This blog post was updated on 20 October 2021.
There are 1.3 billion native Chinese speakers in the world, making Chinese the most spoken native language globally.
What many people do not realise, however, is that there are various forms of written and spoken Chinese, in more countries than you might expect.
The aim of this blog post is to clarify the geographical distribution of Chinese speakers and the differences in their use of the Chinese language.
Here are three things about the Chinese language you need to be aware of if you want to succeed in the Chinese-speaking world.
1. Where is Chinese spoken?
Chinese is an official language in China, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macau. Aside from that, there are also large Chinese-speaking communities in Singapore and Malaysia.
There are also countries where Chinese is a minority language spoken by Chinese immigrants and their descendants, such as Thailand, Brunei, Myanmar, the Philippines, Indonesia, Vietnam, the US and Canada, to name just a few.
2. Where do they use Simplified Chinese?
Simplified Chinese is the written language used in China, Singapore and Malaysia.
As the name suggests, Simplified Chinese uses characters that are simpler to write. The language was widely pushed by the Chinese government in the 1960s with the aim of decreasing rates of illiteracy in the country. Singapore and Malaysia went on to adopt the language because they did frequent business with China.
3. Where do they use Traditional Chinese?
Traditional Chinese is the written language used in Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan.
Hong Kong and Macau were under British and Portuguese colonisation respectively at the time China changed to Simplified characters, and therefore did not change their writing system. Taiwan has a politically sensitive relationship with China and has resisted the simplification of the language.
It is important that you use the correct version of written Chinese when you are targeting the Chinese-speaking world, otherwise you risk alienating your audience and possibly even causing offence.
I hope this blog post has given you a useful introduction to the different varieties of Chinese. For more in-depth information and advice, read the full-length guide here. The guide covers:
- where exactly the world’s Chinese speakers are distributed
- which countries use Simplified Chinese vs. Traditional Chinese as their written language
- which countries use Mandarin vs. Cantonese as their spoken language