The three most widely spoken languages in Asia—Chinese (Mandarin), Hindi, and Russian—are often considered to be the most intimidating languages by beginner learners. Unlike most of the languages spoken across Europe and South America, these three languages have distinct alphabets or character systems.
But with rich cultures and pockets of speakers around the world, these languages are incredibly valuable in building meaningful relationships. Don’t let learning a new alphabet get in the way of your language learning dreams!
We’ve compiled this guide to put your fears at ease. By understanding the value of each language, as well as their exciting nuances and similarities, you’ll be inspired and on track to hold confident conversations in no time.
Let’s take a look at key facts and elements of each language below!
Where is Mandarin spoken?
Though often conflated with Cantonese and other Chinese dialects, Mandarin is its own distinct language.
While Mandarin is spoken and understood across most of China and Taiwan, it is native to speakers in Northern China, or the region that sits above the Yangtze River. Speakers living outside of this region, around Beijing and across the ocean in Taiwan, speak Modern Standard Chinese, which is based on Mandarin.
Because Mandarin is so widespread, you’ll find speakers around the world, including in the United States, South Africa, Nigeria, and even Madagascar!
How many people speak Mandarin?
Mandarin has roughly 1.2 billion native speakers—it is the most widely spoken language in Asia, and the second most widely spoken language in the world, behind English.
What are the primary characters of Mandarin?
Unlike many European languages, Mandarin does not have an alphabet. Instead, it has a distinct writing system, where each unique character represents a single syllable of spoken Chinese.
Rosetta Stone’s Alphabet is a character reference tool that helps users practice reading and writing. When learning Chinese, it’s especially helpful to have a feature like this on hand to get familiar with the most common and widely used characters.
Here’s an example of the Mandarin character “băi” or “百” and its many forms:
What makes Mandarin unique?
Mandarin is a tonal language, which means your tone and pronunciation work together to communicate meaning.
English is not tonal. However, if you’re a native English speaker, you’ve likely played with tone when posing a question. When spoken out loud, the varying emphasis between “Do you believe in ghosts?” and “Do you believe in ghosts?” gives importance to different elements of each question.
Mandarin takes this a step further: tone and pronunciation can change the meaning of a word entirely. The words for “horse” (馬) and “mother” (媽), for example, sound similar—both variations of “ma”—but their unique inflections result in two very different meanings.
With four distinct tones, Chinese language learners do best by listening and mimicking Mandarin pronunciations, essentially nailing down the sound and cadence of the language, before diving into too much new vocabulary.
Where is Hindi spoken?
As the official language of India, Hindi is widely spoken across the country, and most of its native speakers live in Northern and Central India. Though not as ubiquitous as Mandarin, it still has a strong regional presence in Nepal and South Africa. Residents across Fiji, Mauritius, Suriname, Guyana, and Trinidad and Tobago also speak unique dialects based on Hindi.
How many people speak Hindi?
Nearly half a billion people around the world speak Hindi! Though it doesn’t have the geographic sprawl of other languages, India’s dense population of Hindi speakers has propelled Hindi to be the fourth-most spoken language in the world.
What is the Hindi alphabet?
Like English, Hindi has an alphabet! With 13 vowels and 36 consonants, it offers a bit more variety than the standard Latin alphabet. It’s also far more ornate—where Latin’s written characters are rigid and simple, Hindi’s characters are curved, rounded, and more elaborate.
If you’re interested in writing in Hindi, you’ll use the alphabet to write Hindi in Devanagari script, which is written left to right. Even if you’re only learning Hindi for conversation, learning the full alphabet will help you better master your pronunciation.
Take a look at a section of the Hindi alphabet in Rosetta Stone.
What makes Hindi unique?
Native English speakers often find Hindi fairly easy to learn. Because it has an alphabet, each letter has a distinct and consistent sound, and it does not rely on tonal variations.
However, there are a couple key grammatical elements to note. Nouns in Hindi are gendered, and verbs and adjectives will change to match them. Sentence structure is also unique. Where English typically orders sentences by subject + verb + object, correct Hindi grammar follows the order of subject + object + verb. These differences are easy to master, but important to note for beginner learners.
Where is Russian spoken?
You’ll primarily find Russian speakers in Eastern Europe, across Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan, where Russian is the official language. You’ll also find large pockets of native Russian speakers throughout Europe.
How many people speak Russian?
There are 160 million native Russian speakers! The majority of Russian speakers, especially those living in Russia, do not speak English as a second language. If Russia is on your travel itinerary, it’s particularly valuable to learn the language to better connect with locals while you’re there.
What is the Russian alphabet?
Like English and Hindi, Russian uses an alphabet. Known as the Cyrillic alphabet, it has just 33 characters, many of which mimic sounds from the English alphabet. Pronunciations of characters in the Russian alphabet are considered even more consistent than those of the English alphabet, and several characters—including A, M, E, and T—look surprisingly similar to their English counterparts!
Take a look at a section of the Cyrillic alphabet in Rosetta Stone.
What makes Russian unique?
Like Hindi, learners will find Russian to be fairly easy to pick up once they’ve mastered the alphabet. Accent marks are one of the more notable features of Russian. The acute sign is the only accent mark you’ll find, but its presence significantly changes the meaning of certain words—like the word for castle (за́мок) and lock (замо́к).
Learn the characters, master the language
If you’re a native English speaker, encountering languages with new alphabets or character systems can feel daunting. But if you’re reading this post, you already know the value each of these languages provides—as well as their potential to spark meaningful connection with millions of people. Now that you know what makes each language unique (and that those alphabets aren’t nearly as intimidating as they look) you can start tackling your language learning goals!
If this post has inspired you to take up a new language, Rosetta Stone can help you start your language learning journey on the right foot to reach your goals quickly. Instead of focusing on rote memorization, you’ll learn through Rosetta Stone’s unique Dynamic Immersion method, which can help you hone your listening skills and pronunciation from the very first lesson.
And with Rosetta Stone’s Alphabet tool, learners of all levels can master writing and pronunciation of unique character systems!