Language insights

Do You Know How Many Different Languages Are Spoken in China?

Michael Carr 14 Jul 2020
Do You Know How Many Different Languages Are Spoken in China?

Usually, people are not really interested in how many different languages are spoken in China until their lives become connected to this majestic and beautiful country. Many specific geographical regions within the borders of China have distinct dialects that may be not understood in other regions. Even official Standard Chinese, which is predominantly based on Mandarin dialect, is not the only language to work with.

Facts about Chinese Languages and Dialects

China is obviously the largest country in Asia with a long history of political and cultural development. Many country’s parts were rather isolated and their residents developed distinct dialects that differ from a commonly accepted variety of Chinese. According to Ethnologue, more than 70% of China’s population speak one or another form of Mandarin while there are several hundred other dialects of Chinese languages, divided between several language groups or even languages that come from different families. Hiring accurate Chinese translation services will allow avoiding possible confusion and complete documents’ translation relevant to one’s specific needs and the target region.

Linguists specify that there are more than 300 languages that exist within China’s borders. The majority of the indigenous languages form the Sinitic branch within the Sino-Tibetan languages’ family and more than 1.3 billion native speakers are ensuring the Chinese language’s continuous existence.

The country’s official language policy allows using regional dialects but Chinese society is required to understand one official language, which is Mandarin Chinese. This reform took place in the 1950s and the government completed multiple actions to ensure popularization and widespread use of the chosen dialect, including obligatory education and use in many spheres of life, especially related to the official sector, commerce and industry, and broadcasting.

How Many Dialects in China Exist and Why?

More than 90% of the country’s population speak dialects and languages that belong to those seven major language groups. One may always either choose cheap certified translation services that employ experts in Standard or Simplified Chinese or find another service that can assist with translating immigration, employment, or educational documents into a specific variation of Chinese depending on target region since many varieties are not mutually intelligible.


Being the most widespread of Chinese language varieties’ group, it includes many dialects such as Ji–Lu, Lower Yangtze, Lan–Yin, Central Plains, and, of course, Beijing dialect that Standard Chinese is based on. Mandarin is the first option in answer to question “what are the top 3 languages spoken in China?” It is massively used in any province in China’s North and Southwest and is considered being official state language with more than 1.1 billion native speakers and those who are acquiring this knowledge.


Even though native speakers who speak Wu Chinese comprise only approximately 6% of the entire population, every reputable localization agency should have experts who know this dialect, as it is spoken in a prosperous and leading Zhejiang province as well as Jiangsu and Shanghai. This variety is distinctively different from other Chinese language groups based on its specific tone and soft flow and also diverse in terms of its own subgroups.


This group is often being referred to as “Cantonese” and its native speakers could be found in provinces Guangxi and Guangdong, as well as Hong Kong. While Yue Chinese represents approximately 6% of the country’s population, more than 84 million speakers, not including second-language learners and immigrants, allows Yue to be included in the list explaining what are the top 3 languages spoken in China.


Chinese languages can be found spoken in Fujian province, Mainland China, Guangdong, Taiwan, and many other regions both in China and the entire world. The diversity of dialects included in this group is even higher than that of the Wu group, which means that many dialects are not only mutually unintelligible with other Sinitic languages but even other dialects from Min Chinese.


Those who are interested to visit Hunan province for various reasons should consider translating relevant documents into dominant Xiang, even though this group demonstrates the considerable influence of Mandarin Chinese on all linguistic levels. There are five main subgroups in the Xiang group with more than 38 million native speakers in total.


Many regions in China, especially Jiangxi province, eastern Hunan and Hubei, and also Fujian and Anhui, represent people who are native speakers of Gan groups of Sinitic languages. The number of Gan Chinese speakers is estimated to be 22 million. This group possesses many linguistic similarities with Xiang and Mandarin, though as with all other groups, they are still mutually unintelligible.


Even though the total number of Hakka speakers is considerably large and is more than 48 million, its predominant use in isolated regions determined high linguistic variety within this group itself. It is being used in Taiwan and many regions in Fujian, Hunan, Guangxi, Guangdong, Hainan, Sichuan, and Guizhou.

Multiple reasons exist to explain such linguistic variety. There is the only explanation though, and it is related to vast county’s territories. The presence of many isolated provinces with independent economies and political regimes contributed to the development of seven vital language groups and multiple dialects within them that are commonly associated with the Chinese language as a whole.

Difference Between Mandarin and Cantonese

People have different reasons to visit China which are not limited by tourism and entertainment. Business and commercial opportunities that are offered by large Chinese cities such as Hong Kong require special consideration and careful preparation. Those who want to take advantage of building business networks in one of the most developed cities and financial centers in the entire world should check what language is spoken in Hong Kong. Hiring finance translation services and ensuring all required documentation is represented not only in English but also in Standard Chinese or Hong Kong Cantonese, depending on local business peculiarities, is essential.

Finding the corresponding expert is very important since Mandarin Chinese and Cantonese Chinese are different to such an extent that they are not mutually intelligible. Mandarin dialects usually have four tones that are used to different meanings and the majority of words do not end with consonants. On the contrary, Cantonese dialects stick to more conservative linguistic features that remained in these varieties of Chinese since ancient times, for example, the use of final consonants. Hong Kong Cantonese also differs from Mandarin due to the English language’s significant influence.

Difficulties in Localization Using Official Language Of China

When people need to update some documents and making them relevant for the Chinese market, they usually need to choose between Standard and Simplified Chinese. Choosing reputable document translation services for immigration is the obligatory step at this point since there are countless difficulties and issues that only a professional translator could avoid. Here are some complex problems that require human expertise:

  • Complexity of grammar as compared to Western languages.
  • Chinese idioms’ proper use.
  • Chinese characters’ application and their total number, which is more than 50.000.
  • Direction of writing.
  • Chinese language’s specific syntax.

Trends and Future of Chinese Language

Growing numbers that represent how many people speak Chinese already are the easiest way that allows determining the future of the Chinese language. People who know both Chinese and English have so many opportunities starting from teaching one of those two languages to completing business documents translation or being employed by a large international company. Thus, the Chinese language in modern globalized and interconnected world will move towards more considerable spread all over the world and a growing number of second language learners due to the increased need of cooperating with Chinese companies. It wouldn’t be the exaggeration to say that Chinese will become another global language along with English. You should consider using this opportunity either via obtaining relevant skills personally or cooperating with trusted Chinese translation services.

While there are seven major groups with multiple subgroups that are commonly referred to as Chinese languages, second language learners should consider acquiring skills related to official version, which is Standard Chinese. At the same time, being aware of deep cultural differences and geographical peculiarities will allow completing more accurate translations to and from Chinese since history and culture define and form language’s essence. Knowing Chinese in the modern world is a huge advantage. 


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