Mandarin around the world… You say Guóyǔ, I say Pǔtōnghuà

peckishlaowai Posted in Learning Mandarin,Tags: , , , ,

As far as I know it’s important to be aware of the different regional names / words that exist when referring to Mandarin – and even better to know which one to use when speaking to Chinese people from different countries. Certainly, here in New Zealand, it is useful to know, as I meet Chinese immigrants from Malaysia, Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan and mainland China.

I think you’re very likely to offend a Taiwanese, if you asked them whether they speak Pǔtōnghuà and vice versa likely to offend a mainland Chinese if you asked them whether they speak Guóyǔ. (Yes I realise we’re speaking of one and the same language – minus the accent and perhaps “slight” regional differences.)

Anyway, to start with it’s important to know a little bit about those countries where Mandarin Chinese is an official language:

  • China (the People’s Republic of China) Zhōngguó (中国; 中國)
  • Taiwan (Republic of China) Táiwān (台湾;台灣)
  • Singapore Xīnjiāpō (新加坡) (one of the four official languages)

In China (including Hong Kong special administrative region & Macau:

Mandarin is known as Pǔtōnghuà (Simplified 普通话 ; Traditional普通話)

Meaning: common speech (of the Chinese language)

Cantonese is largely spoken in Hong Kong, thus I suspect there is a Cantonese word for Mandarin that may be more prevalent than the Mandarin word Pǔtōnghuà when referring to Mandarin. Any corrections on this would naturally be welcome…


Mandarin is known as Guóyǔ; (Simplified Chinese: 国语; Traditional Chinese: 國語)

Meaning: national language’

Singapore & Malasia:

Mandarin is known as Huáyǔ; (Simplified Chinese: 华语; Traditional Chinese: 華語)

Meaning: Chinese language (in a cultural sense).

I suspect it may be kosher to refer to Putonghua when speaking to a Singaporean, but I still think it’s best to refer to Mandarin as Huáyǔ when speaking to a Singaporean or Malaysian Chinese simply because it is the word they themselves are more likely to use (and I guess therefore would be more respectful).

Zhōngguó huà (中国话) and Zhōngwén (中文)

These two words can also be used to refer to Mandarin. However the difference between these two is that

Zhōngguó huà refers only to spoken language i.e words e.g.

Wǒ huì shuō zhōngguó huà


Zhōngwén (中文) refers to the Chinese Language in the sense of both the spoken and written language:

wǒ huì shuō zhōngwén


With the latter, you’re stating that you’re learning both how to speak Chinese as well as write it.

Hànyǔ (汉语 / 漢語)

Of this one, I’m not entirely sure at all – it seems that Hànyǔ is very much interchangeably used with Zhongwen, however this may not always be the case and I don’t know whether there are any exceptions.

It also seems that Hànyǔ is the preferred option for academic / educational purposes. Most courses refer to Mandarin as Hànyǔ and not Pǔtōnghuà

Apparently, 汉语also refers to the language spoken by the Han nationality, i.e. Pǔtōnghuà the standard contemporary Chinese language.

Well, I hope this is just slightly useful. I still need to do some more research into the last one and see if I can find anything more concrete…

Inspirational People – Who’s Your Laowai Hero?

peckishlaowai Posted in Learning Mandarin,Tags: , ,

My interest in Mandarin and China had been in place well before I discovered my inspirational laowai(s). It is good to know that the little seed that grew into a much larger interest had been planted and nurtured by me.
I can’t take all the credit though for any progress I’ve made in my studies, nor the fact that I’m still interested in Mandarin after several years – because I’ll admit – it can be a frustrating interest at the best of times.

Sometimes it is necessary to find inspiration from a source to fuel your own dreams and interests – someone or something to look up to – someone that can gently give you a proverbial push in the right direction before you throw all your toys (or Mandarin materials) out of the cot in frustration.

These people are some of the few people I’ve stumbled across that have inspired me (and are still inspiring me):

Da Shan 大山:
Canadian Mark Henry Rowswell is my first Mandarin hero ever. Da Shan is to Mandarin, as Jean-Claude van Damme is to Martial Arts.

If Wikipedia’s information on Dashan is anything to go by, then “Dashan is the most famous Western personality in China’s media industry. He occupies a unique position as a foreign national who has become a bona fide domestic celebrity.” If you Google his name you’ll find plenty of Mandarin courses being presented by Da Shan, in mind I say – excellent pronunciation. The most memorable of his courses for me would be the sports series that aired on CCTV prior to, and during the 2008 Olympics.

I imagine plenty of Mandarin learners might turn a funny shade of green when listening to him flash his Mandarin skills – as for me, I remain starry-eyed and envious. This link looks potentially follow-worthy – I shall add it my list of Mandarin stuff myself.

Marc van der Chijs
According to his website, Marc is a “Dutch serial entrepreneur & angel investor in China, Chief Evangelist @ Spil Games, co-founder of a.o. and”.

I recently “rediscovered” him again online and am very much interested in reading up about him. He is inspirational to me simply because he’s made a life for himself in China and is successful in his business endeavours in China. Needless to say it’s an even more fickle online business world over there in the Middle Kingdom than it generally can be, therefore I consider him a true entrepreneur and success story.

I have no knowledge of Marc’s Mandarin capability unfortunately – but I would be twice the fan I am today if I discovered that he knows how to speak some Mandarin.

Charlotte MacInnis (AiHua)
Charlotte MacInnis / AiHua is an American women who moved from the US to China with her parents when she was 7 years old. Like Da Shan, Charlotte is fluent in Mandarin, very knowledgeable on Chinese culture and also a familiar face on Chinese TV programs. I think she’s an inspiration to any Mandarin learner and probably a great example to expat kids who spends much of their childhood in a country with a culture so very different from their own.

When I’ve got some extra time, I give my listening skills some practice by following ‘Growing Up in Chinese’ (成长汉语), a series of short 15 minutes episodes presented by Charlotte on CCTV

So I’ve shared my laowai heroes with you.

Do you have an inspiring Laowai story to share with me? Let me know who’s been inspirational to you. I’d be keen to hear.