December 5, 2017
By: Jacqueline Wong

While you can read and write the Chinese language, there is no spoken language called Chinese. Rather, there are many dialects spoken across China. To get an idea of just how many dialects there are, that there are at least 7,102 languages in the world. 2,301 of those languages are spoken in Asia.

There are 56 different ethnicities in China and each of those ethnicities speaks at least one dialect. This ethnic diversity means that the 80 dialects spoken in China are unique and cannot be understood by people who speak a different dialect. For example, in the regions of Guangzhou and Hong Kong, located in Southern China, people speak Cantonese. In the Northeastern part of China, they use the Changchun dialect. Even though both regions are part of China, the people who speak Cantonese cannot communicate with those that speak Changchun.

Cantonese and Mandarin are the two most popular dialects in China. In 1912, the Chinese government voted to make Mandarin the country’s official language and it still is today.

Although having so many different dialects makes spoken communication across China difficult, the written language of Chinese is almost the same in Cantonese and Mandarin. Cantonese speakers use traditional writing and Mandarin speakers use simplified writing. Once people learn traditional writing, they will also know the simplified writing because the Chinese characters used in simplified writing comes from traditional writing. You can see the differences in this example:

简体中文                                                                     簡體中文

Simplified Chinese                                                      Traditional Chinese

Next time you’re curious about what languages a person speaks, remember that Chinese has many dialects and that most Chinese people speak either Mandarin or Cantonese.