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What is Chinese language made of? - Sasha Zhen

What is Chinese language made of? - Sasha Zhen

You have heard hundreds of times that "Chinese is a promising language, and learning it is the path to success." I want to abstract away from these clichéd phrases. Having lived and studied in the PRC, I genuinely love the language and want to show it to you from the inside. Let's break Chinese down into "ingredients" and imagine that it is... a Chinese dish! Noodles. Let's open the door into our linguistic kitchen...

1. The noodles themselves

So - the noodles themselves are the main ingredient. This is grammar - the rules, without which speech would be like quoting Google translator surprised by a long copied text :) But you can't have a dish without the other ingredients either...

O próprio macarrão .jpeg

2. Stuffing and tableware

These are phonetics and hieroglyphics. Thousands of hieroglyphics are the filling options - chicken, pork, lotus root, prawns, tofu... And there are many types of tableware - these are the sounds. In one case, we take the blue enamel one, in the other, the beige ceramic one...

3. Sauce

The sauce soaks into the dish, penetrating between each bite and each strip of noodles. Mmm... this steeping is the history of language development.

The origins of Chinese date back to the 14th and 11th centuries BC; it is one of the most ancient languages. At first there were traditional hieroglyphics and then, in the 1950s, a writing simplification reform was carried out.

Compare the spelling of 1 - simplified and 2 - traditional characters:


1. 妈妈

2. 媽媽

"learn", "teach"

1. 学习

2. 學習

It has actually become easier to live :) We - sinologists - for sure. Traditional characters(繁体字) are currently used in Taiwan and in special administrative areas of the PRC: Hong Kong and Macao, while simplified characters (简体字) are used throughout mainland China and in Singapore.


Chinese characters are also used in Japan and Korea. Japan had no written language until the 5th century, and Chinese characters (kanji) were borrowed to convey the meaning. They are used to write nouns, Japanese proper nouns, adjective stems and verb stems. Later, syllabic alphabets were created to convey the sound of native speech in writing: hiragana (for writing words with no kanji) and katakana (for words borrowed from languages that do not use Chinese hieroglyphics).

Korean, on the other hand, has letters with a distinct pronunciation but uses hancha, the Chinese characters in Korean script, to write words of Chinese origin.

4. Cooking method

The dish can be prepared in different ways: boiled, fried, stewed in vegetable (or maybe chicken?) broth... These methods are dialects of the Chinese language. There are 7 dialect groups in total (Gan, northern dialects, Hakka, Min, Wu, Xiang, Yue) and 3 more groups recognised by the linguists of the world (Hui, Pinghua and Jin). There are also unofficial dialect names depending on the province (e.g. Sichuan dialect).

The largest group is the northern dialects; the main one in it is Beijing. This was the basis for the generally accepted form of language - Putonghua (from 普通 pǔtōng - "common" and 话 huà - "tongue"). Everything is “fun” with dialects: a Guangdong resident might just... not understand a song performed by a singer from northern China! And in Putonghua (Mandarin), everyone will understand everything. Yes, yes, that's the form you're learning. So, the 'putonghua' method of cooking is the most popular:)


5. Cooking!

Time to turn on the stove and pour water into a pot: you must now cook one way or the other by selecting the ingredients and placing them in the chosen dish.

This cooked dish is the Chinese language! The methods of preparation may vary, but you already know which one is the most popular :)

...Learning a foreign language not only gives you an advantage in employment, makes travelling easier, but can also become a favourite hobby - like cooking. Therefore, when it comes to learning foreign languages, remember our Chinese noodles. I heartily recommend making it!

Article by: Sasha Zhen, Chinese teacher, blogger and founder of "Sasha Zhen Chinese" online school

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