How much English is spoken in China

Chinese vs. English

Diversity vs. Unity

The biggest difference between the EU and China in terms of linguistic communication is that there is a wide variety of languages ​​in the EU, while in China there is a single linguistic unit.

In the 28 member states of the EU there are many different languages, while in China Mandarin is the only official language - even if there are many dialects and the pronunciation of the same character can be very different. When someone says "Chinese" they often mean Mandarin. This is a common simplification. Of course, there are other languages ​​that are still spoken by ethnic minorities in some Chinese regions, such as Mongolian or Tibetan. These also have a different font. In addition, the Chinese characters are simplified in the mainland, while Hong Kong, Taiwan and Singapore tend to use traditional characters, which are more difficult to write. For example, look at "zhè - this":

  • Traditional: 這
  • Simplified: 这

The unified notation enables speakers of different dialects to communicate with each other by writing.

According to the European Commission's language report (, there are currently 60 or more languages ​​spoken in the euro area; and 23 of these languages ​​are recognized as official languages ​​of the EU.

When the EU was founded by West Germany, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg, French was the working language. English and German were later added as working languages ​​as the EU expanded.

It's easier in China. Chinese is both: the working language and the official language; Mandarin Chinese, the dialect from the capital Beijing and its environs, was recognized as the country's official language in 1949. This is why Mandarin is used in schools and universities, in government speeches, and on the radio across mainland China.

For Europeans, foreign languages ​​for are related to the cultural, geographical and historical context. In general, English is the most widely spoken foreign language in 19 of the 28 Member States where it is not the official language (i.e. outside of the UK and Ireland). Most Chinese also consider English to be the most widely used foreign language. In general, Europeans are confronted more with foreign languages, although the Chinese are also broadening their horizons: Nowadays, more and more Chinese are learning another foreign language besides English, for example Japanese, Korean, Arabic, and even some of the main official languages ​​of the EU, such as Spanish, French , German or Portuguese.

The multilingualism of the EU is part of its own motto: "United in diversity". In contrast, for the Chinese, the unity of language means the unity of the nation.

The linguistic peculiarities of the Chinese language

The most obvious difference between the Chinese language and the Indo-European language is that it does not have an alphabet, but characters called logograms. It is not possible to define the exact number of Chinese characters that have been used in the written Chinese language for thousands of years. Roughly speaking, the number is somewhere between fifty and eighty thousand, but it can be up to 140,000 if we add the obsolete characters. It can be assumed that an educated person knows about 8000 characters. However, 3-4,000 characters are enough to read a newspaper - the average Chinese can do that many.

Pinyin, the international system for transcribing Chinese characters into Latin letters (our alphabet), which is helpful for learning the pronunciation of Mandarin, offers some help with learning Chinese. Nonetheless, the complexity of the language remains, because five tones are possible in the pronunciation of each einyin syllable (the first, second, third and fourth tone, plus the slight neutral tone), with each tone having a completely different meaning, and many einyin -Syllables have several meanings anyway, even if the tone is the same.

There are so many dialects in China! The total number of dialects is around 300, including the languages ​​of the ethnic minorities. So it wasn't a bad idea when the founders of the People's Republic of China decided to make the standard Mandarin dialect (a form of Mandarin based on Beijing Mandarin) the official language of the country. The aim was to facilitate oral communication between the speakers of different dialects as well as the different regions of China, of which there are currently 33 (22 provinces, 5 autonomous regions, 4 directly controlled cities and 2 self-governing cities).

Another important aspect of Chinese culture is its pictographic language, because in written Chinese it is more images than sequences of words that make up the text. Chinese calligraphy, which is over 3000 years old, is a vehicle of traditional culture. It still means a lot to the older generations, and the elderly do their best to pass the ancient writing traditions on to the younger ones. The Chinese communist government has also been active in preserving the Chinese calligraphy.

This codified language, which is difficult for foreigners to understand, is also a method of shielding yourself from outside influences.

Discover new ways of thinking

Chinese thinking is more geared towards a holistic transfer of information.

It has been observed that the Chinese are better at seeing the big picture, while the westerners are better at describing details. This shows that the Chinese think more holistically, while Westerners think in partial aspects.

Different negotiation techniques in the business area for Westerners and Chinese are a good example: Westerners like to break down complex negotiation tasks into smaller areas: the price, the delivery date, the quantity and so on. Chinese, on the other hand, tend to leave out details and instead talk about the business as a whole. The details are then determined during the course of the transaction.

In conclusion, we can draw the following from this: The more you, as a foreigner, know about the Chinese language, the more Chinese you will consider “insiders”. And that will bring you great benefits for your business activities in the long run.


    DG COMM “Research and Speechwriting” Unit, “Europeans and their Languages ​​report” - Special Eurobarometer 386 / Wave EB77.1 Special Eurobarometer, Fieldwork -March 2012, Publication-June 2012.

    WONG Fai, MAO Yuhang, DONG QingFu, QI YiHong, “Automatic Translation: Overcome Barriers between European And Chinese Languages”, Tsinghua University (China).

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