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Why You Should Learn… Mandarin Chinese

Chinese New Year Following on from my post last week about learning a foreign language, (Why You Should Learn a Foreign Language), here’s the first post in a series on the top 10 most spoken languages in the world.

No. 1: Mandarin

955 million native speakers, 1.213 billion total speakers. An official language of China & Singapore and 1 of the 6 official languages of the United Nations.

Why Mandarin?

Business is booming in China, one of the world’s fastest growing economies, and it’s where pretty much everything is made nowadays. In an unnamed Italian luxury fashion house, the Italian designers communicate with Chinese producers in English, and going by the number of mistranslations and misunderstandings they have, they are in desperate need of Mandarin speakers.

China’s economy is predicted to surpass that of the United States as soon as 2030 (others estimate it could be even sooner) and we’ll then reach a crucial point where the dominance of the English language becomes questionable. With this possibility in the not-so-distant future, now is a good time to start learning Mandarin. It will give you the edge in any international commerce with Chinese companies and is growing in popularity as a language to learn. By 2020 there will apparently be 200 million Chinese tourists travelling abroad every year -this figure stuns me and is a sign that I should really start learning! Be warned however, this is a difficult language to learn – as it has over 10,000 different characters!

Shanghai skyline I personally have never got beyond “Ni hao” (Hello), “Xie xie” (Thank you), and the numbers 1 to 10, but apparently you begin by learning Pinyin, which is the transliteration of the Chinese symbols into the Roman alphabet. Once you’ve grasped the basics, you can then begin to tackle the Chinese characters, although I’m told that someone learning Mandarin as a foreign language can never hope to attain absolute fluency.

Top 5 Survival Phrases:

  • Ni hao – Hello
  • Xie xie – Thank you
  • Ni hao ma – How are you?
  • Wo bu shuo zhongwen – I don’t speak Chinese.
  • Zai jian – Goodbye

To start you off you can take a look at the various resources online, for example BBC Languages, and the numerous smartphone apps for language learners, before launching into an evening class or even taking the plunge and spending a month or so in China learning the language intensively.

Next week I’ll be profiling the No.2 most spoken language: Spanish.

[You can still vote below for the languages you’d most like to learn]


  1. Well you are completely wrong in saying that the official language of Singapore is Chinese! It is quite ignorant(not about you) when people who have not been to Singapore think that it is a Chinese speaking country, some even think it is in China! It is a cosmopolitan/multi-racial country on its own and the main language is English. I should know, I am a Singaporean(I live in the UK now but lived in Singapore for most of my life) and I am not a chinese, our main language is English. Chinese, Malay, Tamil are our second languages. The language we use to communicate, do work, use in school and everything else for that matter is first and foremost officially English. Just thought you should know, love the other posts though.


    • I have actually been to Singapore & I know that the main language used is English, but Mandarin is still an official language there. I worded it carefully, specifically not saying it was the only official language… But thanks for pointing it out & I’m glad you like the blog. Singapore is a great place, I’d love to spend more time there.


  2. Since living in Hong Kong I have become an avid Sinophile doing my utmost to learn Cantonese and Mandarin, I found immersion to be the best way forward (as it is with any language I suppose). It’s great fun, and really interesting, to learn the characters – it often has me wondering, is this language or art ? Both I guess !!


    • Good for you! I love both languages and art, so the idea of combining the two with Chinese characters is lovely! I bought a beautiful card with my name written in Cantonese, and I suppose I should probably post that on my blog too.


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