Considering learning the Chinese language? What a great goal it is! Mandarin has over one billion speakers and so you’ll have plenty of people to speak to. While Mandarin may be a little intimidating for an English speaker, it’s totally doable with a bit of dedication and practice. Well, maybe a lot of practice.

Even so, the mandarin language is fascinating from its written form of symbols to the sounds. There’s a lot we have to learn, so let’s start with some things you didn’t know about the Chinese language.

1. Without the right tone, you could accidentally say horse when you mean mother

Yes, Mandarin is very tonal. The tone you use to say words can completely change the meaning. So which is said in the first tone means mother. However, , which is said in the third tone, means horse. Want to avoid calling your mom a horse? Here’s are the basics on tones in the Chinese language.

The first tone has a high pitch while the second tone starts low and increases to a high pitch. The third tone starts out neutral, drops to a lower pitch, and then ends on a high pitch. The fourth tone begins at a high pitch that goes downwards. Finally, the fifth tone is just a neutral tone. This is much easier to understand if you’re working with a native speaker when learning Mandarin.


2. There are 50,000 different Chinese characters

There are 50,000 different Chinese characters and more are being added every year.

Don’t worry, you don’t have to learn all 50,000 characters. According to the Table of General Standard Chinese Characters, there are 8,105 simplified characters.

The truth is, you don’t actually have to know any of the characters to have conversations in Mandarin.

However, chances are, you’re going to want to read information written in Mandarin. You still won’t need to know everything in order to read or write most things. According to FluentU, “The average Chinese person only needs to know around 2,000 characters to be recognized as fluent. Those characters represent a basic education level that can help you make it in day-to-day life.”

Want a head start on vocab? Here are ten basic Mandarin phrases you can learn and start practicing today!

3. Mandarin has no alphabet

Maybe you’ve already figured this one out. Mandarin uses characters and so there isn’t an alphabet like we have in the English language.

However, Mandarin can be transcribed into pinyin. Pinyin basically uses the English alphabet and accents to help you with pronunciation.

So 火, which means fire, can be written as huǒ in pinyin. Amazing! 

4. There are no plurals in Mandarin

The nouns in Mandarin are the same whether they’re referring to one thing or many. However, there are ways to express plurality.

For example, you can express plurality by using 个 (ge) which is a classifier that is comparable to ‘of’ in English.

You can also say you need multiple of something by using the actual number. On the other hand, if what you want you to say can’t be quantified by a number, you can simply use words such as some and few.

5. Mandarin is the official language of three countries

You may have already heard that Mandarin is the official language of the People’s Republic of China. However, it’s also the official language of Taiwan and Singapore.

Mandarin is also spoken in Indonesia, Vietnam, and Malaysia, and in other areas by Chinese immigrants.

Interestingly, Mandarin isn’t the only language spoken in China!

6. Mandarin used to be written right to left

Back in the day, Mandarin was written at the top right of the page, vertically, and then to the bottom left. This is totally different from how we write English and many other languages and would definitely take some getting used to.

Today, due to Western influence, Mandarin is written from left to right.

If Mandarin seems intimidating, don’t let that discourage you from learning it. While there are many helpful books you can use to get better at writing the language, we recommend getting a one-on-one language tutor. A language tutor will be especially important when it comes to having conversations in Mandarin and becoming fluent. They will be an excellent help with getting your tones correctly so you don’t end up calling your mom a horse or make any other embarrassing mistakes.

Practicing conversation over and over with someone who knows the language inside out is the best you can do if you want to be fluent.

If you’re ready to take the next step in your language learning journey, book one of our Mandarin tutors today! Trial classes start at just $35.