Chinese is a very old language, perhaps even the oldest according to one recently found text. Even the ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics may be a younger language! Though formed thousands of years ago, it is still a living language, a fact that has prompted some to refer to the Chinese language as a living fossil.

It is spoken by more people than any other language. According to Wikipedia, “About one-fifth of the world’s population, or over one billion people, speak some form of Chinese as their native language.” Some of the countries or region where Chinese is either the official or at least a major language are China (PRC), Taiwan, Singapore. It is also spoken by millions of people in Chinese communities in other countries around the world. Mandarin, the Beijing dialect, is the predominant and official dialect of China and is one of the six official languages spoken at the United Nations.

The spoken language is tonal with Mandarin having four tones and Cantonese (the second most widely spoken dialect) having six tones. The tones of Mandarin are comprised of (1) a high, flat tone, (2) a rising tone, (3) a falling, then rising tone, and (4) a fast falling tone.

In 1949 the Chinese government undertook a comprehensive script reform that included defining a standardization guide for pronunciation of Mandarin, the dialect chosen to be the official language. In the mid-1950’s a romanization system, known as pinyin, was adopted to enable speakers of different dialects to speak Mandarin with pronunciation as defined by the new standard. Pinyin has turned out to be useful as well for foreigners who want to learn Mandarin. The earlier examples in pinyin are “Wo shi Meiguoren.” and “yi, er, san, si, wu, liu, qi, ba, jiu, shi”.

The written language evolved from a pictographic form. The fact that written language was originally recorded on turtle shells and animal bones, it is easy to understand why the overall form has linear rather than curved forms which are difficult to carve on hard surfaces. Thus each word has its own character (that is, symbol) rather than being comprised of letters as is done in western languages. There are about 50,000 Chinese characters although a working vocabulary of only 3,000 to 4,000 is sufficient to be able read a newspaper with a moderate level of understanding.

As we move into the twenty first century, more and more people around the world are learning Chinese than ever before. A recent report puts the number of people worldwide learning Chinese at 400,000. Perhaps this is not surprising due to the increasingly important role China plays in world affairs. In the United States, several cities have designated Chinese as a critical world language and are making substantial efforts to significantly enlarge the pool of young people who are fluent in Chinese.

World Languages Taught at LaSalle II

World Language News

Students from Spain

Exchange students from Spain spent two weeks in Chicago in March. They had a great opportunity to learn about different cultures by observing classes at school, during their visits to different places in the city and also with their host families. This has been the fourth year that students come from Madrid and now it […]

Learning about Paris

French students recently concluded a unit on Paris by recreating famous monuments with toothpicks and marshmallows. Students presented their completed masterpieces in French to the class by sharing the name, arrondissement, and various activities you can do at each monument! Bravo, les élèves !

Beijing Students

Our exchange students from Beijing have had a great time during their visit to Chicago! They have enjoyed visits to the Hancock building, the Art Institute, City Hall, the Chicago History Museum, and the Shedd Aquarium. A huge thank you to Ms. Aquino for all her hard work in organizing this exchange and to our […]

World Language Buddies

Our 8th graders have started a new program called “Language Buddies”, in which they are partnered with the 1st graders during their language class and help with the language learning. All the students have had a ton of fun so far!

LaSalle II Student Achievements on YCT/HSK Chinese Tests  

On the first day of this new school year, fifty-two LaSalle II Chinese language students were extremely excited as they received the certificates mailed from Beijing China for their YCT and HSK Chinese test results!  These results, from tests taken in mid-May, showed that our LaSalle II Chinese language students once again did a magnificent […]