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Chinese? Mandarin? What am I learning?

confused baby

You might be confused when you constantly hear “Chinese” and “Mandarin” interchangeably. What are the difference between these two terms? Are they referring to the same language?

Chinese is a general concept that refers to all the languages spoken in China. As you can see from the map of dialects in China, people from different regions grow up speaking a regional dialect. Some of these dialects, especially those from the northern part of China are similar to each other regarding pronunciations. However, due to the geography in the southern (mountainous), many southern dialects are almost unintelligible for outsiders. For example, I myself come from Shenzhen, Canton where local people usually grow up speaking Cantonese. My parents are from a small town around 300 km from this city, so we do have our own dialect called Hakka dialect. Besides Cantonese and Hakka dialect, I also grew up with Mandarin Chinese, the official language in China.

Mandarin only rose to enjoy the status of the official language of China in the 50s after the founding of modern China. Sometimes it is called as “Zhōngwén“ (central language) or “Pǔtōnghuà” (common language). It is also referred to in Chinese as “Hànyǔ” which means the language of Han ethnic group, which is the majority in China, constituting almost 92% of the whole population in China. There are 55 minority groups in China, making up the other 8%. It is obligatory to speak Mandarin in school so despite the existence of regional dialect, most of Chinese people speak Mandarin Chinese (some with heavy accent). When people now talk about Chinese language, they usually refer to Mandarin Chinese. Hope that is all clear for you now:)

Yiwen’s Chinese School only offers classes on Mandarin Chinese at this moment as it is the most commonly spoken language in China. However, if you want to know something about Cantonese, Hakka or other dialects, I would love to share my knowledge with you.



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