Mandarin Chinese is the most common dialect of Chinese and is the basis of 普通话 (Pǔtōnghuà, literally "Common Language" or Modern Standard Mandarin). MSM is the standard language of the People's Republic of China and has been mandatory in education in that country for several decades. It is the world's largest language, with 885 million native speakers.

Phonology Edit

Chinese is a tonal language and has five tones. The tones are often referred to by number.

First tone is a high tone. Second tone is rising. Third tone is a low tone in connected speech, and a dipping-rising tone in isolation or in careful speech. Fourth tone falls from high to low. The fifth or neutral tone appears only in the second tone of certain multi-syllable words, and is unmarked.

The tones are indicated by tone marks in pinyin (i.e. mā, má, mǎ, mà).

Grammar Edit

Mandarin is a widely given example of an unmarked language, having no case, gender, or plurals.

It does not conjugate verbs.

All this results in a very important word order (which is often very similar to the word order of English) and getting a feel for the correct word order is essential.

Orthography Edit

Chinese characters are logographs composed of radicals, or smaller units of certain strokes that can give a hint to the meaning or pronunciation of a character.

There are tens of thousands of characters. Some Chinese dictionaries have more than 100,000 individual characters listed, but the vast majority of these are variant forms or characters only used in names. The Chinese government keeps an official list of 8105 characters considered "standard." However, advanced literacy in Chinese can be attained with knowledge of fewer than 5000 characters. The HSK 6 exam materials test from a pool of 2,663 characters.

Taiwan and Hong Kong use traditional characters while Mainland China went through a reform in the 20th century resulting in the official use of simplified characters. Simplified characters are also used in Singapore and Malaysia.

The Chinese languages have many different writing standards that do not use the characters. By far the most common is Hanyu Pinyin. Another system, called Bopomofo, is widely used in Taiwan. Most people who can read Bopomofo can read Pinyin, though few people who originally learned Pinyin can read Bopomofo.

Common difficulties Edit

The Foreign Service Institute has classified Mandarin Chinese as a "Super-Hard" language. It is estimated that learning Mandarin Chinese to a Professional Working Proficiency in the language (a score of Speaking-3/Reading-3 on the Interagency Language Roundtable scale) will take an average of 88 weeks (2200 class hours).[1]

The most daunting task for any student of Chinese, regardless of dialect, is mastering the writing system. The tonal nature of spoken Mandarin Chinese also presents difficulty for many students with no prior experience speaking a tonal language.

Another difficulty is the difference between spoken Mandarin and written Mandarin itself. Although spoken Mandarin is much closer to the written standard than any other variety, there are still many constructions commonly used in writing that are rarely found in speech.

Resources Edit

Courses in Mandarin Chinese are offered by:

See also: How to study Chinese signs?

References Edit

  1. U.S. Department of State; FSI's Experience with Language Learning;
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