10 Important Facts About the Chinese Language

China has become one of the most important nations in the world, economically and politically. Its manufactured goods provide a large percentage of the world’s consumer needs and much of the developed world’s economy is reliant on a buoyant Chinese economy. For this reason, the Chinese language, called Mandarin, has become one of the most sought-after languages to learn outside of China.

Is Chinese the most difficult language to learn?

Whether you would find Chinese easy or difficult depends on a number of factors. Which language is your native language? If you already understand a tonal language, e.g. Thai or Vietnamese, then this would make learning Chinese easier. If you are used to interpreting characters, like Japanese, then you might also find learning the Chinese writing system easier than other people. If you are young and already understand more than your native language and are motivated to learn, then these factors all count in your favor. 

If none of these factors apply to you, then yes, you might very well find learning Chinese challenging!

10 facts about the Chinese language

#1. Chinese is one of the oldest languages still in use

The origin of the Chinese language, and the language family that it belongs to, is thought to be very old. Like other languages, its antiquity can only be confirmed whenever written records show up. As far as Chinese is concerned, the oldest record of writing that has been discovered that is recognizably Chinese is on bone inscriptions dated to 1230 B.C., which makes them about 3,450 years old. 

#2. Mandarin is the official language of China

Mandarin, more specifically the Beijing dialect of Mandarin, became the official language of what is now the People’s Republic of China (PRC) in 1930. It is also the official language of the Republic of China (Taiwan). It is also one of the official languages (Malay, English, and Tamil) of Singapore and one of 6 official languages used by the United Nations.

#3. Chinese is a major language in numerous Southeast Asian countries.

Chinese people have migrated to many other countries, not least to the nearby countries of South East Asia. This means that there are substantial minority populations of Chinese in just about every South East Asian country.

#4. What is special about Chinese characters and language?

There are a large number of Chinese dialects used in China despite the fact that everyone is nominally a Mandarin speaker. There is some disagreement about whether some of the major dialects are really all the same language as some of them are mutually unintelligible, despite their similarity in that they are tonal and analytic. 

The same Chinese characters are used across China, a system called simplified Chinese. However, the older characters are used elsewhere like in Taiwan, Singapore, Macao, and Malaysia. 

#5. Chinese writing systems

The main writing system used in China is very different from that of most other languages. It uses an enormous number of possible characters that are arranged vertically from top to bottom and from right to left. The most used writing system is called Standard Mandarin Chinese.

#6. The word “Mandarin” comes from Sanskrit.

The word ‘mandarin’ has an interesting history. In English, it is a word that is normally used for a type of tangerine. This comes from the Portuguese language. However, the word used to denote the official and most widely spoken in the Chinese language comes from the Malay ‘menteri’ meaning official or minister. This word itself was originally derived from Sanskrit.

#7. Family is valued greatly in China

Like most cultures, family ties are very strong in China. This has become even more so as the one-child policy that has been in force for a couple of decades in the PRC has meant that parents dote on their only son or daughter. The importance of family also means that wherever Chinese migrate to other parts of the world, they keep their ties with their family and that also means using the Chinese language.


Chinese is not just the most spoken language in the world but has become highly sought after as learning opens the gate towards understanding Chinese society and culture and facilitates communication with Chinese scientists, officials, and businesspeople.

How Many Languages are Spoken in China?

The official language and most spoken language in China is Mandarin, which originates from the Han, one of China’s main ethnic groups originating in the north of the country. This is spoken by 910 million people. Another important language, the Wu language, has 77 million speakers, the Min language, which has 70 million speakers, and Cantonese, which has 71 million speakers and is also a language used in China.

What are the Top 3 Languages Spoken in China?

The top three languages spoken in order of the number of speakers are:

  • Mandarin
  • Wu
  • Min.

Mandarin makes up a group of related Chinese languages spoken in southwestern China and northern China. This includes the Beijing dialect which is the foundation of Standard Mandarin. With its 910 million speakers there are 200 million who speak it as a second language. Its language families are the Sinitic languages and Sino Tibetan languages. The writing system is Chinese characters both simplified and traditional.

The history of the Chinese language modern Wu comes from ancient Wu and Yue, which today is spoken in northern Zhejiang and southern Jiangsu. Suzhou was likely to have been the 1st place where Wu was developed, as the Suzhou dialect is the best example of Wu. The Wu that was developed in Shanghai led to the forming of standard Shanghainese. Shanghai is an important economic center and has the biggest number of Wu speakers.

Min, or Miin, is a group of Chinese languages with 30 million speakers spoken in the Fujian province and 45 million descendants of the Fujian province who moved to Guangdong in the Chaozhou-Shantou and Chaoshan areas, the Leizhou Peninsula and Hainan, and three counties in South Zhejiang, some of Zhongshan and off Ningbo in the Zhoushan archipelago, some communities in Liyang in Jiangyin City in the Jiangsu province, and in Taiwan. The name originates from the River Min in Fujian. Speakers of Min dialects can’t understand one another or any other Chinese language. In southeast Asia, amongst the Chinese migrant population, Min can be heard spoken. Some of the Min languages resemble Old Chinese.

How Many Different Languages are Spoken in China?

China has at least eight linguistically different language groups and literally hundreds of dialects. Usually, they aren’t mutually understandable. Mandarin is considered to be the official language of both Taiwan and the People’s Republic of China. It is an official language of the United Nations and also in Singapore.

Why is the Chinese Language Spoken Most in the World?

Most people still think that the English language is the most widely spoken language in the world today, but in fact, Chinese is the most commonly used language. There are a large number of native speakers as well as many who speak it as a second language. Mandarin and Cantonese are the two most dominant languages and Mandarin has the status of being the predominant spoken language, while Cantonese is spoken throughout China and in Hong Kong and Macao.

Cantonese resembles more the earlier forms of the language and is considered to be a conservative Chinese language. It has nine tones: three with short syllables and six with regular length. Mandarin isn’t like Cantonese at all and includes four tones and a neutral tone. The Chinese language is widely spoken and Chinese words have been imported into Japanese, Korean, and Vietnamese languages, and these days comprise more than 50 percent of their vocabulary.

The percentage of vocabulary with a Chinese origin is more prevalent in abstract, technical, or formal language. In Japan, Sino-Japanese vocabulary accounts for about 35 percent of the words found in entertainment magazines, more than 50 percent of words in newspapers, and 60 percent of words used in science magazines. Today written Japanese is made up of Chinese characters called Kanji and kana. Korean is written in North Korea with Hangul, and Chinese characters called Hanja can be found in South Korea. Vietnamese today is written using the Latin alphabet.

Overall, due to the large population in China and neighboring countries, Chinese is one of the most widely spoken languages in the world.