All Women's Talk

7 Different Chinese Dialects and Where They Come from ...

By Melanie

If you've ever wondered why so many Chinese speak differently, it's because there's over 250 different Chinese dialects in existence. I can personally speak 4 different Chinese dialects (which doesn't seem like much compared to the total out there) including the one I use to speak with my dad, and a separate one to speak with my mom. We speak in 2 different dialects when the whole family's together, plus a little bit of English.

Table of contents:

  1. Hakka
  2. Mandarin
  3. Cantonese
  4. Hokkien
  5. Taishanese
  6. Teochew
  7. Hainanese

1 Hakka

Of all the different Chinese dialects out there, this is the most popular one back in my hometown. Even people who aren't of Hakka descent would understand and be able to speak in this dialect because it's so commonly used. This dialect came from Guangdong where my paternal grandparents grew up. That's why I'm Hakka Chinese and I speak Hakka with my dad.

2 Mandarin

This is a dialect that most, if not all Chinese speakers can communicate with. It originated in Beijing and is the official language of many places in Asia including Singapore, Taiwan and of course, China. You may find that it sounds different when spoken by people of different nationalities. That's because they speak in different accents that's influenced by the places they live in.

3 Cantonese

This dialect is internationally popular due to its extensive usage in Hong Kong which is Asia's leading financial centre. You can even take your oral exam for A level (a UK qualification) Chinese in Cantonese instead of Mandarin. Like Hakka, this dialect came from Guangdong which used to be known as Canton; hence, Cantonese.

4 Hokkien

This is also a rather popular dialect because it is widely used throughout Taiwan. Some may know it as Taiwanese, but it's actually Hokkien. It originated from the Fujian province of China.

5 Taishanese

Unlike the others previously mentioned, this isn't a really popular dialect but it's the one that I use to speak with my mom. It used to be popular, but due to its huge similarity with Cantonese, younger generations including my cousins, speak Cantonese instead because it's more mainstream. That's also why I tend to get confused and speak Cantonese out of tune. It originated from Siyi which means four counties in English.

6 Teochew

There are actually a lot of TeoChew people out there. You might not know because they themselves can't speak TeoChew or don't even know that they're TeoChew because of that. This dialect is also from Guangdong. The older generations that lived there seemed to migrate a lot making the language less common.

7 Hainanese

This dialect is obviously from Hainan. It's one of those dialects that has literally nothing in common with the others. I'd be totally clueless if someone were to speak to me in this dialect which fortunately, has yet to happen. There weren't many people who spoke Hainanese to begin with and the numbers are probably going to get smaller like with many other dialects.

I think that it's really important to understand your origins and knowing your dialect just makes it easier for you to identify yourself. It feels pretty good too, to know that you're preserving a culture that is so much of who you are since more and more are getting lost nowadays as the world becomes globalized. Be proud of your roots; they're the thing that keeps you grounded. Where do you come from?

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