To secure the best business advantage, learning Chinese is the secret to your success. But, which Chinese language should you learn? It depends on where you are going in the Chinese speaking world, and your desired business opportunities. By planning your language learning with this article, you can look for a teacher skilled in the dialect and accent for the region to which you are heading.
“Mainland China” refers to the expansive geographic region of China that is under the direct political administration of the Peoples’ Republic of China (PRC). It includes top Chinese cities like Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou, but China also holds Special Administrative Regions in addition to “Mainland China”.
China has three Special Administrative Regions (SARs).
As well as Mainland China, China has two Special Administrative Regions (SARs) and the Taiwan region. Each has a different mix of Chinese language and dialects and are all slightly different from Mainland China. Before starting to learn Chinese, choose the best Chinese language for your destination!
Hong Kong SAR
In Hong Kong, the official languages are Cantonese, English, and Mandarin. There are three official languages there, and if you go to Hong Kong, you can see that most people know these three languages. However, do you know the proportion of these languages in people’s daily life?
In the business world, Cantonese and English are the main languages used. Sometimes meetings can also be conducted fully in English. Mandarin is rarely used in Hong Kong unless you are meeting with Mainland Chinese business partner or consumers. Cantonese is also more widely used in citizens’ daily life.
Cantonese has different scripts from Mandarin. The “Wen Zi” – [文字] (script) in Hong Kong uses the traditional Han character while in Mainland China, the script has been simplified to a new version. For example, “Han Zi” (Han character) is traditionally written as [漢字], while in mainland China today it has been simplified to [汉字].
Another more obvious comparison is the word “meeting”: [會議] in traditional script and [会议] in simplified script. For sure, there are some characters written exactly the same in both scripts. But if you are going to seize the incredible business opportunities in this most open free trade port in the world, it is always beneficial to know about both!
Macau is similar to Hong Kong but with one more official language – Portuguese. In any public place in Macau, there are signs in Portuguese and Chinese. Cantonese is still the mother tongue of most residents in Macau. But as it is now the new world gambling capital, English is also widely used. (For those of you who are interested, check how Macau overtook Las Vegas as the world top gambling destination). Following the rise of the gambling industry, the tourism and hospitality industries are developing rapidly in Macau these years. People in Macau also use traditional Chinese scripts, almost the same as Hong Kong.
In Taiwan, the official and commonly-used language is still Mandarin. The accent there is closer to the accent in Fujian province of Mainland China. But in terms of political situation, Taiwan is much more complicated than the other two SARs. Taiwan claims representation of Republic of China (ROC) [中華民國] and has its own government.
But at the international level, Taiwan is not recognised or admitted as a country. It is recognised as a region when it takes part in any international activities. For example, Taiwan uses “Chinese Taipei” [中華台北] as the name for Olympics games. People’s Republic of China (PRC) [中华人民共和国] claims Taiwan as an inseparable part of China. (If you are interested in the history of relationship between Mainland and Taiwan, you can check out this video: Is Taiwan a country or part of China on YouTube).
Mainland China is the geographical area under the direct political administration of the Peoples’ Republic of China (PRC). It includes Hainan island, but excludes Hong Kong and Macau (although both are on the geographic mainland). It is vastly diverse in terms of economic development and each region varies distinctly in its climate, terrain, and ethnic and cultural composition. Zhou Youguang, a Chinese linguist, has pointed out that there are around 80 different dialects in Mainland China spoken by 56 folk groups. Mandarin [普通话／国语], “Pu Tong Hua” / “Guo Yu”, is the most commonly-used nationally.
Select a destination in Mainland China, and learn about the dialects there!
Overall, modern Chinese dialects can be categorised into seven groups. They are:
- Northern/Mandarin dialect [北方话／官话方言]: This dialect is based on Beijing dialect. It is used most often in most provinces in the north of the Yangtze river. More than 700 million people use it.
- Wu [吴]: The population who use this dialect are distributed in Zhejiang, Shanghai, southern Jiangsu, southern Anhui, eastern Jiangxi, and northern Fujian.
- Xiang [湘]: This dialect covers the whole Hunan province and north Guangxi. More than 25 million people use it.
- Hakka [客家]: The main areas using this dialect are northern and eastern Guangdong, southern Guangxi, southern Jiangxi, and western Fujian.
- Min [闽]: This dialect is mainly used in Fujian, Taiwan, Hainan, and the coastal plains in Guangdong. The number of people who use it is around 80 million.
- Cantonese [粤语]: Over 100 million people using Cantonese dialect, mainly located in Guangdong, Guangxi, Hong Kong, and Macau.
- Gan [赣]: Around 55 million people use this dialect, mainly located in Jiangxi and some people in Zhejiang and Shanxi.
Learn Cantonese dialect
In Mainland China, Cantonese is considered a dialect. Cantonese is one of the most widely-used dialects in China. It is also a separate language identified by UN. The blue region in the picture below is the Guangdong province, where the dialect people use is Cantonese. Although there are still some dialect branches under Cantonese, those small differences between sub-dialect and Cantonese will not influence the communication.
Learn the Chinese dialect for a region and get you have an understanding about the region to avoid making mistakes. Do you know that in Cantonese and Hakka, the pronunciation of number “4” is quite similar to “death”? So, people live in these regions avoid using this number. In Guangzhou, some buildings use “level 4” in a building instead of “level 3A”. But if you go to the northern cities in China, where people speak a completely different dialect, it is no longer such a big problem.
As we discussed in “Why learning Chinese is your secret to success..”, article, some business meetings in China are conducted during a meal. But you would never order seven dishes in a meal when you are doing business with Cantonese business people, although it’s probably not a big deal in other regions.
By learning about the regional dialects, you actually put yourself closer to the local people. This is a powerful “booster” to your business relationship! Learn Chinese and be able to say “nei hou” (hello) and “ng goi saai” (thank you): Cantonese people will be happy to receive your kindness and respect!
Learn Chinese and find your business opportunities!
Business opportunities are different in different areas. Guangzhou is the commodity trade centre of China and generates the largest-scale trading activities in China every year. The I.T. industry in Shenzhen has a world-class influence. Huawei and Tencent are all famous I.T. companies developed from Shenzhen. Shanghai is the economic centre of China, and the financial industry is catching up with Hong Kong now. Beijing as the capital is the political and cultural centre.
In addition, Tianjing, Chongqing, Chengdu, Suzhou, Hangzhou… there are more and more cities in China today are developing in an incredible speed. To capture different business opportunities there, Mandarin is always the most versatile language you should learn! But knowing a bit about the dialects in different region will also be helpful to expand your business horizons!
Outside of China, learning Chinese will expand your business horizons in other countries
Learn Chinese for Singapore and Malaysia
Mandarin and other Chinese languages in other Asian countries like Singapore and Malaysia also have a popularity. In Singapore, English, Mandarin, Tamil and Malay are the official languages. English has become the most common language spoken in business but a lot of people have the ability to use Mandarin. Mandarin is commonly spoken in the home of Chinese families of course. Officially Singapore use simplified Chinese script like Mainland China.
23% of the population in Malaysia are Malaysian Chinese. A large proportion of Chinese Malaysians speak Cantonese, Hakka, and Min dialects. T.V. shows from TVB (Television Broadcast Limited in Hong Kong) are allowed to appear in Malaysian T.V. channels with the original soundtrack. You can see the popularity of Chinese language makes it happen!
In Singapore and Malaysia, Mandarin is called “Hua Yu” [华语] instead of “Pu Tong Hua” or “Han Yu”. “Hua Yu” is used generically to all the Chinese languages. Therefore, “Hua Yu” refers to Mandarin, Cantonese and all Chinese dialects.
Learn Chinese for Canada and the U.S.
“Hua Yu” is the third most spoken language in Canada, following English and French. It is also the third most spoken language in U.S., following English and Spanish. Overall, Mandarin and other Chinese languages are the commonly used languages in Chinese communities in any country. In non-Chinese countries such as Australia, Canada, and U.S., Mandarin is likely to be the most commonly used Chinese language.
Learning Chinese is easier with Pinyin!
Pinyin [拼音] is a way of writing Chinese languages as they sound in Roman/ Latin script (i.e. English). The phonetic alphabets in Taiwan, Hong Kong, Macau, and Mainland China are very different. Take “have a meeting” [开会/開會] as an example again, in Mainland China. The Chinese Pinyin is “Kai Hui”. While in Hong Kong and Macau where people use Cantonese, the Pinyin would be “Hoi Wui”. In Taiwan, the phonetic alphabets become “ㄎㄞ ㄏㄨㄟˋ”. Therefore, the Pinyin systems are very different and it affects how you learn to pronounce it!
No matter where you are going, it is always worthwhile to learn Chinese languages. Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan, Shanghai… or even Singapore! Have an ideal destination in your mind now? With Kivorra, learn Chinese languages and expand your business horizons today!