as a foreign language is about the study of Chinese languages by non-native speakers.  With over 1.4 billion speakers around the world,  Chinese is also the official language in Hong Kong SAR with the spoken language being Cantonese (and English as another official language), Macau (with Portuguese as the other official language), Taiwan, and in Singapore as one of the four official languages.


Chinese as a foreign language is about the study of Chinese languages by non-native speakers.  Chinese is now considered as very much an international language and is one of the six official languages of the United nations, alongside Arabic, English, French, Russian and Spanish.   Putonghua is one of the most widely spoken of the Chinese languages with over 1.4 billion speakers around the world.   Chinese is also the official language in Hong Kong SAR with the spoken language being Cantonese (and English as another official language), Macau (with Portuguese as the other official language), Taiwan, and in Singapore as one of the four official languages. 


The history of Chinese

Chinese civilization history is long and complex.  The ancient written history of China had been caved onto the bone or shell in Oracle Bone Script, 甲骨文 in Chinese, with the history over 5,000 years

by Fanghong Photo by inyucho

An important ancient written record is The Bamboo Annals, 竹書紀年  in Chinese, which can be dated back to 296 BC. It is a time book, in the form of Bamboo Slips, about the growth history of ancient China, it records the historical facts and events ranged in chronological order, as in a time line.

Another important manuscript, Chu Silk Manuscript.   In 1946, the art collector Cai Jixiang, 蔡季襄 in Chinese, owned the manuscript, and asked John Hadley Cox to transport it to the United States. The philanthropist Arthur M. Sackler purchased the ancient manuscript in 1965, and it is preserved in the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery in Washington, D.C..

Recent excavations of Chu-period tombs have discovered historically comparable manuscripts written on fragile bamboo slips and silk – the Chinese word zhubo (竹帛 literally "bamboo and silk") means "bamboo slips and silk (for writing); ancient books". The Chu Silk Manuscript was roughly contemporaneous with the (ca. 305 BCE) Tsinghua Bamboo Slips and (ca. 300 BCE) Guodian Chu Slips, and it preceded the (168 BCE) Mawangdui Silk Texts. Its subject matter predates the (ca. 168 BCE) Han Dynasty silk Divination by Astrological and Meteorological Phenomena.

The provenance of the Chu Silk Manuscript is uncertain, like many illicit antiquities. Sometime between 1934 and 1942, grave robbers discovered it in a tomb near Zidanku (literally "bullet storehouse"), east of Changsha, Hunan Province. Archeologists later found the original tomb and dated it to around 300 BCE.

Bamboo Slips Mawangdui Silk texts
Bamboo Slips
 By Shanghai Museum Other than using Bamboo, ancient Chinese people had used Silk as the writing material

Movable-type printing technology.  Wooden movable type was developed by Bi Sheng, 畢昇 in Chinese,  around 1040 AD. The movable type printing technology had been improved by clay movable types, the weakness of unevenness of wooden type especially after being soaked in ink had been overcome by clay types.  This printing technology greatly reduced the cost and time of book publishing.  In 1298, a government official  Wang Zhen re-invented the method of making movable wooden types, he had printed 100 copies of Records of Jingde County that was a book containing over 60,000 Chinese characters. he had also written a book named A method of making moveable wooden types for printing books.  Later on, it had been further improved by using copper,  bronze, iron or tin. 

A page from a removable bronze type print book of 1490  
By Hua Sui 1490  

The first Portuguese-Chinese dictionary and the first English-Chinese dictionary

Matteo Ricci (1552- 1610) and Michael Ruggieri (1552 - 1610), Ricci and his companion, Michele Ruggieri, managed to enter China in 1583, and eventually the imperial capital, Beijing, in 1600. They began a work which, despite its ups and down, led to the establishment of a permanent Catholic Church in China, with the help of the Chinese Jesuit Lay Brother Sebastiano Fernandez (also spelled Fernandes; 1562–1621), they are thought to have created the first Portuguese-Chinese dictionary some time during 1583-88.

Two Bible translators edited early Chinese dictionaries. The Scottish missionary Robert Morrison wrote Chinese–English and English–Chinese lexicons (1815–1823). The British missionary Walter Henry Medhurst wrote Hokkien (Min Nan) dialect (1832) and Chinese-English (1842) dictionaries. Both were flawed in their representation of pronunciations, such as aspirated stops.

The American philologist and diplomat Samuel Wells Williams applied the method of dialect comparison in his dictionary (1874), and refined distinctions in articulation.

The first Portuguese-Chinese dictionary some time during 1583-88     A page of Robert Morrison's dictionary (originally published ca. 1820; this is 1865 reprint)
By Matteo Ricci (1552- 1610) and Michael Ruggieri      By Robert Morrison

The History of Putonghua

In 1924, modernizing reformers managed to convince the nation that the educated speech of Beijing was chosen as the standard, the grammar and vocabulary of that standard were written down using Chinese characters.  Mandarin then became the official language of China and it was called "National Language'.

On the other hand, in 1950's the Central Government of The People Public of China had standardized Chinese characters by two means, first by the reduction in the total number of standardized Chinese characters to around 7,000 commonly used Chinese characters,  secondly, by structural simplification of character forms, this gave birth to  Simplified Chinese.

The educated speech of Beijing (speaking) and the Simplified Chinese characters (reading and writing) form the modern standardized Mandarin in the name of Putonghua which means  'The Universal Language'. 

Nowadays Putunghua, or the Standardized Mandarin, is the official language in The People's Republic of China.


Is Chinese language difficult?

You might have an idea that Chinese language will be a difficult language to learn, this is not necessarily true. 

Chinese language is an interesting language.  Because of the language's standardization, everyone writes and reads the same language in China regardless of what the dialect is spoken.  Have you ever met a language where verbs have only one form and don't change according to mood or numbers or tense? It is a language where there are no cases therefore you can forget about genitives, vocatives, ablatives and other confusing brethren as well as where there no gender differences are acknowledged. 

Take an example, while someone learning English has to learn different verb forms like “give/gave/given/giving,” all you need to do in Chinese is just to remember one word: gei. 

Some learners worry that they won't be able to learn the 'tones', however if you learn the tone every time you learn a new word, you will soon find that you produce the tone automatically.  Even if your tones are not brilliant, people can still understand you fairly easily when they are actually speaking with you.


Where to learn

Various online courses are available:


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