Chinese might be hard to understand. People often think it is just a foreign language with words that look more like drawings. However, I can tell you that Chinese is even more complicated than that. Chinese is separated into written Chinese and spoken Chinese.
Written Chinese are basically separated into traditional and simplified characters. The story of written Chinese starts before the birth of Jesus Christ at a time called the Qin dynasty. The emperor of Qin conquered all the places of China and unified written Chinese into just one type of Chinese, which is the ‘ancestor’ of traditional Chinese. And as time passed, unified Chinese changed in the words used and the shape of most Chinese characters. It became the traditional Chinese which is used in Hong Kong and Taiwan.
All of China used traditional Chinese until the rise of the Communist China, when Chinese characters were simplified in view of the averagely low education at that time. The Communist China produced simplified Chinese. However, at that time Taiwan was ruled by the Republic of China and Hong Kong was British. So, the popularity of simplified Chinese did not much affect them.
Moreover, in my opinion, traditional Chinese is considered better than simplified Chinese. It is true that Chinese characters are like drawings, which means the characters have meanings, and unfortunately, some of the meanings were lost during the simplification.
And for spoken Chinese, we mainly have Mandarin and Cantonese. Few types of spoken Chinese are still being spoken. The ancient Chinese in central China were speaking a language that is like Cantonese, until the brought in Mongolian and other languages spoken around China at about the time of the Yuan Dynasty. Those languages combined with the Chinese at that time and formed a new type of Chinese at the central and northern China, which is Mandarin.
However, Mandarin was not much brought to the South, and so there was a large area of China where Mandarin was not spoken. It is believed that Mandarin really became popular when the Communist party started ruling the country. They unified the spoken language, which leads to many types of spoken Chinese being no longer used. Yet, again at the time when Communist China promoted Mandarin, Hong Kong was British. Therefore, Hong Kong spoke the Chinese they used before: Cantonese.
Even though Mandarin and Cantonese are both Chinese, they are so different. Cantonese is one of the hardest languages in the world, because what people speak is different from what they write. There are some words which we speak but not write, otherwise it will look awkward. And Cantonese has 9 tones. The same word spoken in different tone can mean many different things. One wrong tone and the whole word is wrong! For example, the word ‘7’ or ‘9’ may be foul language if it is pronounced in the wrong tone. Mandarin is relatively user friendly: what you say is basically like you write it down and you won’t sound awkward. After all there are only four tones, so you are less likely to get it wrong.
Chinese is a weird language; people might think it is just a language. However, it is so much more than that. Especially from a Hongkonger’s perspective: we study traditional Chinese, and speak Cantonese as our first language, which is very hard. We also need to be able to speak Mandarin and read simplified Chinese. How do we meant to be confident at using these while as well being required to study English? There is so much for us to learn, and the only way to survive in such situations is to remain hard-working. Perhaps one should not judge us for our not very high level of English?!