Mandarin is the lingua franca language of the People’s Republic of China and greater China (Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macau) making it the world’s most spoken language with 837 million native speakers. Mandarin is a Chinese language that has been ‘simplified’ compared to Cantonese or Hokkien in both its spoken and written form consisting of four tones of voice. The language was simplified during the early days of the Communist regime to improve literacy rates amongst the masses. It has now become one of the main business languages of the world and one of the six official languages used by the United Nations.
When it comes to learning Mandarin, it is not as difficult as many people assume. For example, compared to French, its grammar is simple with no verbal tenses, gender agreement or plurals. Probably the most challenging and interesting part is learning the different tones and how to read and write Chinese characters. Different tones have different meanings: for example, 嗎(ㄇㄚˉ, mā): ? means QUESTION MARK which is used to raise a question, 麻(ㄇㄚˊ, má) means numbness, 馬 (ㄇㄚˇ, mǎ)means horse and 罵 (ㄇㄚˋ, mà) means scold.
However, simplified Mandarin characters are not as detailed as the traditional versions found in Cantonese or Japanese, making them easier to draw and remember! Having a native Mandarin speaker and a Chinese cultural expert within the London Languages team, who have experience both in Chinese and European business environments, allows us to advise you on the best training options for you and your business.
Cantonese is the second most spoken language in Greater China after Mandarin. Spoken across predominately Southern China, Cantonese is the original language of the ancient Canton region - modern day Guangzhou (China), Hong Kong and Macau.
Cantonese is a complex language with a traditional writing system and 6 to 9 tones of voice depending on the native speaker you ask! Whilst Mainland China was going through the Cultural Revolution where Mandarin was standardised across the country, the Hong Kong region was exempt from reform due to the region being under British colonial rule.
Cantonese remains the majority spoken language in Hong Kong and Macau although most native speakers can take a guess at speaking Mandarin without studying the language due to its simpler phonics form and similarity in pronunciation. For a learner, Cantonese is tough language to become proficient in and mastering the possible 9 tones of voice takes considerable time and patience.
Japanese is the official language of Japan, spoken by nearly 130 million speakers making it the 9th most spoken language by native speakers in the world. With most speakers residing in Japan, the largest speaker population outside of ‘the Land of the Rising Sun’ is in Brazil!
Japanese is also the only modern language that uses three alphabets scripts simultaneously: hiragana, katakana and kanji. A typical Japanese sentence will be formulated by characters derived from each script making writing and reading a tricky task to conquer for learners who are used to Roman script languages.
In contrast, speaking Japanese and its grammar is extremely easy. Unlike other Asian languages, Japanese is a non-tonal language (just like English) where pitch is only used to show emotion and expression! All Japanese words are pronounced from a set of 104 sound combinations.
Like Mandarin Chinese, Japanese grammar is very easy – there are no masculine or feminine words, only two tenses and to find out the meaning of a sentence, all clues come at the end in the verb conjugation. Japanese is a subject-object-verb structured language unlike English and Mandarin where it is a subject-verb-object.
International interest in the Japanese language has been prevalent since the 19th century for economic and cultural reasons. Knowing Japanese helps to communicate with potential customers in their own language and maybe win new business. In addition, it gives an insider view of the culture, work ethic and business etiquette. While the cultures of the Asian countries do differ, Asian cultures together share many similarities that differentiate them from Western ways and norms. So, a study of Japanese can open your perspective on the values that other Asian nations share with Japan, including religious beliefs, ethics, and aesthetics.
Korean is a language isolate! It does not belong to a language family tree like French or Spanish does to Latin. Some words and the original writing system was heavily influenced by China and Japan in the early days of the Hermit Kingdom. In the 15th century, Korea created its own written system called Hangul distancing itself from the Chinese complicated characters. With an alphabet of 24 characters, rumour has it that the Korean alphabet can be learnt in an afternoon!
Korean is spoken by more than 78 million people. The number of Korean learners has remarkably grown in the past several decades partly due to South Korea’s increasingly visible roles in the world economy, technological innovation, and global rise of K-POP culture.
The Korean language has many other interesting linguistic and cultural features, such as multiple speech levels, honorific expressions, and different particles that indicate grammatical relations in a sentence.