This blog post was updated on May 5, 2020.
April 20th marks Chinese Language Day, an idea cemented by the United Nations to honor Chinese literature, poetry and language. The day itself was chosen for the mythical figure Cangjie who is said to have invented Chinese characters several thousand years ago. In honor of Chinese Language Day, you might consider plotting a trip to a Chinese speaking country or maybe just picking up a few words and phrases. To get you started, here are a few fun facts about reportedly the oldest written language in the world.
Almost everybody is speaking it: If you are thinking about learning Chinese, you aren’t alone. Roughly one in five of the world’s population knows how to speak some form of Chinese, making it the most widely spoken language in the world. Mandarin Chinese is the most spoken form with roughly 900 million people knowing their way around the language. Chinese represents the official language of not just China but also Taiwan and it is one of Singapore’s official languages.
There is a whole cast of characters: For those trying to master Chinese, you will also have to get to know a few characters and by few, we are talking tens of thousands. There are over 80,000 Chinese characters with most dictionaries detailing around 40,000 characters. If you are just trying to learn basic reading and writing with Chinese characters, you will need to master anywhere from 1,000 to 3,500 characters. Should you want to read a Chinese newspaper, you will need to know roughly 2,000 characters. Chinese characters boast a history dating back more than 2,000 years.
Forget about conjugated verbs: Chinese can be seen as easier than English when you talk about Chinese grammar. Many find Chinese grammar relatively cut and dry, as there are no conjugated verb forms. Verbs do not change with different subjects. In addition, those learning Chinese don’t have to worry about the past, present and future with verbs. It’s all the same, making it easier to just learn the verbs rather than tenses.
Plural or singular? Male or female? It doesn’t matter: Along the same lines as conjugated verbs, the Chinese language does not involve any plural forms. If you want to say the plural of something, you merely use the singular and vice versa. In addition to plural forms failing to exist, there is also no gender when it comes to speaking in Chinese as there is with many other languages.
Watch your tone: While learning Chinese verbs might be a breeze, speaking Chinese is easier said than done. (So long as you’re not saying it in Chinese!) Pronunciation can be a challenge due to the fact that Chinese is a tonal language. Each and every syllable receives a different tone when you pronounce it. If you pronounce a syllable with the wrong tone, you could end up uttering something completely different than you intended. With pitch and intonation largely affecting the meanings of Chinese words, getting the tones down can be the hardest part about learning Chinese.