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How Difficult is the Chinese Language
Is Chinese A Difficult Language to Learn?
Nov, 2016



Is Chinese a difficult language to learn? The answer really depends on what language you speak and whether you are gifted in learning language at all. It seems that many foreigners living in China are able to speak decent Mandarin without receiving any formal training and it is not uncommon to see that a Japanese or Korean speaker reaches fluency in less than a year from total beginner level.

If you seek the answer from native Chinese people, they will probably tell you Chinese is rather easy compared with any foreign language. To most Chinese, English is the real headache, let alone French, German, Spanish etc. Chinese people will probably be surprised, if not shocked, if you tell them that you think Chinese is harder than French or German.

Nevertheless, by native English speakers, Chinese is rated as one of the most difficult languages to learn, together with Arabic, Japanese and Korean.

Several Major Difficulties:
1 The writing Chinese is definitely hard to learn in the beginning, though there is nothing conceptually difficult about it; there is just a lot to memorize. Educated Chinese know about 3000-4,000 Chinese characters and 40,000 to 60,000 words. To reach total literacy, you have do learn the same amount, not necessarily to write, but at least to be able to recognize. The positive thing is that most Chinese characters belong to the class of semantic-phonetic compounds, which means that one can know the basic meaning and the approximate reading of most Chinese characters, after acquiring some elementary knowledge of the language. You wonít think Chinese characters are the threat any more after elementary to intermediate stage.

2 Chinese is a tone language, that is, different pitch patterns do not just add emotional color, as in English; they actually distinguish one word from another. How much of a problem this is depends a lot on the individual student: students with a good ear do not necessarily find this a difficulty.

3 Chinese has a large number of homophones (different characters or words with same pronunciation). In English, 3 words: C, see, sea sound the same, you distinguish them by context, in Chinese, instead of 3, there could be 30 characters that sound the same.

Easy things
1 Chinese grammar is relatively simple. Unlike many European languages, Chinese has no irregular verbs or noun plurals to learn, because words have only a single form, with no suffixes for tense, number, case, etc. (There are some particles which work somewhat like tense endings, but they always take the same form, no matter what they are added to.). Conjugation rules for verbs and adjectives are almost entirely free of exceptions. These facts make the language relatively easy for starting students.

2 Chinese speakers are usually tolerant of a foreigner's mistakes. Remember almost everyone in China learns to speak standard Mandarin as a second language after their dialect as well. If your pronunciation is good, Chinese people will tell you: You speak better than Chinese. Sometimes it is not a flattery, itís the truth.

We at Mandarinrocks Chinese language school make it really easy to learn Chinese. Want to take a Chinese course with us? Check out our Shanghai School to discover all the options we offer!
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