The Chinese written language consists of some 50,000 characters, or ideograms, of which around 10,000 are still in modern usage.
However, pronunciation of these ideograms varies enormously from region to region, since there are many dialects such as Cantonese in Guangdong province, Fujianese in Fujian province and Shanghainese in Shanghai.
There is a standard spoken language based on the predominant--Wade-Giles and Pinyin. The latter has recently been adopted officially, and all street names, bus stops and other signs are spelt in this way.
Four letters in particular cause problems for those familiar with the roman alphabet:
- 'x' is pronounced somewhere between an 's' and 'sh'; 'sh' sounds like the 'sh' in 'she'
- 'q' is as 'ch' in 'cheek'--- not 'qu' as in 'quick'
- 'c' sounds like 'ts' as in 'its'
- 'i' is either pronounced as 'ea' in 'eat', or as the 'i' in 'sir' after the consonants c, ch, r, s, sh. z and zh.
Basic Words and Phrases
Ni Jiau Shmua Mingzu?: What is your name?
Ni Hau Ma? : How are you?