If you have been thinking about learning Chinese, the first thing you may have asked yourself is, what is the difference between Mandarin Chinese and Simplified Chinese, and which one should I learn? Below, we tell you everything you need to know about both variants, and which is your best option as a student of this exciting language.

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Chinese: language or macro-language?

For all intents and purposes, “Chinese” is the name given to the language spoken in China. However, it is actually a macro-language, a group of related but mutually unintelligible languages within the Sino-Tibetan language family.

When we speak specifically of Mandarin Chinese or Standard Chinese, we are referring to the official language of mainland China (People’s Republic of China or PRC), which is also used in Taiwan (Republic of China), Hong Kong, Macau, and Singapore. Mandarin Chinese has more than 1.1 billion speakers worldwide.

On the other hand, as a macro-language, Chinese comprises about a dozen languages and hundreds of regional dialects, which are grouped as follows:

  • Mandarin (北方話 / 北方話 / 北方话), with 836 million native speakers.
  • Wú (吳語 / 吴语), 77 million.
  • The mǐn dialects (閩語 / 闽语), 70 million.
  • Cantonese or yuè (粵語 / 粤语), 55 million.
  • The jin (晉語 / 晋语), 45 million.
  • The Xiang language (湘語 / 湘语), 36 million.
  • The hakka or kèjiā (客家語 / 客家语), 34 million.
  • The gàn (贛語 / 赣语), 31 million.
  • The huī (徽語 / 徽语), 3.2 million.
  • The pínghuà (平話 / 平话), 3.5 million.

The Chinese writing system

Have you ever wondered why Chinese characters are so complex? Unlike most languages-especially Western languages-the writing system of Chinese languages is based on ideograms. The hànzì (汉字/漢字: Chinese ideograms) or sinograms do not represent letters or sounds, but ideas; concepts to be interpreted according to context.

Each ideogram is formed by the union of various radicals or pieces that are equivalent to our syllables. In turn, these radicals are composed of strokes that combine to generate meaning. Most sinograms are formed from a few basic strokes.

Traditional Chinese

Chinese writing as an organized and standardized system dates back to about 2,000 years before the Christian era. However, 8,500-year-old symbols used to record and transmit information have been found, on which Chinese writing is based. The truth is that there are several versions of its creation, so its origin cannot be confirmed.

Simplified Chinese

Given the high complexity of the ancient Chinese script, the literacy level of the Chinese people was extremely low until the second half of the 20th century. It was then that Mao Zedong, as chairman of the PRC, initiated a literacy campaign by developing simplified characters and reducing the number of characters. Traditional characters are still used for religious, artistic, and cultural purposes.

Traditional Chinese versus Simplified Chinese

Want to know more about both forms of writing? An expert teacher can teach you all the secrets of this mysterious language in a simple and entertaining way. Here are the main differences. Linda Mandarin provides chinese lessons in Singapore, visit their page for further info.