Mandarin Chinese is spoken by more than 1 billion people, making it the most widely spoken language in the world. It is the official language of Mainland China and Taiwan, and one of the official languages of Singapore and the United Nations.
Mandarin is also spoken in many of the Overseas Chinese communities throughout the world. There are an estimated 40 million Overseas Chinese, mostly in Asian countries (about 30 million), but also in the Americas (6 million), Europe (2 million), Oceania (1 million) and Africa (100,000).
Despite being the official language of China, Mandarin Chinese is not the only language spoken there. Most Chinese people learn Mandarin at school, but may use a different language or dialect for everyday communication. Mandarin is most widely spoken in northern and southwestern China. The most common language in Hong Kong and Macau is Cantonese.
Similarly, Mandarin is not the only language of Taiwan. Again, most Taiwanese people can speak and understand Mandarin, but may be more comfortable with other languages such as Taiwanese and Hakka.
Which Language Should I Learn?
Learning the world’s most widely spoken language will open up exciting new opportunities for business, travel, and cultural enrichment. But if you plan to visit a specific region of China or Taiwan you may be better off knowing the local language.
Mandarin will allow you to communicate with almost anyone in China or Taiwan. But if you plan to concentrate your activities in Guangdong Province or Hong Kong you may find Cantonese to be more useful. Similarly, if you plan to do business in southern Taiwan, you might find that Taiwanese is better for establishing business and personal connections. Spoken Mandarin, Cantonese and Taiwanese are mutually unintelligible, even though they are often called dialects.
If, however, your activities take you around various regions of China, Mandarin is the logical choice. It is truly the lingua franca of the Chinese world.