Chinese belongs to the Sino-Tibetan language family, which also includes Tibetan, Karen, and Lolo-Burmese. The Chinese language has influenced many of the other languages of East Asia.
Chinese actually consists of a large number of dialects which share a written language but are mutually unintelligible when spoken. Because of this, some linguists consider them separate languages instead of dialects.
Mandarin Chinese is the official language of the People's Republic of China and Taiwan, and it is the most widely-spoken form of Chinese. Other important linguistic groups include Cantonese, Wu, Xiang, Hakka, Min, and Gan. Within each group, many variations in spoken language occur. It is said that speakers from one area may not understand those who live only a few miles away. Of course these details are important for those who want to learn Mandarin.
The majority of Chinese speakers in the United States speak Cantonese. Because Cantonese speakers were the first people to speak Chinese who came to the United States, many English words of Chinese origin come from Cantonese language.
So, is it easy to learn Mandarin? Here are some precious advices.
Nobody who learn Mandarin would look at Mandarin characters and mistake them for English words! However, as you learn to speak Mandarin, some words may sound familiar. Generally, however, they are not what you might think. For example, depending on its tone, the word shu can mean book, uncle, neglect, ransom, ripe, and comb. However, it never means "shoe."
The Chinese language is a tonal language, which means that a given word can change meaning depending on its tone. Mandarin Chinese has four tones: flat, rising, falling then rising, and falling. Other dialects can have as many as nine tones. Careless use of tones with the syllable ma in Mandarin Chinese could cause one to call someone's mother a horse! So be careful with your Chinese pronunciation.
Learning to read Chinese and write Chinese takes commitment. If you want to learn to read Chinese, you must learn about 3,000 Chinese characters to become literate. Many Chinese characters give no indication of what they should sound like when said. Therefore, learning Chinese vocabulary is a two-step process, where one must learn sound and meaning separately. Some characters do indicate their sound, but students who are just beginning to learn Mandarin may not recognize those indications.
As you learn Mandarin pronouns, you will notice that the words for "he" and "she" share the sound , but are represented by two different Mandarin characters. When you listen to people speak Mandarin, you must use the context to differentiate between the pronouns.
If you learn Mandarin you have to know that this language was traditionally written from right to left in vertical columns. Today, most material published in the People's Republic of China is printed in rows read from left to right as in English, while Taiwan's publishers continue to write Chinese using the traditional method.
Mastering the Chinese tonal system and learning Chinese pronunciation can be a real challenge. That's why good Chinese software could be important as well as other available ways to learn Mandarin.