As one of the six official languages used by UN (United Nations), Chinese now has earned itself greater status in the World. The official language of China is the Mandarin, which is the very name of ‘Hanyu’ or ‘Putonghua’, belonging to Sino-Tibetan.
Putonghua is a parlance in mainland China. It is the common language of all modern Han nationality people. In Taiwan Province and Hong Kong, it is called ‘Guoyu’ while in Singapore and Malaysia, it is often called ‘Huayu’.
Mandarin is shaped and based on the Beijing dialect and other dialects spoken in the northern areas of China. Students are often taught mandarin as ‘Yuwen’ in their schoolbooks. It is beyond all doubt that mandarin is used as a mother tongue by the most people accounting for about one fifth of the world’s population. Chinese once had very great influence on some peripheral countries with their languages and characters, such as Japanese, Korean and Vietnamese.
English is a required course and universal education in China and has great popularity. Nowadays many Chinese people can speak basic English, especially the youth, students, and staff of service trades like hotels, restaurants, airlines, banks and post offices. In large cities there are more people who can communicate with foreigners in English than smaller towns & cities. Some may master a second foreign language like French, German, Japanese, Italian, and Spanish. However, in rural or remote areas, few people can speak English or other foreign languages.
The language barrier now is not a problem at all for those that wish to come to China.
With a vast territory and huge population, China has many different dialects which are of great complexity. Divided into official and non-official dialects, they vary between different areas. The official dialects generally refer to the northern dialects, while the non-official dialects are often spoken in the southeast part of the country.
Due to the differences between each of the dialects, there are obvious obstacles to people speaking their own dialects and communicating with each other, especially among the non-official dialects.
The Chinese character has more than 3,000 years of history. It is a kind of hieroglyphic which originated from carapace-bone-script in the Shang Dynasty (16th – 11th century BC). It then developed into different forms of calligraphic hand writings like large seal script, small seal script, official script, regular script, cursive script and running script.
There are altogether 80,000 Chinese words or so that originate from ancient times; however, only about 3,000 words for daily use are available to express over 99% of the information in written form because a word contains many different meanings. The character is now of two kinds – Simplified and Traditional. Simplified style are often used in mainland China, Singapore, and oversea Chinese communities in Southeast Asia, while the latter is often accepted in Taiwan Province, Hong Kong, Macau and oversea Chinese communities in North America.
Actually the Mandarin and characters used by Han people are also the common language for other minorities. Among all the 55 ethnic minorities, the people of Hui and Man nationalities also use Mandarin and its characters. 29 ethnic minorities have their own traditional languages like Tibetan, Yi, Mongol, Uygur, Kazak, Lahu, Chaoxian and Kirgiz. Some minorities, like Dai nationality and Jingpo nationality, use even more than one kind of language and characters.