Chinese scientists have developed a computer program to test how well people speak Mandarin Chinese.
The technology will help improve oral testing of Chinese and promote Mandarin Chinese both at home and abroad, said Fu Yong, former deputy director of the State Language Work Committee.
The technology was jointly developed by the Acoustics Institute and the Software Institute under the Chinese Academy of Sciences and Hong Kong Polytechnic University.
Lab experiments show that more than 98 percent of the results given by the computer evaluation system were as same as the results given by linguists, said Ju Qi, deputy director of the Acoustics Institute.
The system will be introduced to Mandarin Chinese examinations in Hong Kong's middle schools and universities.
Although Chinese share a similar written language -- Chinese ideograms or characters, which has been in use for three thousand years -- the pronunciation of identical characters differs widley from region to region. This means people who can't communicate verbally can often communicate by writing Chinese characters that are pronounced differently but have the same meaning.
Mandarin, which in Chinese is called Putonghua and literally means "common talk", is taught in every school in the country and is China's standard lingua franca.
Most Chinese are verbally bilingual, speaking not only Mandarin, which has many regional accents, but a completely different sounding dialect of Chinese.
A recent survey by the Ministry of Education showed that more than half of all Chinese people can speak standard Mandarin Chinese.
Chinese is growing in popularity throughout the world, according to the Chinese National Office for Teaching Chinese as a Foreign Language.
An official from the office predicted last September that about 100 million foreigners would study Chinese by 2010.