China is a vast nation boasting diversified nationalities and languages. With 56 ethnic groups, there are over 100 languages used in China, and there are countless local dialects.
Also read how to communicate with Chinese.
Modern Chinese can be divided into Mandarin and dialects. Mandarin takes the Beijing dialect as its standard pronunciation, the dialect of people in North China as its basis, and classic modern colloquial works as its linguistic regulations. On October 31st, 2000, the Law of Universal Language and Character of the People's Republic of China came into force and it stipulates Mandarin as the universal national language.
The official language in China is Putonghua (普通话), literally translated as 'common speech', which is known in English as Mandarin Chinese, or Standard Chinese. It is the most widely used language in China and the world at large, and one of the 6 official languages of the United Nations.
Mandarin Chinese belongs to the Sino-Tibetan language family, and is the shared language of most Chinese people. Chinese people who speak other languages, often also speak or use Mandarin as their second mother tongue. If you intend to learn Chinese, it is most useful to learn Mandarin Chinese.
Of the other varieties of Chinese, the most widely used ones are Cantonese and Hakka. These languages are mainly used in South China, and they are distinctively different in pronunciation from Mandarin.
Cantonese is common and influential in Guangdong Province, Hong Kong (together with English) and Macau (together with Portuguese), as well as numerous Cantonese-speaking overseas communities. In many countries' China towns, there are many Cantonese emigrants.
Hakka is widely spoken in Fujian Province, Taiwan Island, and some countries in Southeast Asia, such as Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia.