Cantonese is spelled identically to Mandarin

Mandarin or Chinese: which Chinese should I learn?

Which Chinese you learn is probably one of the most popular questions you ask before you start learning Chinese. The first question that arises is: What is the difference between Chinese and Mandarin? I have even been personally attacked at times for preferring the term "Chinese" to "Mandarin". Personally, I have very good reasons for using “Chinese” instead of “Mandarin”, but I'll get to that later.

First we want to answer the question: What is the difference between Chinese and Mandarin?

Chinese can get very complicated when you get into this subject. While some refer to the dialects in China as their own languages, others define them as “dialects”. The difference can be shown with a comparable question:
"Is Swiss German its own language?"

If the answer is yes, then there are many more similar questions to answer:

  • Is Bavarian its own language?
  • What about German in Berlin?

What is the difference between “dialect” and “own language”?

Because in China one thing applies: There are many dialects, or as some claim, many languages, but there is only one script: Chinese characters: Hanzi (汉字 / 漢字).

That means, similar to German: There is the language "German" and many dialects, or if you like, languages. They are spoken differently, they are all written in German. It is the same in Chinese.

There are many dialects / languages ​​that are pronounced very differently and there is one writing system: Chinese.

The difference between Chinese and Mandarin is therefore not that important at first. Because whether Mandarin or Cantonese, they are just one of the thousands of pronunciations that exist in China, and they are all Chinese. The only difference is that just as there is “Standard German” in German, there is also “Standard Chinese” in Chinese, and that is Mandarin, or more precisely “putong hua” (common words / the commonly spoken word). Standard Chinese is the official language in China, but also in Taiwan.

Cantonese is just one of many dialects that exist in China. The only difference is: Due to the history of the colony in Hong Kong, no Mandarin "putong hua" is spoken as the official language, but "guangdong hua" (Guangdong is the province that Hong Kong originally belonged to, in Cantonese "guangdong" means "canton") ). Hong Kong has gained an economically important position in the world, therefore the language is also much better known than e.g. Hunan hua, (Hunan words, Hunan is also a province, as well as Guangdong). What you have to say is that Cantonese is not the same as Cantonese, that from Hong Kong can be very different from that from Shenzhen, although the two cities are right next to each other.

Throughout China with Mandarin

This makes it clear what the difference between Chinese and Mandarin is: Mandarin is probably the correct name. Even if one might emphasize the importance of Cantonese, this is only one of the dialects that have become less and less important. Because Putong Hua has established itself in China in the last few decades in such a way that all schools, public institutions and the media have to communicate exclusively via Putong Hua.

In addition, and this is the difference to German, there is a language test for Chinese themselves to test their performance in standard Chinese. This means that if you want to be a teacher, for example, you have to speak absolutely perfect standard Chinese (Putong Hua), because he / she has to pass this test. This means that you can travel all over China with Putong Hua, this one language. As long as you meet someone who has attended elementary school, you can talk in Putong Hua.

Finally, after we have spoken of “putong” so often, I have to teach you a word, because it would be a shame if you didn't learn that right away:

Coffee in Chinese is the same as in German, which means "kafei" (pronounced exactly as coffee). And since you have now learned the word "putong" (common / normal), the next time you can order this in a Chinese restaurant:

putong kafei (normal coffee)

And then enjoy the waiter's surprised face!

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Mandarin or Chinese: which Chinese should I learn? was last modified: May 2nd, 2019 by