China is one of the biggest countries in the world, with the highest population in the world. For this reason, it is not surprising that many accents, dialects, and languages exist within this area of the world. When people think of China, they often relate it to Mandarin, the official language of the country. What many people do not realise is that China actually contains several hundred languages and dialects. This is a brief introduction to some of the dialects and languages you may hear around our internship locations!
This small city is found in the very south of Guangdong province. Cantonese is widely spoken in this province, as well as in neighbouring Macau and Hong Kong. Almost everyone you meet in Zhuhai will be able to speak Mandarin, however, it’s not uncommon to hear local people converse in Cantonese (Guangdong hua, in Mandarin), especially if you venture out to more rural areas. Cantonese has nine tones, compared to Mandarin’s four, so it often sounds more fast flowing and expressive. Some useful phrases to note may be:
Hello: nei5 hou2
Good morning: zou2 san4
Sorry: deoi3 m4 zyu6
Thank you: m4 goi1
You’re welcome: m4 sai2 haak3 hei3
Chengdu is situated in Sichuan province, found in central China. In this city, and the whole province, a dialect of Mandarin known in English as Sichuanese is commonly used. This dialect is also used in cities and locations in neighbouring provinces, such as Chongqing, places in Yunan and Guizhou, and some areas of Tibet. Although it is often classified as a branch of Mandarin, Sichuanese can sound very different from the official language of China. Some useful phrases to listen out for are:
Hello: Ni hào
Where are you from?: Lí si lágou guíjia dei?
Where to?: nār qiè
Great! /comfortable: básì
Qingdao, found in north-eastern China, also has its own dialect simply called Qingdao dialect. The Qingdao dialect is not as widely spoken as Sichuanese or Cantonese, and other areas of Shangdong province have their own local dialects as well. This makes the Qingdao dialect a good indicator of who is and is not a local of the city. Similar to Chengdu and Zhuhai, almost everyone in the city can speak Mandarin as well, however since the Qingdao dialect is much more similar to Mandarin, it’s not uncommon for locals to mix up the two dialects, or reply in the Qingdao dialect when answering a question asked in Mandarin. The biggest difference between the Qingdao dialect and standard Mandarin is the switching of tones. Here are some useful phrases which you can try out:
Drink beer: ha pi jiu
Eat clams: chi ga la
Similar to the other three destinations, Mandarin is widely spoken in Taipei, however, older people, local people, and inhabitants of other areas of Taiwan also speak Taiwanese. Taiwanese in English is also sometimes called Hokkien. This is a spoken language that has no written script and originated from Fujian province in southern China. You will often hear it being spoken when walking around the city and on public transport announcements! This language is widely spoken around the island, especially if you visit places further south. Many local languages also exist, including Hakka and other aboriginal languages. Some useful phrases in Taiwanese are:
Good morning: gâu-chá
Thank you: kám-siā
You’re welcome: se̍k-sāi
In all four of these destinations, and the majority of big cities in China, local people also speak Mandarin. Mandarin is the official language of China and is taught in schools, which is why you may hear more young people communicating in this language. Before travelling to China, try learning at least a few phrases in Mandarin to help you get by. However, if you want to challenge yourself, keep practising the phrases mentioned above to impress the locals with your knowledge of their own dialects!