chinese at a high level from anywhere in the world.
Chinese is a popular language and the most spoken language worldwide. Regardless of being one of the oldest languages, there are still many speakers and learners of the language. It is spoken in many countries, and students are also interested in learning the language outside China. Even though the borders of mainland China are not yet open for international students, other options are available to learn the language.