I work at a medical call center. Many Asians will call in asking for a translator so we can schedule their appointments. Most of them will understand when I ask, "which language, Cantonese or Mandarin?" But I feel sometimes they did not understand what I'm saying. They will just say "Chinese". Is there a better way to ask which language they speak?

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    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because your question appears to be in English. Try asking on ELL instead.
    – 杨以轩
    May 1, 2015 at 9:27
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    I think this question is valid undoubtedly but more details would be neat. Supposing that your call center has different international callers but most of them are Chinese, i would pick up the phone with an English and a Mandarin sentence, such as: "Awesome Medical Center, how can I help you? 您好,请说明您的方言是什么?" in accord to @Jacob's answer or something like: "您好,从哪个地方打电话吗?".
    – Flaudre
    May 5, 2015 at 8:44
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    @Flaudre agree that this question is valid. But the questions OP may ask should be 您好,請問您說的是什麼方言? and 您好,請問您是從哪李打來的?. May 5, 2015 at 22:55

2 Answers 2


According to Wikipedia:Chinese language

Chinese Listeni/tʃaɪˈniːz/ (汉语 / 漢語; Hànyǔ or 中文; Zhōngwén) is a group of related but in many cases mutually unintelligible language varieties, forming a branch of the Sino-Tibetan language family

So technically, Chinese is not one language but a group of them and asking "which language, Cantonese or Mandarin?" is correct.

But when people say "I speak Chinese", it really means "I can speak one of the languages of China" -- it could be Mandarin, Cantonese, Shanghainese or other dialects.

So maybe a better way to ask is: "Do you speak any Chinese language?" And after they confirms, you clarify by asking: 国语吗? or 普通话吗? ("Is it Mandarin?") Most would say yes even if they speak more dialects.

I do not think asking where they are from or what dialect they speak is a good idea. Because you would get so many different answers that add more confusion.


Almost all Chinese can understand mandarin,even though they can't speak it correctly. You may say Which "fangyan(dialect)" do you speak?

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