Can anybody explain the relationship between these and which one is the 'official' language in China or is China bilingual. Do some cantonese speakers understand mandarin and vice versa (I was led to believe they don't understand each other)

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Hi Alex,

Mandarin is the official language in China and is the most common. Cantonese is more used in the south of China and is dominant in Hong Kong.

Some speakers know both languages but primarily if they travel often in both places or grew up learning one or both or use them for business.

Most Cantonese speakers are bilingual in Cantonese and Mandarin ( many are even trilingual with knowledge of English ).  Most Mandarin speakers can only speak Mandarin ( many are bilingual with knowledge of English or Hokkien, and some are tri with Mandarin, English and Hokkien ).  I live in Quincy Massachusetts and see this language dynamics daily.  There are people who also know Toishanese such as my wife.  Boston area Chinese use to speak Toishanese until the 1970s when there was a switch to Cantonese due to a large number of Hong Kong immigrants including my wife.  So back in the 1950s when taught a few Chinese words by playmates, I was actually learning Toishanese which I definitely forgot in no time.

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