The Most Common Languages Scattered Across China

China is not only a large and heavily populated country; it is also remarkably diverse. Researchers estimate that there are about 56 different ethnic groups in China, so it should come as no surprise that there are a variety of different languages and dialects spoken within this vast region. With a population of approximately 1.4 billion people (as of 2019), China is the most populated nation on the planet. The total number of languages spoken within its borders reflects the number of residents: language experts estimate that there are more than 300 languages currently being spoken within its borders. Although many people inside China refer to the nation’s different languages as “dialects,” they are markedly different. In fact, it’s quite common that people who speak one “dialect” can’t understand people who speak another. For that reason, we refer to these “dialects” as “languages.”

Mandarin Chinese : Linguists believe that about 70% of China’s population – or just over 1 billion people — speak Mandarin Chinese, which is also referred to as “Standard Chinese.” Mandarin is also the official language of mainland China and Taiwan, and it is the language largely used in the curriculum of Chinese schools. Within the Mandarin language, there are four subdivisions that are spoken in different regions of the country. Those include Northern Mandarin, Northwestern Mandarin, Southwestern Mandarin, and Southern Mandarin.

Cantonese: The second most commonly spoken Chinese language is Cantonese. It is estimated that over 60 million resident of China speak this language, but it is also spoken by Chinese people in other countries throughout the world, including Hong Kong, Singapore, the Philippines, Macao and Indonesia, to name just a few.

Wu: Another language spoken in China is Wu, and it is primarily spoken in and around Shanghai, along with several other provinces throughout the country. Because Shanghai was such an important metropolitan area during the Ming Dynasty, Wu was very commonly spoken during that time period.

Xiang: Perhaps because of the location of the provinces where Xiang is spoken – most of which border provinces where Mandarin is spoken – the Xiang language is considered by linguists to be the “dialect” most closely resembling Mandarin.

Min: An estimated total of 80 million people speak one of the five variants of the Min language. This Chinese language is not only spoken in several provinces within mainland China, but in areas such as Taiwan and Singapore as well.

Hakka: Over 43 million people in China speak one of the 13 different dialects of the Hakka language, and that does not include Hakka speakers outside of China. Although the language is spoken by a large number of people, it is primarily a language of rural people living in very isolated areas.

Gan: Language experts believe that just over 20 million people speak Gan, which is also referred to as “Xi.”

“Greater China” is the term used to refer to mainland China and the surrounding regions of Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan and Singapore. If you require translation services for any one of the many Chinese languages – if you are preparing to travel within the Greater China region, and particularly if you intend to conduct business in this part of the world — it’s important to find a translator who is a native speaker. Not only will a native speaker understand the complexity of Chinese languages; that person will also have a much better understanding of the cultural and ethnic diversity of this region. The best way to find a highly qualified translator is by contacting a reputable translation company, preferably one that employs native Chinese speakers. Remember that translation involves not only converting language, but also gaining an appreciation and respect for the cultural differences that exist between the western world and Greater China.