Spoken Chinese

Chinese is a family of closely-related but mutually unintelligible languages. These languages are known variously as fāngyán (regional languages), dialects of Chinese or varieties of Chinese. In all around 1.2 billion people speak one or more varieties of Chinese.

All varieties of Chinese belong to the Sino-Tibetan family of languages and each one has its own dialects and sub-dialects, which are more or less mutually intelligible.

Notable features

Major varieties of Chinese include:

Pǔtōnghuà (Mandarin) Mandarin (pǔtōnghuà/huáyǔ/guóyǔ)

Mandarin is spoken by possibly more people than any other language: just over 1 billion. It is the main language of government, the media and education in China and Taiwan, and one of the four official languages in Singapore.

Information about Mandarin | Phrases | Numbers | Colours | Family words | Terms of endearment | Time | Weather | Tongue twisters | Tower of Babel | Articles | Links | Learning materials


Wú is spoken in Zhejiang and Jiangsu provinces and in Shanghai and Hong Kong by about 80 million people. Major dialects of Wu include Shanghainese and Suzhou.

Information about Shanghainese | Phrases | Numbers | Books about Shanghainese on: Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk [affilate links]

Yuè (Cantonese) Cantonese (gwóngdùngwá/yuhtyúh)

Cantonese is spoken by about 72 million people in Guangdong and Guangxi provinces and Hainan island in China, and also in Hong Kong, Macau, Singapore, Malaysia and many other countries.

Information about Cantonese | Phrases | Numbers | Family words | Time expressions | Tower of Babel | Cantonese courses on: Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk [affilate links]

Mǐn Nán (Southern Min) mínnánhuà (bân-lâm-oe)

Mǐn Nán is spoken in the south of Fujian province, Guangdong province, southern Hainan Island, in the south of Zhejiang and Jiangxi provinces, and also in Taiwan, Singapore and many other countries. There are about 48 million speakers.

Further details of Min languages

Jìnyǔ jìnyǔ/shānxīhuà

Jinyu is spoken mainly in Shanxi province and also in Shanxi and Henan provinces by about 46 million people. It used to be considered as a dialect of Mandarin, but is now thought to be a separate varietyof Chinese.

Hakka hak ga va (kèjiāhuà)

Hakka is spoken in south eastern China, parts of Taiwan and in the New Territories of Hong Kong. There are also significant communities of Hakka speakers in such countries as the USA, French Guiana, Mauritius and the UK. The total number of Hakka speakers is about 47 million.

Information about Hakka | Phrases | Numbers | Family words | Tower of Babel

Xiāng (Hunanese) xiāngyǔ/húnánhuà

Xiang (Hunanese) is spoken by about 36 million people in China, mainly in Hunan province, and also in Sichuan, Guangxi and Guangdong provinces.
Further details

Gàn gànyǔ/jiāngxīhuà

Gan is spoken by about 21 million people in Jiangxi province and in parts of Hubei, Anhui, Hunan and Fujian provinces.
Further details

Mín Běi (Northern Min) mínběihuà

Mín Běi has about 10.9 million speakers mainly in Northern Fujian Province and Singapore. Mín is the Classical Chinese name for Fujian province and Běi means 'north' or 'northern'.

Further details of Min languages

Mín Dōng (Eastern Min) míndōnghuà

Mín Dōng is spoken mainly in east central Fujian Province and also in Brunei, Indonesia (Java and Bali), Malaysia (Peninsular), Singapore, Thailand. The approximate number of native speakers is 9 million.

Further details of Min languages

Mín Zhōng (Central Min) mínzhōnghuà

Mín Zhōng is spoken mainly in central Fujian Province by about 3.1 million people.

Further details of Min languages

Dungan (хуэйзў йүян)

Dungan is spoken by the Muslim Hui people in China, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan. There are approximately 108,000 speakers. Dungan is the only variety of Chinese not with Chinese characters. Instead it is written with the Cyrillic alphabet.

Information about Dungan | Numbers | Tower of Babel

Pǔ-Xián pǔxiánhuà

Pǔ-Xián is spoken by about 2.5 million people mainly in east central Fujian Province, and and also in Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia and the USA.

Further details of Pǔ-Xián

Huīzhōu huīzhōuhuà

Huīzhōu is spoken in southern Anhui and northern Zhejiang provinces by about 4.6 million people. It was considered as a dialect of Mandarin, but is now thought to be a separate variety of Chinese.

Sample videos in different varieties of Chinese


An introduction to the major varieties of Chinese (in Chinese)

Recordings in various varieties of Chinese

Learn Chinese with AIChinese

Chinese pages

Written Chinese: Oracle Bone Script, Simplified characters, Bopomofo, Types of characters, Structure of written Chinese, Evolution of characters, How the Chinese script works, Xiao'erjing, General Chinese

Spoken Chinese: Mandarin, Dungan, Wu, Shanghainese, Wenzhounese, Yue, Cantonese, Weitou, Min, Jian'ou, Taiwanese, Teochew, Fuzhounese, Puxian, Hakka, Xiang, Gan, How many people speak Chinese?

Other Chinese pages: Chinese numbers (數碼) | Chinese classifiers (量詞) | Electronic dictionaries | Chinese links | Books: Chinese characters and calligraphy | Cantonese | Mandarin, Shanghainese, Hokkien and Taiwanese

Semanto-phonetic writing systems

Akkadian Cuneiform, Ancient Egyptian (Demotic), Ancient Egyptian (Hieratic), Ancient Egyptian (Hieroglyphs), Chinese, Chữ-nôm, Cuneiform, Japanese, Jurchen, Khitan, Linear B, Luwian, Mayan, Naxi, Sawndip (Old Zhuang), Sui, Sumerian Cuneiform, Tangut (Hsihsia)

Other writing systems

Page last modified: 15.03.23


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