Mandarin vs Chinese || What should I say I study?

One time someone asked me what languages I was studying and I replied Chinese.
To which they answered what kind of Chinese?
And I thought oh, I should indeed say Mandarin instead!!

I was always confused between Mandarin vs Chinese because somehow at university I was never taught the difference :woman_shrugging:

To make it short and simple if you’re like me:

Mandarin is a dialect of Chinese. Chinese is a language (Mandarin is one of the dialects of Chinese alongside Shanghainese, Cantonese and many more).

I remembered there is actually an article explaining all of it in more details:

So, what do you study, mandarin or chinese? :laughing:


Interesting question!! Also makes me wonder whether 中文 has the same ambiguity and encompasses Mandarin/Cantonese/Hokkien etc :eyes:

I almost always say I’m studying Chinese. The only exception was probably in Hong Kong where Cantonese is more prevalent, so I’d specifically say Mandarin.

Also once back home I said I was learning Chinese and someone asked me ‘Mando or Canto?’ - which has definitely become my new fav question to ask people :laughing:

Ah that’s interesting!

I usually say that I study Chinese, but it happened to me before that some people asked if I was studying Mandarin or Cantonese.

I recently discovered the reason why “mandarin” is called mandarin, which is very interesting!

Apparently the word “mandarin” traces back to the Portuguese word “mandarim” (which means “minister”) that was used to refer to Chinese officials during Qing and Ming dynasties.

Here’s an interesting article that talks about it: Mandarin Language | Variants, Alphabet & Facts |


This is super interesting and explains why Portuguese always search for MANDARIM instead of CHINES.

It’s one of the few languages I’ve worked with where that is the case.

estudar mandarim na china gets searched 3 times more than estudar chines na china.