This page has been archived and is no longer updated. Find out more about page archiving.

Last updated at 12:45 BST, Monday, 09 September 2013

China's language challenge


6 September 2013

China's Ministry of Education has said that more than 400m Chinese are unable to speak the national language - Mandarin. The admission from officials came as the government started another push to unite China in terms of language.


Martin Patience

Chinese graduates

Mandarin is used in Chinese schools and universities


Click to hear the report


It's one of the most widely spoken languages in the world. But a third of China's population are unable to speak Mandarin. And according to officials, many of those who speak the language do so badly.

China is home to thousands of dialects and several minority languages. In the southern province of Guangdong, Cantonese is widely spoken. For decades, the ruling Communist party has promoted Mandarin in an attempt to unite the most populous nation on earth.

But government efforts have been hampered by the sheer size of the country and a lack of investment in education, particularly in rural areas. And despite the benefits of having a billion plus people speaking the same tongue the government's policies have long been contentious - particularly among the country's ethnic minorities.

In 2010 there were protests in Tibet over the use of Mandarin in schools.


Click here to hear the vocabulary


widely spoken

(of a language) spoken over a large area and by a large number of people


forms of a language with some differences in words, accent or grammar

minority languages

languages spoken by ethnic minorities (groups of people of a particular race living in a place where most people are of another race)

populous nation

a country with a lot of people living in it


prevented from doing something easily

the sheer size

the size alone; 'sheer' is used to emphasize the importance of the noun which follows (eg: Tim wanted to run his own business but the sheer time needed meant he couldn't do it)

a billion plus

over a billion




causing disagreement

  1. Home
  2. Grammar, Vocabulary & Pronunciation
  3. Words in the News
  4. China's language challenge