The Chinese language is the most spoken language in the world, due to the sheer size of the country’s population. Likewise, Chinese migrants can be found almost anywhere in the world, causing the spread of their culture and language. Their closeness with their countrymen helped create large communities, enabling them to become influential groups, helping each other establish businesses and other organizations to benefit their fellowmen.
Because China’s doors have remained closed to the West for so long, people are fascinated to learn more about the country, its people and its culture. China and its territories form such a large group and China alone is home to 1.42 billion people. Thus, it is inevitable that there will be a variety of Chinese languages as well as regional dialects. Still, for the Western world, when theChinese language is mentioned, it is either Mandarin Chinese or Cantonese Chinese. However, for interpreting companies, it is very critical to know which version of Chinese language they have to handle when they are given a Chinese interpreting project.
Fascinating Facts About the Chinese Language
As already mentioned, several minority groups exist in China and its territories and each one of them has their own unique language and dialect. However, due to a government declaration, Mandarin Chinese has become China’s most used language, with 918 million speaking it as their first language.
Chinese is One of the Hardest Languages to Learn
While there are many people interested in learning the language, Chinese, according to many, is a language that is one of the most difficult to learn. The Chinese language is vastly different from English, which is one reason why English speakers have a hard time learning it. Chinese has a different writing system. It has a different sound and pronunciation style. It also has different grammar. Overall, Chinese and English are like night and day.
It will take years for a Chinese language learner to be fluent in the language and it is very difficult to reach the level of fluency of a native speaker. To be able to read a newspaper, you should have mastered at least 3,000 characters. But the fact that there are more than several thousands of Chinese characters makes the task definitely daunting.
Written Chinese Varies Greatly from Spoken Chinese
Written forms of Chinese do not give signs regarding their pronunciation. It should be learned separately. Complicating the problem is the fact that in some cases, two or more characters make up about 67% of Chinese words.
Even if they look the same, written Chinese has several calligraphy styles. Traditionally, there are five, such as Zuan Style (Seal Style), Li Style (Clerical Style), Tsao Style (Running Style), Hsin Style (Walking Style) and Kai Style (Standard Style). In basic English, these are Seal Script, Official Script or Clerical Script, Grass Script or Cursive Script, Semi-Cursive Script and Regular Script (Block Script or Standard Script), respectively. They are also considered art styles. The Seal Style is the most popular. The Han people developed the style and made its maiden appearance in the Zhou dynasty (1045 – 221 BC).
Many Words Sound the Same
The language has several words that sound similar. This is another fact that makes it difficult for non-Chinese speakers to understand the differences between the sound and word combinations. When you add the tones to the mix, it raises the difficulty in differentiating them.
It’s a Pictographic Language
In the modern world, the only existing pictographic language is Chinese. In fact, the language was developed through the use of images. There are still many characters in the language that were developed from the ancient drawings that describe various items. For example, shan is the Chinese term for The character used for it – 山 represents the three peaks denoting a mountain ridge.
If you find it hard to decipher the handwriting of a doctor when you’re handed a prescription, that difficulty is doubled or even tripled when you try to read handwritten Chinese and a typed Chinese. This is because typed characters are neatly created whereas the variation in writing styles will definitely change how the same text will appear on paper.
It’s One of the World’s Oldest Languages
Maybe you already know by now that Chinese is one of the oldest languages in the world that is still being used. It’s been said that the Oracle Bones are among the earliest examples of Chinese script, which came from the Shang dynasty that existed in 1600-1046 BCE. While it is difficult to pin an exact date, it is said that Chinese has been in use for more than 3,000 years. In terms of age, English is about half of that.
Moreover, Chinese is a tonal language, with five tones that give a character different meanings. The most typical example is this: mā, má, mǎ, mà and ma. The first one is for mother, while the third one is for horse.
One Character Consists of Several Parts
Several component parts typically make up the Chinese characters. One example is the term biáng. It is considered the most complicated among the Chinese characters. The term has 11 component parts and has 62 tonal strokes. It is a mysterious character that does not have a meaning and is not used in Modern Standard Mandarin! The term is an onomatopoeia for the sound of noodles slapping against the table of a chef.
Written Chinese has several radicals or building blocks. It can be composed of up to 64 strokes that must be written in order.
Chinese Has Many Loan Words
Exposure to Western culture led to Chinese language to have many loan words. Some were borrowed from English, so when you’re walking in modern Chinese cities, you might find some signs that are somehow familiar.
Differences Between English and Chinese languages
Now that you have learned some facts about the fascinating Chinese language, take a look at its many difference from the English language. This will help you understand more about the language and prepare you for the hurdles you are going to face if you plan to learn Chinese. Of course, there are plus and minus points in English versus Chinese in terms grammatical rules.
1. No Articles and Verb Inflections in Chinese
In English, you have to use various articles. The verb changes depending on the person and the verb tense. In Chinese, these things are not used, which make it easier for the speakers to pick up the language. However, for Chinese people who want to learn English, this can be quite tricky. One thing to note is that the Chinese does not have ”th.”
2. No Actual Equivalent of the Word ”Yes”
The nearest term you can use for the English word, ”yes” in Chinese is shi. But there are several ways to denote agreement, which is more frequently used in Chinese instead of the basic yes. Depending on the question and the required reply, ”yes” or an agreement can be expressed in the following ways”
- Shì de – yes, that’s right
- Duì – correct or right
- Xing – okay
- Yǒu – have (literally)
- Kě yǐ – okay, fine, all right (literally can)
- Méi wèn tí – no problem
- Méi cuò – that’s right, sure
- Hǎo de – okay, fine, good
3. No Alphabet
You might be pleased to know that the Chinese language does not have an alphabet, so there is less to master. However, there are thousands of characters that stand alone, which is more difficult to learn than the 26 letters in the English alphabet. The good thing is that there is ”pinyin” that helps transcribe the Chinese characters into Roman characters. It makes it easier for learners to memorize them.
4. No Distinction Between Singular and Plural Forms
English words have plural forms. The Chinese language does not distinguish between singular and plural. It retains the same form, which is another plus.
5. Tones Make the Words Change their Meaning
As a tonal language, the pitch used when pronouncing a word is an indication of what the speaker means. It has five tonal pitches, which effectively and completely change the meaning. For example, in the phrase wǒ xiǎng wèn nǐ, when the third word is spoken using a falling pitch, it means, “I want to ask you…” but when ”wen” in wǒ xiǎng wěn nǐ is spoken in rising and falling pitch, it becomes, “I want to kiss you.”
6. Huge Number of Characters
The Chinese language has 50,000 unique characters. A student needs to memorize about 2,000 to 3,000 Chinese characters to be able to read a Chinese newspaper.
7. Focus Falls on the Meaning, Not the Structure
In Chinese, the meaning is the main focus instead of the structure, which is the concern of the English language, making the sentences complicated and long. But it does help people to understand what is being said. But in Chinese, most of the sentences are short. It there are long sentences, you’ll find that these are divided into several short phrases, which are comma separated.
These are the important differences between the English and Chinese languages. What is important is that these languages are internationally recognized and both are official languages used in the United Nations. Mandarin Chinese is very important to the global economic community, so find the right means to be properly understood by Chinese businesspeople.
Contact Us – We Will Help You Use the Right Form of Chinese for Proper Communication
Despite the difficulty in learning Chinese, when you want to communicate with your Chinese counterparts, you do not have to struggle with the language. Day Translations, Inc. is here to help facilitate communication. We are a professional Chinese translation and interpreting company that provides high-quality language services for clients all over the world. Our translators and interpreters live in-country assuring you that they know the language first hand. You can quickly get in touch with us at 1-800-969-6853 or send us an email at Contact us. With Day Translations, you do not have to wait as we remain open 24/7, 365 days of the year.
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