Chinese, Chinese characters, Chinese books

9 interesting facts about the Chinese language

With Mandarin Chinese being the most widely spoken language in the world, this week eSense Translations shares 9 interesting facts that may intrigue you about this language that is shared by so many people.


  • Mandarin Chinese takes the top spot as the world’s most spoken language mainly due to the huge number of native speakers (955 million in 2010). However, outside of China, there are still 194 million non-native speakers.


  • Many people refer to Chinese as a language in itself. In fact it is the encompassing term for several languages including Mandarin, Putonghua, Minnan, and Cantonese.


  • You are probably aware that the Chinese written language does not contain traditional letters, but instead uses characters, but did you know that there are two types of Chinese characters: traditional and simplified? The simplified characters are used by most people in mainland China, whereas the traditional Chinese characters are used in Taiwan, Hong Kong and some overseas Chinese communities.


  • Learning to understand one of the types of Chinese characters will enable you to work out the use of the other version. Most changes follow certain patterns and once you understand these patterns, you will be able to work out characters from either version.


  • Chinese script can actually be more logical to learn than the European alphabet. Components, also known as radicals, are put together to form the Chinese characters, which in turn are put together to form words. Each of these parts has a meaning and therefore can make it easier to build together the meaning of the script. This is unlike the European alphabet, where each letter does not have a meaning, rather just a sound.


  • There are actually more than 50,000 Chinese characters, which at first makes learning the written language pretty scary! But don’t worry. Firstly many of these are not in common use and furthermore each of these characters is made up of a combination of only 214 components, so it is not as hard as it may first appear!


  • Mandarin Chinese is made of up four different tones and one neutral tone. The same syllable can be pronounced in any one of these different ways, each of which would affect its meaning.


  • Chinese grammar is much more straightforward than European languages. There are no tenses, plurals or genders. According to Chinese grammar rules, a word is a word and does not change depending on where it is placed in a sentence.


  • In Chinese sentences, the topic of the sentence appears first, in contrast to English where the subject of the sentence normally comes first. For example: I don’t like salad (English),  Salad, I don’t like (Chinese sentence structure).


I hope you have found these facts interesting. If you would like to share further facts about the Chinese language, we’d love to read your comments below.


By Lorna Paice


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