Alternative names: Mandarin, Chinese
'Chinese' is often used interchangeably with 'Modern Standard Chinese' and refers to Mandarin, which is the official language of China (including Taiwan). However, Mandarin is just one within a group of language varieties which are spoken throughout China. They are largely mutually unintelligible and as such are often referred to as separate languages, though native speakers will usually refer to them as dialects. Mandarin is the most widely spoken variety and is spoken across the northern, central and western regions of China. Modern Standard Chinese is based on the Beijing dialect of Mandarin. Cantonese is spoken in southern China as well as Hong Kong and Macau. Speakers of Chinese first arrived in Australia in the mid-1800s, and the community has maintained an important and growing presence. In addition to Chinese language community schools established for language maintenance reasons, Chinese has been taught in schools as a second language since the 1950s. There are in fact three streams of language classes in Australian schools to cater for differing levels of proficiency, backgrounds and learning contexts (fluent speakers of Chinese; background speakers with limited proficiency; and second language learners). Chinese is a popular choice with students considering the career advantage of being able to speak the language of such an important economic power. It is a tonal language which uses characters to denote a syllable of sound and a unit of meaning. Learning Chinese characters is widely recognised to be difficult for English speakers and for this reason some university language courses make a distinction between learning goals – with spoken Chinese together with fluency in Pinyin (Romanised script) the focus in some, while other courses focus on the development of proficiency in literary Chinese and the use of characters. Chinese is widely taught in universities around Australia, however the other main Chinese variety, Cantonese, is only taught in one university.
Number of people in Australia who speak this language at home: 336,409 (ABS Census Data, 2011)
Language Category: Asian Languages
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