There are many Chinese people who now live in the U.S., Canada, and many other countries, and China is becoming a powerful economic force in the world today. For this reason, learning Chinese is becoming increasingly important and a popular foreign language to study in high schools and universities.
If you’re thinking of studying Chinese, you may be contemplating whether it would be better to learn Mandarin or Cantonese.
With about 1.2 billion speakers, Chinese is more widely spoken than any other language in the world. However, to think of Chinese as a language is a bit of a misconception, as there are multiple dialects. Some are so different from one another as to be unintelligible to speakers of other dialects. In fact, there has been some debate among linguists as to whether some of these dialects should be considered separate languages.
Language Diversity in China
Mandarin dialects are widely spoken on mainland China and in Singapore and Taiwan. Mandarin is the official language of the People’s Republic of China and is the language most used in government, education, and media.
However, there are variations of Mandarin. People in Beijing, Chengdu, and Nanjing all speak different dialects of Mandarin. They would all be able to carry on a conversation with one another, but there would be significant differences in pronunciation, grammar, and syntax. Similar to how British and American English speakers can understand one another, despite differences in their languages.
There are other Chinese dialects, such as Cantonese (spoken in Guangdong and Hong Kong) and Wuyu (spoken in Shanghai and Suzhou), that are so different from Mandarin, that speakers of the dialects are unable to understand or converse with each other. These would be more like an American and a German trying to converse.
Mandarin or Cantonese?
In many high schools and colleges, limited budgets or staff may mean students have little choice. In these cases, Mandarin is frequently the dialect taught.
When you do have a choice, the decision is usually based on your goals from learning the language. If you want to communicate with Chinese government, media, or educational institutions, you will want to learn Mandarin. If, however, you’re more interested in working in Guangdong or with the villages near Hong Kong, you will want to go with Cantonese.
Written Chinese uses the same characters, regardless of dialect, and the grammar is very similar. Mandarin uses fewer intonations, making it somewhat easier to learn than Cantonese for some students. Because of this, some students will study Mandarin for a couple of years to get a good foundation on the language before studying other dialects.
No matter what Chinese dialect you decide to study, with more and more Chinese migrating to the U.S. and other countries, and the growing influence of China around the world, learning Chinese is becoming more important than ever before. You will not regret your efforts.
Feel free to visit www.learnmandarinnow.com for more Mandarin learning tips.