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What are the characteristics of the Chinese language?

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  • It uses characters rather than alphabet letters
  • the verbs are not conjugated
  • It is a tone language. The same syllable with a different tone (or pitch) is a different word with a different meaning. Mandarin uses four tones, but some dialects of Chinese have more. Cantonese has nine.
  • It is almost impossible to deduce pronunciation from the written form of the language, although you may be able to guess at the meaning, as the basis of the written character is a pictogram.
  • Chinese verbs do not change to denote tense (or time of the action). Instead they use adverbs and other particles to denote time. For example, where we might say "I went home" Chinese says "I go home" but adds a word such as "yesterday" "already" "before" etc to show that it happened in the past.
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