Chinese Language – What is it?

When people speak colloquially about the Chinese language, they are usually referring to Mandarin – whether they know it or not. Mandarin is the most commonly spoken version of Chinese (the other being Cantonese).

I won’t bore you with grammar or other such things but I will mention 10 cool facts about Chinese that I summerized from BBC Languages:

1. One in five people on the planet speak it! This makes learning this language highly useful if you’d like to do business around the world or in the People’s Republic of China.

2. As Chinese cultured has expanded past the boarders of Asia, we have already adopted some words. For example Ch’i: meaning one’s energy or spirit and Chop Chop (Cantonese): meaning to hurry up.

3. Reading and writing in Chinese can be challenging since, unlike western languages, it uses tones to differentiate between two words that would otherwise seem the same. So how do you tell if one means soup or sugar? Well, “tang” with a high tone means soup and “tang” with a rising tone means sugar. When reading, this can be even more difficult since the two words would be written with the same characters; you would have to differentiate using contextual clues in the writing.

4. There are many Chinese tongue twisters, which in my opinion are super hard!

(Xue Bai, YouTube)

5. As you might imagine, due to so many words sounding the same, puns are a popular form of entertainment in the Chinese language. A popular example is a New Year’s greeting that sounds like an abundance of fish.

6. The traditional Japanese characters are borrowed from Chinese, therefore learning how to write Chinese characters will help you with reading and writing Japanese.

7. Getting the intonations wrong could get you in a lot of trouble! But don’t worry, there are few foreigners trying to learn Chinese, therefore you’ll likely receive lots of help along with a few laughs.

Ex: wǒ xiǎng wèn nǐ [I would like to ask you.] versus wǒ xiǎng wěn nǐ [I would like to kiss you.] 😉

8. There are many Chinese proverbs and some have counterparts in the Western tradition. For learning a language, I personally like this one:

wàn shì kāi tóu nán [All things are difficult before they are easy.]

9. Have you ever tried to read Shakespeare in an unabridged version? It’s pretty hard to understand Elizabethan English! Unlike Western languages Chinese has changed little since the time of Confucius, an important philosopher who wrote one thousand years before the common era. Learn to read Chinese and you could be reading his works in the original Chinese version.

10. An easy way to be polite in Chinese is to use people’s titles. In English we might say Professor Hobbs, but in Chinese this title would come after the persons last name i.e. Hobbs, Professor. The same is true with personal names, last name goes first and a given name is written and pronounced after it.

 

There you go! Ten interesting facts about the Chinese language.

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