Mandarin is the state language of China, used by the government and in the schools. Although there are eight major Chinese dialects, Mandarin is used by seventy percent of the population and is the only dialect that has a corresponding written form of the language.
Chinese who are educated through at least the primary grades speak Mandarin as well as local dialects.
The dialects spoken today are based more on geography than on ethnicity. For instance, residents of Shanghai will speak Wu. In some parts of china, particularly the central an southern areas, education and official business are transacted in the local dominant language.
Although people from different parts of China generally do not understand one another`s spoken language, they use the same basic set of characters for writing.
Today"s Mandarin is closely based on "northern speech" which was the "lingua franca" of the ruling class, spoken in Beijin, the capital during the Ming and Qing Dynasties. After Nationalists overthrew the Qing Dynasty in 1912, government officials at first considered creating a new "national language" by adopting a mixture of dialects, but in the end it was decided to retain Mandarin as the "National Language". The Communists, who defeated the Nationalists in 1949, continued this policy, but they changed the name and coined the term, pu-tong-hua or "common speech" for "Mandarin".
You can learn Mandarin Chinese from home with either of the courses we have reviewed in this page