Chinese vs Mandarin – are they really the same?
This tends to cause a lot of confusion with beginner students so here’s the deal…
Mandarin is a dialect of Chinese. Chinese is a language (Mandarin is one of the dialects of Chinese alongside Shanghainese, Cantonese and many more).
Look at it like this…
With English in England you have a number of dialects – Cockney, Scouse, Geordie etc.
With English in America you have a number of dialects – Texan, Bostonian, Floridian etc.
With Chinese in China you have a number of dialects – Mandarin, Shanghainese, Cantonese etc.
It’s that simple!
But of course there’s more to discover! Lots more.
Firstly check out what people think of the language spoken in Shanghai, as Nathan takes us on a tour of the great city.
Do All Chinese Speak Mandarin?
Most Chinese speak standard Mandarin but not all. Mandarin is the most widely spoken dialect of Chinese, which is the worlds most spoken language, English coming 2nd, Spanish 3rd.
FOR EXAMPLE – you could visit Beihai, in the south of China and be exposed to a mixture of the local dialect, and also standard Mandarin from the northerners who have moved down south for a warmer life to the arctic north!
It’s not until you reach super rural villages far away from any top tier cities that Mandarin would become hard to come by.
Can Cantonese Speakers Understand Mandarin?
Cantonese speakers can generally understand Mandarin but it’s worth noting if you listen to each dialect, you will realize they sound nothing alike.
Whereas on paper, a Mandarin or Cantonese speaker could both read and understand the same text, when read out aloud, they sound completely different.
Do Hong Kongers Speak Mandarin?
Many Hong Kongers can speak Mandarin yes but Cantonese is the language of choice in Hong Kong, followed by English.
In fact, Mandarin is rarely heard at all in Hong Kong, that said, most Hong Kongers can indeed speak and understand Mandarin with no problems at all.
English 2nd and Spanish 3rd!Who Uses Traditional Chinese?
Traditional Chinese is used in Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan.
Mainland China uses Simplified Chinese, as does Singapore, where Mandarin is one of four official languages spoken.
See below the main difference between the two is the number of strokes.
Simplified, funnily enough, appears much more simple to read and write, whereas Traditional comes across much more complex at first glance.
Every when the characters match, they are spoken completely differently.
Don’t be put off if you’ve made great strides with your Mandarin and you go out in Hong Kong or Shanghai for example, and you understand little, this will just be the local dialect.
Find some Mandarin speakers and you’ll be right on track!
DID YOU KNOW – Mandarin in Chinese is spoken as 普通话 (pǔ tōng huà) which literally translates to common tongue.
As we’ve touched upon already, Chinese is the umbrella term for a huge number of dialects, all of which we won’t delve into right now!
However, just to give you an idea of how Mandarin dwarfs the other dialects see here…
Gathering exact data for these dialects is nigh-on impossible, but this gives you a fair idea of how Mandarin compares to the Wu dialect (of which Shanghainese is included) and the Yue dialect (of which Cantonese is included), alongside all other minor dialects.
The Wu dialect is mainly used is Jiangsu and Anhui provinces while the Yue dialect covers Guangdong, Guangxi, Hong Kong and Macau. We’ll touch on more of these shortly.
Chinese vs Mandarin – Quick Facts. Here are some bite-sized facts that we think you’ll also find useful.
Chinese vs Mandarin – Other DialectsAs we’ve already mentioned, Chinese is made up of well over 200 dialects so rather than take you through every single one, here are the most well known and where they are commonly spoken
Mandarin is spoken Nationwide but primarily in the north and south west. it belongs to Beijing Dialect
Wu is spoken in Jiangsu and Anhui Provinces. It is Shanghainese Dialect
Gan is spoken in Jiangxi Province. It is Nanchang Dialect
Xiang is spoken in Hunan and Hubei Provinces. It is Changsha Dialect
Min is spoken in Fujian and parts of Guangdong. It is Hokkien
Hakka is spoken in Southern China and Taiwan.It is Meixian Dialect
Yue is spoken in Hong Kong, Macau Guangxi and Guangdong. It is Cantonese
Does Chinese have an Alphabet?
In short, the answer is no. As we quote in our big guide on the “Chinese Alphabet”…
In English we have 26 letters in the alphabet, in Russian we have 33 in the Cyrillic alphabet, but…There is no such thing as the Chinese Alphabet.
Chinese is all about characters and we don’t put them together like we do with letters in our alphabets to make a word because these characters actually make up words themselves.
Each character is one syllable. One character on its own can be a word, but many words are made up of two, three or even more characters put together.
If you want to find out more about this topic we recommend you visit the link above, we go into great detail about this OR alternatively, grab a cuppa and watch us talk about it instead…
Remember – Chinese is a language that is formed of many, many dialects, Mandarin is just one of those.So there you have it, your complete guide to Chinese vs Mandarin – hopefully you now know the key differences.