Chinese is spoken by about one-fifth of the world population. It is used in Mainland China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia, Macau, the Philippines, the United States of America, Australia, and other regions with large Chinese communities. While there is a high level of internal diversity in spoken Chinese, Mandarin (Putonghua/Guoyu/Huayu/Hanyu) is very standardised and will be understood by about 1.3 billion people worldwide. It is used as a lingua franca among Chinese people in social settings, in the media, as well for instruction in schools.
All spoken varieties of Chinese use one common writing system referred to as Zhongwen, which ensures a shared cultural and linguistic heritage across the various forms of Chinese language. Chinese characters (Hanzi) are written within imaginary rectangular blocks, traditionally arranged in vertical columns, read from top to bottom down a column, and right to left across columns.
Why Study Chinese?
- First of all, Chinese is spoken by more people than any other language in the world. In fact, studying Chinese will allow you to converse with more than one-fifth of our planet's population.
- China plays an increasingly major role in world affairs, not least due to its burgeoning economy. Accordingly job opportunities in various fields, such as business, government, international relations, IT, tourism, education, among many others, emerge rapidly. Organisations are looking for people who can speak Chinese and operate successfully in a Chinese cultural context.
- The study of the Chinese language opens the way to different important fields such as Chinese politics, economy, history, or archaeology. But to study Chinese ultimately means to study a culture, a people. At the heart of Chinese culture is its rich heritage of traditions accumulated over thousands of years, from Confucianism to Chan Buddhism, martial arts to cuisine.
- Chinese culture also had and still has an enormous influence on East and Southeast Asian nations. Chinese culture has also greatly inspired the Western world through the writings of Marco Polo, G. W. Leibniz, Max Weber, Franz Kafka, Andre Malraux, Bertolt Brecht, Ezra Pound, and Luis Borges, among others.
- Chinese is not as difficult of a language as people tend to think. Especially reaching the key goal of learning any new language - i.e. being able to converse with a wide range of people - can be achieved with a reasonable amount of effort.
- The grammatical structure of Chinese is not only logical, but also pragmatic and manageable. For example, different to Hindustani, German, or English, Chinese has no verb conjugation (i.e., tense inflection) and no noun declension (e.g., gender and number distinctions).
- While writing Chinese proves to be the major hurdle for most students, its unique ideographic writing system at the same time provides visual comprehensibility.
- Languages within the Chinese sphere of cultural influence also have a very large number of loanwords from Chinese. Fifty percent or more of Korean vocabulary is of Chinese origin and the influence on Japanese and Vietnamese has been very extensive, too. Chinese has also lent a great deal of many grammatical features to these and other neighbouring languages. Moreover, Chinese, Korean, Japanese, and Vietnamese share a corpus of terms describing modern terminology, in parallel to a similar corpus of terms built from Greco-Latin terms shared among European languages.
- Chinese language is also increasingly used outside of the Sinosphere. For example, it allows one to communicate with the growing Chinese diaspora all over the world.
- Learning Chinese is an extraordinary experience through which you can immerse yourself in one of the world's oldest and at the same time most forward looking cultures. Whatever your particular objectives, studying Chinese will be an immensely rewarding experience for you.
Each year more and more students around the world succeed in learning Chinese. If they all can learn it, so can you!