Mandarin is not such a universal language as English, which enjoys the status of the official language in 70 countries. There are only three locations and countries that speak Mandarin as an official language. However, it doesn’t change the fact that Mandarin Chinese is the largest native language spoken by 16 percent of the world’s population.
How Many People Speak Chinese in the World?
If you are unfamiliar with the demographics of China, you are likely to take it for granted that all Chinese citizens speak Mandarin Chinese. As of 2022, China has a significant population of 1.426 billion, yet only 92% of Chinese people speak Standard Chinese, with the other 8% speaking Cantonese, Mongolian, Korean, Tibetan, Uyghur, Kazakh, Zhuang, Yi, and much more indigenous languages. Across the world, 1.31 billion people are speaking Chinese as their native language, either in one variation of Chinese or another. Mandarin, as the most widely spoken variant, is spoken by 955 million people primarily living in China, Taiwan, Singapore, Malaysia, and Indonesia.
Which Countries Speak Mandarin?
There are only three locations that speak Mandarin as an official language. They are China, Taiwan, and Singapore.
As the birthplace of Mandarin, China undoubtedly contributes most to the Mandarin-speaking population. Mandarin (官話) is a group of Chinese dialects natively spoken by people living in most of northern and southwestern China. It was the production of the simplification of Middle Chinese (265-1269) when the peoples of Mongol, Turkic, and Tungus-Manchu started to adopt the northern Chinese language during the Tang Dynasty (618-907). Within China, the Mandarin language can be divided into eight subdialects:
Southern Mandarin: Yangzi (江淮官話) and Southwestern subdialects(西南官話);
Central Mandarin: Central Plains(中原官話) and Northwestern varieties (蘭銀官話) ;
Northern Mandarin: Beijing (北京官話), Northeastern (東北官話), North Central (冀魯官話), and Peninsular Mandarin (膠遼官話).
In China, Mandarin is translated into Putonghua普通話, which means the common language. Because many of the Mandarin subdialects are mutually unintelligible, the large country needed a dialect that functioned as the lingua franca to facilitate effective communication between people. When the time came, Putonghua (the Common Langauge) emerged and developed into Modern Standard Chinese. The phonology of Modern Standard Chinese is based on the Beijing Mandarin dialect, a once regional variety of Mandarin which now has become the official spoken language of China.
The majority of the Taiwanese population speaks Mandarin as their first language. However, many are also fluent in Taiwanese Hokkien/Minnanyu, a variety of Min Chinese language which had significantly influenced the Mandarin dialect spoken on the island. In Taiwan, Mandarin is called Guoyu(國語/National Language) or Huayu (華語/Mandarin Language). Just like the Putonghua in mainland China, Taiwanese Mandarin also derives from the phonology of the Beijing Mandarin dialect and follows the grammar of written vernacular Chinese in the 1910s.
However, Taiwanese Mandarin diverged from mainland Standard Mandarin in terms of pronunciation and vocabulary as a result of the influences from other languages spoken in Taiwan, such as Taiwanese Hokkien and Japanese. Despite the divergence, Taiwanese Mandarin and Standard Mandarin spoken in mainland China remain mutually intelligible, however, their pronunciation, grammar, and vocabulary can vary significantly. That’s why it’s necessary to use a Taiwanese Mandarin translator when translating from or into Guoyu, to avoid inaccurate adaptation between languages.
With a whopping 74.3% of ethnic groups being Chinese, Singapore is naturally one of the three countries that speak Chinese as an official language. In fact, there are four official languages in Singapore – English, Mandarin, Malay, and Tamil, resulting in the country ranking sixth on the list of countries with the most official languages. There are two distinct Singaporean Mandarin (新加坡華語) dialects spoken in Singapore. One is standard Singaporean Mandarin and the other is Colloquial Singaporean Mandarin. The formal is taught in all government schools in Singapore and is more commonly used in formal situations such as on radio and television, while the latter is adopted by the general populace on informal occasions. Either dialect of Singaporean Mandarin features loads of loanwords from other languages such as Hokkien, English, Tamil, and Malay. Any fluent Mandarin speaker can easily spot the difference between the two dialects.
Where is Mandarin Spoken?
In China, Mandarin is widely spoken as the lingua franca in everyday life. While there are over 302 languages and dialects spoken in the vast country, Chinese people, especially in first-tier cities, spontaneously speak Standard Mandarin when not at home. Because many migrant workers are earning their living in the developed area. You never know which part of China the people serving you have come from, making Standard Mandarin a surefire language for communication. However, people tend to speak the indigenous language or their mother tongue at home or with friends.
In Taiwan, Taiwanese Mandarin is colloquially spoken in day-to-day life, with some speakers speaking Taiwanese Mandarin that is closer to pure Standard Mandarin than others.
After the SMC (Speak Mandarin Campaign) in 1979, Mandarin was more widely spoken by the Chinese community in Singapore, who used to speak Singaporean Hokkien as the lingua franca. With the economic rise of China in recent decades and the increasing influx of Chinese immigrants from mainland China, the Mandarin-speaking population has significantly surged and become the second most commonly spoken language in Singapore, both at home and on formal occasions.
Translation Used in Mandarin Speaking Countries
Chinese is not a language but a group of languages and dialects with varying pronunciation, vocabulary, and grammar. Although the Chinese in different Mandarin speaking countries have no trouble understanding one another, it doesn’t mean a Mandarin speaker can translate the content into any variant of Mandarin Chinese. For example, the translation for the metro in Taiwan is “捷運”, while in mainland China the equivalent is “地铁”. Imagine what would happen if using a mainland Mandarin translator to adapt your English content to the Taiwanese market. Your Taiwanese audience will have a hard time relating to your content and think that they are not valued.
If you intend for greater success in the Mandarin-speaking market, be sure to employ translators who are native to the local dialect of Mandarin Chinese. When you’re unsure about the translator’s qualification, it’s best to work with a professional language service provider like Wordspath which has extensive resources of Mandarin Chinese linguists born and bred in different Mandarin speaking countries. If you need to further discuss your project, please don’t hesitate to contact our expert!
There are many countries that speak Mandarin in the Chinese community across the world. But only three of them have made Mandarin an official language. However, due to the significance of the Chinese population and the rise of China’s economy, Mandarin is gaining dominance all over the world other than Mandarin speaking countries.