News

400 million Chinese can’t speak national language

400 million Chinese can’t speak national language

A seven year-old boy, one of the youngest in the class, catches a nap during a reading lesson at the only school in the poor mountain village of Yanmaidi, in China's southwest Sichuan province Friday March 18, 2005. Children who normally speak the local Yi minority language often struggle to keep up with classes taught in Mandarin Chinese. Photo: Reuters

BEIJING (Reuters) – More than 400 million Chinese are unable to speak the national language Mandarin, and large numbers in the rest of the country speak it badly, state media said on Thursday as the government launched another push for linguistic unity.

China’s ruling Communist Party has promoted Mandarin for decades to unite a nation with thousands of often mutually unintelligible dialects and numerous minority languages, but has been hampered by the country’s size and lack of investment in education, especially in poor rural areas.

Officials have admitted they will probably never get the whole country to be able to speak Mandarin, formally called Putonghua in China, meaning “common tongue”, suggesting everyone should be able to speak it.

Ministry of Education spokeswoman Xu Mei said that only 70 percent of the country could speak Mandarin, many of them poorly, and the remaining 30 percent or 400 million people could not speak it at all, Xinhua news agency reported.

“The country still needs to invest in promoting Mandarin,” it quoted her as saying, ahead of an annual campaign to promote Mandarin held every year since 1998.

“This year the ministry will focus on the remote countryside and areas inhabited by ethnic minorities,” Xu said.

The promotion of Mandarin has long been a contentious issue in China, despite the practical benefits of having the entire population fluent in one tongue, and in some cases has lead to violent unrest.

Tibetans have protested against having to use Mandarin in schools, while in 2010 several hundred people took to the streets in the southern city of Guangzhou over fears the authorities were trying to marginalize Cantonese.

Recent Headlines

10 mins ago in Sports

Deflategate: Brady gets more time

Fresh
tombrady276076991807

Lawyers for the New England Patriots quarterback have been given another two weeks to appeal his "Deflategate" suspension.

20 mins ago in Sports

Kentucky Bourbon Trail offers a lesson for reviving racing’s fans

Fresh
derby16124571363511

Some of the best-known farms in Kentucky's scenic horse country are borrowing from another of the state's contributions to the good life — bourbon whiskey distilleries — in an effort to win new recruits to an aging and shrinking fan base.

35 mins ago in Entertainment

Dan Aykroyd adapting ‘Blues Brothers’ for animated series

Fresh
danaykroyd391647313397

The animated project will also feature the band's original songs, as well as soul and blues classics, and new material recorded specially for the series, which Aykroyd will help to develop alongside "Saturday Night Live" writer Anne Beatts.

41 mins ago in Entertainment

‘Frozen’ fans want Queen Elsa to ‘come out’

Fresh
21-overlay-2

Fans are urging movie executives to make the film's snow queen Elsa a lesbian in the sequel.

49 mins ago in Music

Lennon’s lyrics, Cobain’s letter and Gaga’s piano up for auction

Fresh
johnlennon296387483243

John Lennon's handwritten lyrics, Lady Gaga's first piano and an angry note from Kurt Cobain discussing the possibility of disbanding Nirvana after an unflattering magazine article are among the top items being offered at an upcoming auction.

Bellingham Traffic