Standard Mandarin

Principle Vs Reality: What Is “Standard” Mandarin?

Know the Rules Before You Break the Rules

Standard Mandarin you learn in your studies (principle) is often different from what you later actually experience in the real world of Chinese (reality). We make our courses with this in mind. You may be asking “why would I learn something that doesn’t apply to the real world?” Well, it actually does apply. Learning the principles of the language allows you to more easily adjust your understanding of its reality because of the foundational knowledge it provides for you. It operates at a lower layer.


The Basic Problem with Standard Mandarin

Technically speaking, there is no region in China whose local dialect is 100% standard Mandarin. Consequently, there will be moments where the people will not speak standard Mandarin around you. However, nearly everyone (especially those born after 1970) at least knows standard Mandarin. As a learner, the temptation is to speak like the people in your region. While it’s certainly not “wrong” to do so, learning the specific “reality” of your region has less application overall.

How Knowing Principles Always Applies

As with any long-term learning endeavor, the foundation-building period should focus on the knowledge that can be applied most broadly. It’s the period where you are forming the structural integrity of your neural connections. After the foundation is in place, details that apply to your specific circumstances (discussed below) will fill in naturally. That said, it’s important not to skip the structure-building process.

Standard Mandarin:
Consider the Following Scenario

Suppose the regional dialect spoken around you changes the “q” sound in Mandarin to something more like a “k” sound, but only 60% of the time. First of all, understanding what “q” really sounds like in Mandarin will serve you when you leave that particular region. Secondly, your brain will be able to pattern recognize the 60% of times where the local people say it like a “k”. You won’t have trouble with the 40% of the time when they say “q” in the same way as standard Mandarin. The principle applied 100% of the time after a slight adjustment from the foundation.

Standard Mandarin principles can be applied when considering:

Region of China


Age group

Emotional context

Educational background

…the list goes on.

While 100% standard Mandarin doesn’t apply to each situation entirely, it applies to all of them to a very large degree. This means that skipping the foundation building has the potential to set you up for failure in one or more of the above scenarios. Learning something that only applies to a specific region, or perhaps only to a specific age group, allows you to have super specific knowledge that doesn’t apply anywhere apart from the given context. Knowing the rules is like a springboard, it will always give you a head start compared to starting from scratch.

Don’t Lose Sight Of The Primary Goal

Those pursuing language acquisition are trying to communicate. You don’t have to be as fluent as a native to get an idea from your brain into one of your conversation partner. Standard Mandarin will facilitate communication better than any other form of Chinese. Keep that fundamental truth in mind, and your foundations will be rock solid.

And if you want to learn how to produce, understand, and read every Mandarin syllable just like a native speaker in record time go ahead and check out our Pronunciation Mastery Course.