“The limits of my language means the limits of my world.” - Ludwig Wittgenstein
It’s a fact that most languages have dialects and Chinese is no exception. However, Chinese isn't even a single language but rather a number of related languages that belong to the Sino Tibetan language family. This means that you can't actually learn Chinese but you can learn one of the Chinese languages.
In fact, there are different languages spoken in Beijing, Shanghai, Hong Kong, and the Sichuan Province. There are plenty of different Chinese languages, dialects, and regional variants.
For example, in Taiwan, Min Chinese and Hakka are spoken. These two languages, neither of which are official languages, are hugely important where they’re spoken.
A survey reveals that 15% of the Hakka community can’t speak the Hakka language and 24% of Taiwanese people under 30 only use Mandarin in their daily lives. These languages are far too important to be allowed to peter out.
So what are the best reasons for learning a Chinese language other than Mandarin?
In this article, we’re going to look at some pretty good reasons to choose not to learn Chinese Mandarin and take your language learning elsewhere.
Better Understanding the Country
If you plan to travel to China, learning Mandarin and the local language of where you’re going is a pretty good idea. Knowing how to speak fluently or even just hold a conversation will always help you learn more about where you are. By speaking Mandarin and the local language, you can also learn far more about the culture of where you are in China.
Whether you’re travelling to China or not, it’s still a good idea to learn one of these languages to just learn more about the country itself. You can learn about traditions, local variants, and the country’s identity. With several languages spoken across the country, it’s down to the student to decide which language to learn in order to get by when they’re there.
Learning a language will also help you with Chinese writing. Whether you take Chinese lessons, China is a country with a rich culture and history of which writing is a big part. Learning one of these languages will also help you to see China in a different light.
Chinese calligraphy and writing is just one part of Chinese culture. The other languages and their vocabulary are another side of the same coin. Of all the languages around the world, the Chinese languages are some of the best for understanding the country where they’re spoken, especially if you’re planning on travelling or studying there.
Studying Chinese Languages Allows You to Travel Better
Once you’ve learnt the pronunciation, phonetics, and writing, for example, you’ll probably want to start thinking about travelling to China. This is one of the biggest advantages of learning a Chinese language, being able to speak Cantonese, for example, with locals in Hong Kong, or getting to know more about a particular region by speaking to its inhabitants in their mother tongue.
Getting to know people living in Shanghai or visiting the Great Wall of China is much better when you can speak to the people in their local language. Even though most people in China speak Mandarin Chinese, locals are much happier to speak to you in their mother tongue.
This is what travelling is all about, after all. The best thing about travelling is going without a dictionary and speaking to the locals and learning about their culture from the source. To get the most out of travelling, you need to prepare for your trip, which includes learning the language spoken there.
Language is a fundamental part of a culture, people, and their traditions, and if you want to fully immerse yourself in China, you need to really learn more about the languages that are spoken there. So you should probably start looking at ways to learn these languages. You could choose an intensive course, online lessons, or private tutorials, etc.
If you want to travel in a different way, you’re going to have to learn Mandarin Chinese as well as one other Chinese language. You’ll also get a taste for discovery, discussion, and feed your curiosity. While learning a Chinese language such as the Wu dialect, is a great way to learn about the local culture, learning a language is an impressive achievement in itself.
Learning Chinese Languages, an Impressive Linguistic Achievement
As a learner, you’re going to need to be patient and motivated in order to learn a foreign language, especially one that isn’t as widely spoken. After all, some of these Chinese languages are spoken in a very small part of the world, albeit by staggering numbers of people.
That said, learning these languages will also teach you more about languages in general and teach you more about certain words used all over China. This means that some of these languages may even help you to learn Mandarin Chinese.
So are these languages similar to Mandarin Chinese? Is the official language of China written in the same way, etc?
To quickly learn a language without the help of a bilingual dictionary, there’s nothing better than immersion. Almost everyone agrees that in order to get better at a language, you need to practise. The best way to practise a language regularly is to go to where the language is spoken. In the case of Chinese languages, you’ll have to go to the regions where they’re spoken. You’ll soon see just how rich the local culture is once you start exploring it in its own language.
Wouldn’t surrounding yourself with the language you want to learn be much better?
Learn Chinese Languages to Stand Out
Once you’ve decided which Chinese language to learn, perhaps the Fujian region Min Chinese, some parts of your life will be exactly the same while others will take on a different shape.
Being able to speak an uncommon language could become a huge advantage in terms of your professional life.
For example, before the interview stage, an employer may have seen tonnes of CVs with English, Spanish, French, German, and maybe even Mandarin. They probably won’t have seen many applicants with a local Chinese language.
This is one of the biggest advantages of learning any uncommon language, helping you stand out from the crowd. Furthermore, they can also make you more interesting. Of course, you’ll probably have an interesting story or two to tell about learning the language and travelling in China.
A language can make one region inherently more interesting than another, especially if you go there to learn that particular language, make friends, study, or work. Of course, you don’t necessarily have to go to just one!
You probably get the idea that China is a vast country with a broad and varied culture, history, and linguistic landscape that’s worth exploring. Even just having a grasp of the grammar, knowing a few conversational phrases will go a long way to helping you chat with native speakers.
Don't forget that when you learn to speak a new language, it can make learning subsequent languages easier. This means that if you learn to speak Chinese or another dialect or language, the language skills you pick up will help you during your next language courses or when studying a different language and culture.
In short, while you learn Mandarin London online, in Chinese classes, or with a Chinese private tutor is a good idea, it doesn't have to be the first Chinese language you learn, especially if you're not planning on going to mainland China or you're travelling off the beaten path!
If you're struggling to find resources for learning how to speak one of the less common languages from China, you should consider looking for specialised private Chinese tutors in the languages you're trying to learn.
If you can't find any tutors near you, don't forget that you can get online private tutorials. If you've got a computer with a webcam, microphone, and decent internet connection, you can get private tutorials from tutors from anywhere in the world over Skype, for example.
If you're ready to start learning a Chinese language, check out the tutors available on Superprof!