Most of us are familiar with the Chinese Language. But how much do you really know about this language?
Do you know, for example, how many people speak Chinese? What the relationship between China and the US is like, or how many Chinese characters you need to learn to be considered fluent?
Is there any easy way to learn something as difficult as the Chinese language?
If you don’t know, keep on reading to find out the answers! And even if you already think you know, test whether your facts are right or not.
The Chinese Language
Chinese is the most spoken language in the world with over 955 million native speakers worldwide. That means more than 13 percent of the world's population speaks Chinese! This is more than any other language in the world.
Related Post: The Challenges of Translation in Chinese Medicine
Relationship Between China and USA
But it’s not only the language that’s growing, China’s economy is also growing rapidly as well. China is currently the second largest economy in the world. It is also the second largest trading partner of USA (right after the European Union).
The US-China trade relationship alone supports approximately 2.6 million jobs in the United States.
Relationship with The UN
Chinese is also one of the six official languages in the UN -- the other five languages being Arabic, Spanish, Russian, French, and English.
Chinese is also the official language of China, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Singapore. Now you know why people say that the Chinese language can open a lot of opportunities for your future career!
The Chinese language is actually one of the oldest languages in the world. The writing system was first established almost 4,000 years ago and currently has over 40,000 distinct characters.
So how can a person memorize that many characters? Should you give up learning Chinese before you even start? Don’t worry! You don’t need to memorize all forty thousands characters. You only need to learn 2,500 Chinese characters to be able to read 97.97 percent of Chinese!
This means if you start with just five words per day, you should be able to read in Chinese like a native in about 500 days. Suddenly learning the Chinese language doesn’t seem too scary, right?
Stroke and Stroke Order
Another interesting fact is that the Chinese language has no “alphabet." All the characters are unique in their own way... built up through a combination of various strokes.
You also need to know the correct stroke order to write it in the correct way. Below is the stroke order of the character 山 – shān – “Mountain” (it kinda looks like a mountain, doesn’t it?).
If you have learned Chinese before, you probably know about this. But did your Chinese teacher tell you the secret tip on getting the correct stroke order?
During my Chinese learning journey as a foreigner, I met a lot of Chinese teachers (some native and some not). Of these teachers, only two of them taught me the secret of “how to memorize stroke order" and effectively learn Chinese.
Related Post: Chinese Words and Phrases for a China Business Setting
Memorizing Chinese Characters
I’ve already told you that you only need to memorize 2,500 characters in order to excel in the Chinese language. But how to make the learning process less painful? The answer is by learning Chinese radicals.
Each character is made up of several radicals. There are a lot of Chinese characters that share the same radicals. However, they do not just share randomly. Each radical has its own meaning and purpose within a Chinese character.
Some radicals represent the meaning of the word while others represent the sound. You can see it in the example given above.
The Chinese language has no alphabet but, lucky for us foreigners, they created the "pinyin" system in the 1950s. Before that, the Chinese language used "zhuyin" (Bopomofo - ㄅㄆㄇㄈ) which is still used as an official alphabet system in Taiwan.
Pinyin is the official romanization of Chinese and first published by the Chinese government in 1958. Pinyin makes the Chinese language more English-friendly. This system makes Chinese learning a lot easier than before.
What is Pinyin?
Pinyin is actually the phonetic system of the Chinese language and consists of four distinct tones. A lot of Chinese characters share similar sounds (as in… homonyms) but even words that sound the same, if they have different tones, will have drastically different meanings.
For example, “四 - sì” (fourth tone) means number 4 and “死 - sǐ” (third tone) means death. This is the reason that Chinese people regard number 4 as unlucky number.
One fun fact is that you won’t find the fourth floor in most hospitals and hotels in China because it’s bad luck! Some very superstitious buildings will actually get rid of all floors with a 4 in them (E.g. 14, 24, 34…)!
Chinese Tongue Twister
Because of this, the Chinese language has some of the most difficult tongue twisters (绕口令 rào kǒu lìng) in the world. Below are is a famous Chinese tongue twister example.
|鸟岛是岛，||niáo dǎo shì dǎo,||Bird Island is an island;|
|niáo dǎo yóu niǎo.||Bird Island has birds.|
|鸟岛的鸟多得数不清了。||niáo dǎo de niǎo duō de shǔ bù qīng le.||The birds on Bird Island are countless.|
|要想到鸟岛，||yào xiǎng dào niáo dǎo,||If you wish to go to Bird Island,|
|一定要爱鸟。||yī dìng yào ài niǎo.||you must love birds.|
|你不爱小鸟||nǐ bú ài xiáo niǎo||If you don’t love small birds,|
|就别到鸟岛。||jiù bié dào niáo dǎo.||don’t go to Bird Island|
It is not that difficult if you read it slowly. But once you start reading faster, your tongue becomes twisted and that’s when the fun begins! Challenge someone who can say it faster among your friends and have fun listening to each other's tongue twisters!
In short, Chinese is a widely spoken language and you can have a lot of opportunities for career advancement worldwide if you can speak it. And although learning Chinese may seem impossible at first glance, it can actually be learned much quicker than most people think (if you use the right studying techniques, of course!)
Are you still not convinced about learning Chinese? Go on, you should give it a try! All the above facts that I mentioned are just a small portion about the Chinese language, but I hope that my blog will give you the courage to start learning Chinese.
Comment below to let us know about your experiences learning the Chinese language and best of luck!
Sam works as CMO of TutorMandarin – an online tutor service that focuses on teaching students how to learn Chinese using an innovative Mandarin learning app and PC Software. Sam has lived in China for almost six years, in Beijing and Suzhou, as well as Taipei for over a year, but he has been studying the Chinese language and Chinese culture even longer!