Chinese language facts for kids

Kids Encyclopedia Facts
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汉语/漢語, 华语/華語 or 中文
Hànyǔ, Huáyǔ, or Zhōngwén
Hanyu trad simp.svg
Hànyǔ (Chinese) written in Hanzi
Native to People's Republic of China (PRC, commonly known as China), Republic of China (ROC, commonly known as Taiwan), Singapore, Malaysia, Brunei, the United States, Canada, the Philippines, Australia, Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia, Mauritius, Peru, and other places with Chinese communities
Native speakers (1.2 billion cited 1984–2000)
Language family
  • Sinitic
    • Chinese
Standard forms
Wu (including Shanghainese)
Yue (including Cantonese-Taishanese)
Northern Min
Eastern Min (including Fuchow)
Central Min
Pu Xian
Southern Min (including Amoy, Taiwanese)
Teochew (including Swatow, Chaozhou, Jieyang, parts of Shanwei/Meizhou)
Writing system Chinese characters, zhuyin fuhao, pinyin, Xiao'erjing
Official status
Official language in

Flag of the United Nations.svg
 People's Republic of China

 Republic of China (Taiwan)
 Singapore (one of four official languages)
Flag of Wa.svg Wa State (alongside the Wa language)

Recognised minority language in  United States (minority and auxiliary)
 Malaysia (minority and auxiliary)
 Philippines (minority and auxiliary)
Regulated by In the PRC: National Commission on Language and Script Work
In the ROC: National Languages Committee
In Singapore: Promote Mandarin Council/Speak Mandarin Campaign
Linguasphere 79-AAA
New-Map-Sinophone World.PNG
Map of the Sinophone world.

Information:      Countries identified Chinese as a primary, administrative, or native language      Countries with more than 5,000,000 Chinese speakers      Countries with more than 1,000,000 Chinese speakers      Countries with more than 500,000 Chinese speakers      Countries with more than 100,000 Chinese speakers

     Major Chinese speaking settlements
This article contains Chinese text. Without the correct software, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Chinese characters.
Chinese languages (Spoken)
Traditional Chinese 漢語
Simplified Chinese 汉语
Literal meaning Han language
Chinese language (Written)
Chinese 中文
Literal meaning Chinese text

The Chinese language is the group of languages used by Chinese in China and elsewhere. It forms part of a language family called the Sino-Tibetan family of languages.

Chinese includes many regional language varieties, the main ones being Mandarin, Wu, Yue, and Min. These are not mutually intelligible, and many of the regional varieties (especially Min) are themselves a number of non-mutually-intelligible subvarieties. Jerry Norman estimated that there are hundreds of mutually unintelligible varieties of Chinese. As a result, many linguists refer to these varieties as separate languages.

'Chinese' can refer to the written or the spoken languages. Although there are many spoken Chinese languages, they use only one writing system for the language. Differences in speaking are reflected in differences in writing. Official China adopts a similar policy to the one in the Soviet Union. All official documents are written in Mandarin, and Mandarin is taught all over China. They have one standard language for all of the schools in China and Taiwan. It is also a standard for language teaching in some other countries. In English we call it Mandarin. In China they call it "Pǔtōnghuà" or "common to everybody speech." In Taiwan they call it "Guóyǔ" or "language of the whole country". They need a standard language because otherwise many people would not understand each other, despite being in the same country .

Chinese is used by the Han people in China and other ethnic groups who have come into China and are declared Chinese by the Chinese government. Chinese is almost always written in Chinese characters. They are symbols that have meaning, called logograms. They also give some indication of pronunciation. But just as "Xavier" sounds very different in English (ex-aye-vee-er), French (za-vee-aye), and Spanish (hah-veer), the same character can get very different pronunciations among the different kinds of Chinese. Since Chinese characters have been around for at least 3500 years, it is no wonder that people in places far from each other would say them differently, just as "1, 2, 3" can be read differently in different languages.

Chinese people needed to write down pronunciations in dictionaries. Chinese does not have an alphabet, so how to write down sounds was a big problem in the beginning. Nowadays the Mandarin language uses Hanyu pinyin to represent the sounds in Roman letters.

All the Chinese languages (or dialects) use tones. This means that they use high and low pitches to help make differences in meaning clear.

Different languages or dialects of Chinese

The Chinese language is like a big tree. The base of the tree started thousands of years ago. It now has several main limbs. Some people call "just a branch" what other people call a main limb, so you can say there are six or seven main limbs. Each of these main limbs splits off into branches about the way there are branches of English spoken in Great Britain, the United States, Australia, India, and so forth. Line the Chinese limbs up by number of speakers and we get: Mandarin, the language spoken in an area centering on Shanghai, the language spoken in Guangdong province (Cantonese), the language spoken mostly in Fujian province (but also by many speakers in Taiwan), the language spoken mostly in Hunan province, a language that is historically that of a refugee group and so not so closely concentrated in any one area in south-east China (it is called "Hakka" or "guest family" speech), and a language spoken in an area that centers on Jiangxi province. Just as the Romance languages all come from the area around Rome and are based on Latin, the Chinese languages all have some common source, so they keep many common things among them.

Origin of Chinese Languages rev
Branches in modern times are only shown for "Guan" (Language of the officials. Mandarin).

Here are the main seven main groups of languages/dialects of Chinese by size:

  • Guan ("Northern" or Mandarin) 北方話/北方话 or 官話/官话, (about 850 million speakers),
  • Wu 吳/吴, which includes Shanghainese, (about 90 million speakers),
  • Yue (Cantonese) 粵/粤, (about 80 million speakers),
  • Min (Hokkien, which includes Taiwanese) 閩/闽, (about 50 million speakers),
  • Xiang 湘, (about 35 million speakers),
  • Hakka 客家 or 客, (about 35 million speakers),
  • Gan 贛/赣, (about 20 million speakers)

Traditional and simplified characters

In 1956, the government of the People's Republic of China made public a set of simplified Chinese characters to make learning, reading and writing the Chinese language easier. In Mainland China and Singapore, people use these simpler characters. In Hong Kong, Taiwan, and other places where they speak Chinese, people still use the more traditional characters. The Korean language also uses Chinese characters to represent certain words. The Japanese language uses them even more often. These characters are known in Korean as Hanja and in Japanese as Kanji.

A Chinese person with a good education today knows 6,000-7,000 characters. About 3,000 Chinese characters are needed to read a Mainland newspaper. However, people who have learned only the 400 most frequently used characters can read a newspaper—but they will have to guess some less-used words.


Here are some samples of some words and sentences in Mandarin Chinese. Simplified Characters are on the left, and Traditional characters are on the right. The pronunciation is given in the pinyin system, which may not always be as simple as it looks for those who have not studied it.

The Traditional Characters are now used in Hong Kong and Taiwan. Chinese from Mainland China uses the Simplified Characters, but may recognize Traditional Characters.

Before 1956, Chinese was written using only Traditional Characters. At that time most Chinese people could not read or write at all. The government of the People's Republic of China thought that the Traditional characters were very hard to understand. They also thought that if they made the characters simpler more people could learn how to read and write. Today, many people in China can read and write with the new Simplified Characters.

Word Pinyin Simplified Traditional
How are you? Nǐ hǎo ma? 你好吗? 你好嗎?
What is your name? Nǐ jiào shénme míngzi? 你叫什么名字? 你叫什麽名字?
America Měiguó 美国 美國
France Fǎguó 法国 法國
Britain Yīngguó 英国 英國
Germany Déguó 德国 德國
Russia Éguó 俄国 俄國
Thailand Tàiguó 泰国 泰國
Poland Bōlán 波兰 波蘭
Japan Rìbĕn 日本 日本
Pakistan Bājīsītǎn 巴基斯坦 巴基斯坦

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Chinese language Facts for Kids. Kiddle Encyclopedia.