Inside The Chinese Language

Over the past decade, China’s economy has expanded at an average of 10.3 percent per year,1 increasing its worldwide cultural and commercial influence. An understanding of the basics of the Chinese language can be useful when visiting the country and when doing business there. In this issue of Echo Insider, we will give you information about the language, both spoken and written, and investigate some of the benefits involved in learning about Chinese.

The two major dialects of Chinese are Mandarin and Cantonese. Mandarin is considered the standard and is used mainly in the People’s Republic of China, Taiwan, and Singapore. Cantonese is found in Hong Kong, Guangdong, and Macau. For business, it is generally more practical to focus on Mandarin, so that dialect will be our focus as well. The inherent musical quality of the Chinese language is due to its tonal nature: there are four tones in Chinese and one neutral tone, and the meaning of a word changes depending on the tone applied.

Written Chinese often appears exotic to Americans because of its use of characters rather than letters. Each character has its own meaning, and they are combined to form words with new meaning. There are actually two forms of written Chinese: Simplified and Traditional. The former was created by the Chinese government in the 1950s and contains fewer, less complicated characters than Traditional Chinese. It is used in the People’s Republic of China and Singapore. Traditional Chinese is a direct descendent of its ancient ancestor, and it is seen in Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Macau. There is a third style of written Chinese called Pinyin, and it is comprised of characters with heavily accented letters. This style helps foreigners read Chinese and is not for daily use in China, so you won’t be translating your materials into Pinyin.


Before embarking on a business trip to China, it would be helpful to learn some spoken and written Chinese. If you can understand basic vocabulary and recognize some Chinese characters, you will be much more comfortable when staying in country. Furthermore, the Chinese people tend to appreciate foreigners who make attempts to speak their native tongue. Relationships are important when doing business in China, and greeting your Chinese colleague with a cheerful “nĭ hăo” will make a good impression.

If you would like to learn more about the nuances of Chinese, Echo International can help.
Give us a call at 1-800-756-1101 or visit our website at for details.

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