Learning Mandarin Chinese Updated: July 28, 2023
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Learning Chinese language becomes more and more important with the growth of the Chinese economy. There is about one fifth of the population in the world that speaks Chinese language. To learn Chinese language seems to be much more difficult than to learn other languages, as Chinese characters cannot be spelled out with alphabets; the Chinese characters can only be visually comprehended. In other words, spoken Chinese characters and the written Chinese characters are not phonetically related. The grammar of Chinese language, however, is relatively simple. Almost all Chinese words have only one grammatical form, which makes Chinese language not only grammatically logical, but also pragmatic, related to the particular way of Chinese thinking.

The grammar of Chinese language can be simply summarized as: No conjugations: each verb has only one form, and for that matter: no irregular verbs; No tenses: use of particles to express if an action takes place in the past, present or future. The verb form never changes in function of the tense; No articles: no such thing as "the" and "a"; No plurals: quantifiers before the noun, or simply the context, will make clear whether speaking in singular or in plural; No gender-specific pronouns: no masculine, feminine or neuter words; No cases: since articles don't exist, and nouns can't be changed anyway, it is impossible to have akkusativ/genetiv/dativ in Chinese; No declinations of adjectives by number or gender: just like nouns, adjectives never change.

History of Chinese language

The earliest examples of written Chinese are found on the oracle bones used in divination rites during the Shang dynasty in 1500 BC. Even 3,500 years ago Chinese language was already a sophisticated language with an extensive vocabulary. Nearly 2,500 separate characters have been found on bone fragments from the Shang and Yin dynasties. Among them, 728 have been identified. Although the style of writing then was not the same as in the modern language, many characters are still recognizable.

For learning Chinese today, the number of words needed for everyday living is about 3,000, but a working vocabulary adequate for reading newspapers is 7,000 characters. The Shuo Wen Dictionary ( 說文解字 ) of the Han dynasty (207 BC–220 AD) contained 9,353 words. The Kang Xi( 康熙 ) dictionary of the Qing dynasty (1644 - 1911) contained 40,545. The Zhong Hua dictionary, compiled in the early 1911 of the Republic of China, includes about 50,000 words.

Spoken Chinese

There are seven major dialects and many minor dialects of Chinese language spoken in China. The seven major dialects are Yue (also called Cantonese), Hakka, Min (also called Hokkien or Min-nan), Xiang, Gan, Wu (also called Shanghainese) and Mandarin. Spoken dialects differ substantively to the extent that a speaker of Mandarin is unable to understand Cantonese or other southern dialects. Despite the different dialects, Chinese characters are universally used as the written language.

Learning Chinese, in most cases, is referring to learning Mandarin. There were over 800 million people speaking Mandarin in China. It outweighs other Chinese dialects in number of speakers. Mandarin is also the official language of People Republic of China.

Why Learn Chinese Language

Trade activities flow like water between China and US, Europe. It is mainly US and Europe import that have driven the Chinese economy so strongly over the past few decades and yet the newly found wealth is allowing the middle classes in China to spend on western luxury goods. Learning Chinese language will give any business an advantage over the competition within this market. Mandarin Chinese is now the most useful business language after English. Some suggest that Mandarin Chinese is the business language of the future.