Is Chinese the same as Mandarin?

First of all, Mandarin is a form of the Chinese language. Chinese is a language group that has a variety of dialects/languages. Mandarin is one of them and the most widely spoken one. 

Other common dialects/languages include Cantonese, Hokkien, Hakka, and more. Even though they are called “dialects”, they are actually so different that speakers of different Chinese “dialects” cannot understand each other. Therefore, they can be thought of as different spoken languages.

As Mandarin is the most spoken Chinese dialect, when you say you’re learning Chinese, we know you are talking about Mandarin. If one is talking about other Chinese dialects, they are most likely to say a specific one, such as Cantonese, to avoid confusion.

Is Mandarin Chinese simplified or traditional?

Today, simplified Chinese is officially used in Mainland China and Singapore, while traditional Chinese is used in Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Macau. 

Traditional Chinese was originally used in all Chinese-speaking regions. The government of the People’s Republic of China in mainland China has promoted simplified Chinese for use in printing since the 1950s and 1960s to improve China’s literacy rate.

If you are about to start your Chinese learning journey, you might wonder which one you should learn? There are a lot of discussions about it. Some may say that simplified Chinese is easier to pick up and more widely used, while others may think that traditional Chinese is more aesthetically pleasing and more meaningful. 

It really depends on your preference and your purpose for learning Chinese. If you are going to work or live in mainland China, learning simplified Chinese is obviously more useful for you. If you are going to live in Taiwan or Hong Kong, learning traditional Chinese is a better choice for you.

What’s the difference between Zhongwen, Hanyu, Putonghua, and Huayu?

Zhongwen(中文; [Zhōngwén])means Chinese language. As we've talked about earlier, since Mandarin is the most spoken Chinese dialect, Zhongwen usually refers to Mandarin Chinese. So you are most likely to say: I’m learning Zhongwen(simplified Chinese: 我在学中文; traditional Chinese: 我在學中文; [Wǒ zài xué zhōngwén]).

Hanyu, Putonghua, and Hanyu actually refer to the same thing: Mandarin, though the usage is different.

Hanyu(simplified Chinese: 汉语; traditional Chinese: 漢語; [​​Hànyǔ]) literally means the language of Han ethnic group.  

Putonghua(simplified Chinese: 普通话; traditional Chinese: 普通話; [Pǔtōnghuà]) literally means common language which is the official language of mainland China.

Huayu(simplified Chinese: 华语; traditional Chinese: 華語; [Huáyǔ]) is used to refer to Mandarin in Singapore and Malaysia. In Taiwan, people use either Huayu or Guoyu(traditional Chinese: 國語; simplified Chinese: 国语; [Guóyǔ]) to refer to Mandarin. Guoyu literally means national language. So you might want to say that you’re learning Huayu or Zhongwen but not Guoyu.

I believe that you now know:

  • The difference between Mandarin and Chinese
  • Simplified Chinese and traditional Chinese: where they are used
  • The difference between Zhongwen, Hanyu, Putonghua, Huayu

Now, it’s time to find a good teacher to start your learning journey!