Today (April 20th) is Chinese Language Day, set up by the United Nations in 2010. The UN originally created language days for each of its six official languages (Chinese, English, Arabic, French, Russian and Spanish) to celebrate cultural diversity and multilingualism.
The 20th of April was chosen in memory of Cangjie who is presumed to have invented the Chinese characters about 5,000 years ago. Today the Chinese language is spoken by more than one billion people, ranking it as the number 1 language in the world by the number of native speakers.
“If you wish to learn a language that one in six people in the world speaks, this is the one for you. Seeing as Chinese is a tonal language that uses thousands of logograms, it will certainly keep you busy.”
– Babbel / The 10 Most Spoken Languages in The World
Tonal language means that words can change based on the tone you use to pronounce them. Because of this unique sound system, the Chinese language has a lot of similar-sounding words and combinations of different sounds, making it one of the most difficult languages to learn.
There are over 50,000 unique Chinese characters but you need to only master around 3,000 to read the China daily newspaper.
Traditional and Simplified Chinese
In the 1950 – 60s, the Chinese government wanted to improve the socio-economic conditions by simplifying the number of characters in order to improve literacy rates in the country. Even though China has adopted Simplified Chinese as their written form, in some regions like Hong Kong and Taiwan, Traditional Chinese is still more predominant in those regions.
Chinese Characters and Calligraphy
Chinese calligraphy is very complex and is deeply rooted in their history and plays an important part in their culture. As the Chinese language is considered one of the oldest languages still in use, native speakers have an immense source of pride. Calligraphy is considered an art and Chinese master calligraphers spend their whole life learning and polishing their craft.
What to do on Chinese Language Day?
Celebrate the Chinese language day by diving into learning the language and trying to write some of its unique characters while imagining you are a master calligrapher. Here is a video exercise to start your calligraphy adventure. If you already know Chinese you can start by sharing your knowledge of the language with others.