If I told you that more than one sixth of the world's population lives in China then I would imagine it will come as no surprise to learn that Chinese is the world's number one language with more than 1.3 billion total speakers. China is a very quickly growing economy and we are now seeing more and more trade with China. It's immense people power allows it to produce a huge volume of goods at incredibly cheap prices, leading to what you could classify as a complete revolution in global manufacture. With such a situation, Chinese language skills are incredibly well valued by international organizations.

So just what is Chinese?

Chinese is the name we all know but this is more of a language category. Chinese itself is not really a language but rather a group of languages of which the most spoken is Mandarin, followed by Wu and Cantonese. Unlike romance languages, these are generally quite dissimilar and you would struggle to understand one by speaking another. There are seven to thirteen types of Chinese of which Mandarin, with around 850 million speakers is the official language of the People's Republic of China.

In an entirely unique way, written Chinese is different to spoken Chinese and not just in a colloquial sense. The two separate facets have evolved at different paces through its history which has left them moving in different directions.

Chinese letters are written in such a way that the writer has to imagine that they are writing one letter in each square. The letters are read from top to bottom and then right to left across the page. This couldn't be much more different to English. In a more modern context, Chinese has a new colloquial set of characters which is mainly used in exceptionally informal situations such as internet chat.

Although they descend from hieroglyphs, Chinese characters represent phonetic symbols rather than pictures, contrary to popular opinion. The Chinese standard script is now much simplified and easier to use although the only country to officially choose this script is Singapore.

Just like we have many cognates in common with romance languages, Chinese has influenced Japanese and Korean which have similar looking words. Chinese has also lent some of its characters to these two languages. Ever since the 16th century, Chinese has been transcribed into the Latin alphabet so that it can be understood and studied by those speaking a language using Latin characters. This has never been an easy task and those thinking of learning Chinese need to really understand the ins and outs of the very finest points of language including all the technical terms and definitions.

That's a bit about the mysterious and largely unknown Language of Chinese. It is an exceptionally difficult and unique language and it takes on average 2200 hours for somebody to gain minimum proficiency. This, compared to 220 hours for a romance languages, demonstrates why it is such a challenge. It is, however, well worth the effort if you have the determination and motivation.

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