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Frequently Asked Questions on the Chinese Language

Which tones are there in Chinese?

Chinese has 4 different tones as well as 1 silent tone, and they all determine the meaning of a word.

Let's take the letter "a" in its 4 + 1 tones:
1) ā ... 2) á ... 3) ǎ ... 4) à ... 5) a

The 1st tone is the highest. The 2nd tone starts in the middle and goes up high. The 3rd tone goes from the middle way down, then upwards a bit. The 4th tone starts high but then goes downwards. The 5th tone is not pronounced in any particular way but is a bit more quiet.
(Image via Wikipedia/ Wereon, GNU-licensed).

And what is Pinyin?

Pinyin or "Hanyu Pinyin" is a so-called "transliteration" of the Chinese characters into Latin letters. They can help you pronounce a text even when you don't read Chinese letters. Pinyin letters use accentuations to represent the 4 tones.

How can I learn Chinese?

The best learning may be achieved through a mixture of different tools and approaches: from classes to books, studying at home to talking with others, and also, by watching videos.

What's Mandarin?

Chinese ("Hànyǔ" or "Zhōngwén" in Chinese, see characters in image) is spoken in many different dialects depending on the region, like Cantonese in Hong Kong. Mandarin (also called "Putonghua") is the name of the official standard dialect, spoken by many in Mainland China.

What's the difference between traditional Chinese and simplified Chinese letters?

Traditional Chinese writing is older, as the name suggests, but it is still used in Taiwan and Hong Kong. The simplified Chinese letters are used in Mainland China in most contexts these days.

Is there an online translator for English to Pinyin/ Chinese?

Yes, you can find one at, for instance.

How can I type Chinese characters on my keyboard?

Try downloading a program like the free Google IME for Windows ("IME" means "Input Method Editor"). Then if you switched your computer's language setting to Chinese, you can enter Pinyin letters, without accentuation – like "wo" for "I" – and pick from a list of suggestions of Chinese characters using your arrow keys (you approve a selection with the space key).
For this to work, you must be able to read Chinese letters, though it's easier than writing Chinese letters as you get to see a couple of options.

How many people speak Chinese?

Around 1.136 billion people around the world speak the Chinese language family.


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