Mandarin Chinese is the second most spoken language in the world, with approximately 1.118 billion native and non-native speakers combined. However, there are 929 million first language speakers of Mandarin Chinese, making it the highest native speaking language of them all. The official language of Mainland China, Taiwan, and Singapore, Mandarin Chinese is also spoken across large areas of Hong Kong, Macau, Malaysia and Tibet, often as a second language. It is also alive and well in Chinese communities or Chinatowns across the world, including the United States, the United Kingdom, Nigeria, and Madagascar. We take a closer look at some stats and facts on the nations that speak this widespread language.
Undoubtedly Mainland China has the highest number of Mandarin speakers in the world, with more than 80 percent of the population following a uniform Mandarin language. Some linguists worry that a push to nationalize one single language across the vast areas that make up China means local dialects are in danger of dying out. But others argue having a standardized language means greater unity across the social, economic, and educational landscape. One resident from Gegye county, Ngari Prefecture, Southwest China’s Tibet Autonomous Region, named Sonam Rinchen said, “Using Mandarin helps me better understand the outside world, achieve better development and enjoy a better life.”
Mandarin Chinese has been the lingua franca of Taiwan since 1945, following an influx of Chinese people to the island in the wake of the Chinese Civil War. While the majority of people living in Taiwan today speak the language as a first language, Taiwanese is also commonly spoken on the streets. Meanwhile the Mandarin Chinese spoken in many parts of Taiwan is infused with aspects of Taiwanese to create a more localized dialect. In other areas there are a small number of Hakka speakers. However, Mandarin, Taiwanese and Hakka share the same writing script, which demonstrates how similar the languages of Taiwan are to one another.
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Singapore has an incredibly diverse population; so much so, the government here has assigned Singapore four official languages: English, Malay, Mandarin Chinese and Tamil. Around half of the population speak Mandarin Chinese, making it widely prevalent. This is in part because Singaporean children of Chinese families are taught Mandarin Chinese as a second language, and across the country a bilingual education policy is followed that means the majority of citizens can speak at least two of the national languages.
Hong Kong, Macau, Malaysia and Tibet
Mandarin Chinese speakers are growing across much of the Asian world, with the numbers of speakers across Hong Kong, Macau, Malaysia and Tibet on the rise. In the administrative region of Hong Kong, Cantonese is the most widely spoken language, but many residents are now becoming proficient in Mandarin as a second language. Much like in Singapore, Mandarin is taught in many schools across Hong Kong, and the language is often spoken in international governmental and business settings. A large portion of the population in the region of Macau speak Cantonese, but since Macau’s handover to China in 1999, the number of Mandarin Chinese speakers here has been on a significant rise.
Meanwhile, of the impressive 137 different languages spoken in Malaysia, including the official Malay, Mandarin Chinese and its various dialects are among the most spoken, particularly amongst its citizens of Chinese origin. In Tibet, the traditional language is standard Tibetan, but growing relationships with mainland China in recent years means speakers of Mandarin Chinese here are on a sharp rise, especially amongst younger generations of Tibetan residents.
Chinatowns Around the World
Chinatowns composed of Chinese neighborhoods and districts with a significant Chinese population are found in many major cities throughout the world today, including San Francisco, Manhattan, Honolulu, Toronto, London, Paris, Vancouver and more. Within these communities the traditionally spoken language has predominantly been Cantonese. However, in recent decades Mandarin Chinese has become increasingly popular among younger generations, in line with mainland China’s push for a standardized language, which can sometimes cause communication barriers between older and younger residents.