8 Cool Facts for Chinese Language Day

Did you know that UN Chinese Language Day falls on April 20? This holiday commemorates an incredibly popular, ancient, and interesting family of languages. Here are some of our favorite facts about what makes the Chinese language so unique. You might even get inspired to learn Chinese!

Mandarin Chinese is one of the world’s oldest languages

Over the course of about 3,000 years, Mandarin Chinese has evolved into the language we know today. As for its written form, the oldest evidence that we have goes all the way back to 1250 BCE. These were found on ‘oracle bones’ and tortoise shells which were used as part of divination rituals. Oracle bone script is considered the earliest form of the Chinese tradition of calligraphy.

Chinese isn’t just one language

When people talk about ‘speaking Chinese,’ they’re usually referring to Mandarin, but that isn’t the only Chinese language. True, Mandarin is the most spoken language in China and has been designated its national language, but there are several other language families and dialects in the country. While Mandarin is dominant in Southwestern, Northern, and Eastern China, Cantonese is popular in the Guangdong and Guangxi provinces as well as Hong Kong. You also might hear the Wu and Gan dialects if you’re spending time in Southern China.

While these are all different spoken languages, they actually share a writing system, known as hànzì. That said, Mandarin speakers are more likely to use simplified Chinese characters in writing, while Cantonese speakers typically prefer traditional Chinese.


Chinese languages are the most spoken in the world

Incredible but true: around 20% of the world’s population speaks some form of Chinese language. Mandarin alone is spoken by over a billion people. Yes, that’s a billion, with a B! According to some sources, English also has around a billion speakers around the world, though not necessarily all native speakers. That means that if you speak English as your first language and learn to speak Mandarin (or vice versa), you could make up to two billion friends!

There are well over 50,000 different Chinese characters

In fact, some think there could be as many as 100,000. Chinese characters are symbols used to represent words and ideas. Instead of memorizing an alphabet, Chinese speakers must select the appropriate characters. Does that mean everyone has over 50,000 characters memorized and ready to go in their heads? No. In fact, the Chinese government compiled a list of the most important characters needed to communicate and it came down to 3,500. And 2,500 characters make up about 97% of daily communication.


Mandarin is one of the top languages used for business

Only English rivals Mandarin’s importance in conducting international business. Since, as we covered before, Mandarin Chinese is spoken by huge numbers of people around the world, being able to communicate with so many potential partners or customers could be very valuable. China is currently the USA’s top trading partner, which puts Mandarin speakers in even higher demand. Because of this, bilingual employees who speak both English and Chinese often out-earn workers who only speak one of the two languages and stand out from the rest of the hiring pool. Would you learn Mandarin to improve your career prospects?

Chinese languages use gender differently from many other languages

One of the hardest parts of learning a new language can be wrapping your head around the concept of ‘gender.’ Is a tree masculine, feminine, or neutral? After all, English doesn’t assign gender to trees at all. But unlike German, Spanish, French, and so many other popularly spoken languages, neither does Chinese. That means that English speakers may find it easier to learn some aspects of Chinese grammar.

Chinese languages take their lack of gendered words further than English, though. In the written form of Chinese, there are no gendered pronouns, either. Instead of using words like “he” and “she,” you just need to learn one word: “.”


Chinese languages are tonal

What’s a tonal language? It means that meaning isn’t conveyed by pronunciation alone but also through pitch! Changing the pitch of your voice could totally change the meaning of your words. Mandarin Chinese has 4 different tones (or 5, if you count a neutral tone). So how do you indicate tone in writing? Well, the different words are represented by different characters. Or if you’re spelling the words out in our alphabet, you can use a tone mark above the words to show which tone you mean. Here’s an example of how one word can have radically different meanings with different tones:

  1. Flat tone. Example: mā (mother)
  2. Rising tone. Example: má (fibers)
  3. Falling and rising tone. Example: mǎ (horse)
  4. Falling tone. Example: mà (scold)

You certainly wouldn’t want to mix up someone’s mother with a horse, now would you?

Learning Chinese can help you grow in other ways, too

Learning any language can have a positive effect on your brain, and there are unique benefits to learning Chinese, too. Getting familiar with a tonal language can improve your ear and make you better at music. Replicating Chinese characters? That can improve your fine motor control and even help you become a better artist. Some experts even think that acquiring Chinese may help people have an easier time understanding mathematical concepts.

Have you ever wanted to try learning Chinese? We offer online classes in Mandarin Chinese for both adults and kids. Whether you prefer individual or group classes, are a total beginner, or have some experience, there’s something for everybody!