5 facts you (perhaps) didn’t know about Chinese

In Sweden people speak Swedish and in Germany people speak German. So in China, people speak Chinese – right? Here, we share five facts about Chinese and explore how Chinese differs from Swedish.

  1. “Chinese” is more than one language

Chinese isn’t a single language in the Western sense of the word: instead, it is a group of different languages that are all related. Because it’s hard to define what exactly constitutes a dialect and what constitutes a language, however, Chinese tends to be considered as one language with many different dialects. As opposed to Swedish dialects, however, which are mutually intelligible in different parts of the country, Chinese dialects can differ so greatly from each other that speakers are not always able to understand others’ dialect.

  1. Chinese is actually a way of writing

The reason why all Chinese dialects are still considered one and the same language is mainly because they share the same writing system. In a way, you could say Chinese is just a way of writing down different spoken dialects. The most common of these dialects is Mandarin. Chinese writing was standardised early on and is one of the oldest systems of writing still in use in the world.

  1. Chinese characters aren’t like letters of an alphabet

Writing Chinese is very different from writing Swedish. The Swedish language uses the Roman alphabet. Every letter of this alphabet represents a sound; put together, they form words. Written Chinese instead uses characters, pronounced as syllables. Chinese characters are logograms: they represent concepts rather than sounds – think of them like small pictures. This allows the same writing system to be used for dialects that sound wildly different: the ‘pictures’ people talk about remain the same.

  1. There are two Chinese writing systems

To complicate matters even further, there are actually two ways of writing Chinese. There’s traditional Chinese and then there’s simplified Chinese. Traditional characters are mainly used in Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Macau. Simplified Chinese is used in mainland China and Singapore.

  1. Which version of Chinese should I use?

To be able to translate a text into the right version of Chinese, you need to know whom the text will be read by. We often translate a text into both traditional and simplified Chinese, to make sure the translation works for all target groups.