The Chinese language is a group of related yet mutually unintelligible languages, which form a branch of the Sino-Tibetan language family. It is spoken in most parts of China and is one of the most spoken languages in the world today, which is 1.2 billion people (nearly 16% of the world's population).
Like the Romance languages, Chinese languages has diverse variations within its language group also known as the Chinese dialects. The most commonly spoken Chinese language so far is Mandarin (over 960 million speakers), followed by Wu (80 million speakers), Min (70 million speakers), and Yue (60 million speakers).
The Chinese language is tonal and analytic. Learners of the official Chinese language, known as Mandarin, need to remember the four (sometimes five) different tones in the Chinese pronunciation.
The four tones of the Chinese language are the basic foundation of pronunciation that you need to take note of when learning Mandarin. These tones are usually taught as 汉语拼音 (Han Yu Pin Yin) in the Beginner's syllabus of Mandarin where learners get to learn how to pronounce each Chinese characters correctly using the right tone. These tones are used solely as guides for learners and are not supposed to be written in the official language.
The first tone is the High Tone symbolized as ( ˉ ). For example: 妈 (mā), a word for Mother.
The second tone is the Rising Tone symbolized as ( ˊ ). For example: 麻 (má), a word for Numb.
The third tone is the Deep Rising Tone ( ˇ ). For example: 马 (mă), a word for Horse.
The fourth tone is the Falling Tone (ˋ). For example: 骂 (mà), a word for To Scold.
The last and final tone is the Neutral Tone, used at the end of a phrase or sentence indicating a question, a request, or a matter-of-fact statement. For example:
...吃了吗。(chī le ma), ...have already eaten. 吗 is the word with a neutral tone indicating the fact that the subject has already eaten.
好吗？(hăo ma), ...alright? 吗 is a word with a neutral tone, whereby in this context, the subject was simply asking for a permission.
The Chinese language uses specific grammatical words, rather than inflections, to express syntactic relations within sentences. Here is an example:
我 （Wo） - I
所有 （Suo You） - All
的 （De） - (word indicating Possession)
朋友 （Peng You） - Friends
都 （Dou） - All
要 （Yao） - Want to
吃 （Chi） - Eat
鸡蛋 （Ji Dan） - Eggs
There are about more than 80,000 Chinese characters, BUT, you'd only need to know around 3000 characters in standard Chinese (Mandarin). Still a lot to remember for you? Don't worry!
Try learning up to about 1000 to 1200 characters of Mandarin, and you can already hold a simple conversation with anybody who speaks Mandarin. It's not so intimidating as you imagined!
Here in Singapore, knowing a little bit of Mandarin helps. It is a bridge that will connect you to the locals and especially the senior citizens or middle-aged individuals, depending on your occupation. Like any other languages, practice is the key to speaking well.
These are the basics that you need to know about the Mandarin Chinese. It is a beautiful language in the way it sounds and how people have used Mandarin to expressed themselves over poems and tales of the ancients. It is now one of the world's most important languages since China is an emerging powerhouse.