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Is Mandarin Hard to Learn?

Non-native Chinese speakers always toss and turn before choosing to learn Chinese, because before they start learning, they always have psychological barriers-they feel that this language is super difficult to learn. In addition, there are many online platforms that state that Chinese is incredibly hard to learn. But is Mandarin hard to learn? Are there any truths to this claim? Today, we shall find out.

1. Difficult Chinese characters to write.

Write Chinese characters
Write Chinese characters

One of the first barriers that deter beginner language learners is writing. For westerners who are used to writing letters and words in English letters, it is indeed a headache.

For all languages of the Latin family (English, German, French ……), the most basic unit is the letter. English and European languages utilize this writing system. It is also quite simplistic. It only takes 1-2 days for learners to understand the use and function of the 26 letters, punctuation marks, and spaces, all the components of the English writing system.

2. But what about the Chinese?

In Chinese, there is no basic unit corresponding to the Latin alphabet. There’s no character building in Chinese where a specific “stroke” corresponds to a specific letter.  If you want to say the most basic “morpheme” of a language, you have to calculate the radical. However, the number of radicals is much larger than that of Latin letters, although there are different ways to divide them in various dictionaries: Shuowen Jiezi has 540 parts, Kangxi Dictionary has 214 parts, and Xinhua Dictionary has 189 parts. The latest publication has become 201.

No matter which algorithm, it is much more than the number of Latin letters, but this is not the most difficult part of Chinese characters-

Even if all the radicals are memorized, combining them is still difficult. English writing is one-dimensional, and each letter is written next to the other from left to right. But Chinese characters are two-dimensional images one by one: the radicals can go up and down, one left and one right, one inside and one outside, and three or four parts can be twisted together to form a single word.

3. Write or can’t read?

It’s hard to learn to write, and people who learn Chinese will encounter the second problem: whether they can write or not.

Modern Chinese has evolved from pictographs to knowing characters. It transformed, from complete pictures to square characters. Each of these characters consists of some “morphemes”. Among these morphemes, some are knowing, some are like sounds, and some are referring.

In Chinese characters, a few can roughly guess the pronunciation from the glyphs and radicals, but most can’t. Therefore, for those whose mother tongue is Pinyin, learning Chinese is equivalent to learning two languages simultaneously. However, in this case, one is spoken Chinese and the other written Chinese. Even those who can speak fluent Chinese may not know a word.

4. The mental journey of learning Chinese.

Chinese learning is a long journey. You need a constant fuel of motivation to keep progressing. That is why today, we shall listen to how Chinese learners talk about Chinese learning. I hope to encourage and inspire all learners.

Jolina: Actually, I studied Japanese in high school for several years, so I’m already familiar with the reading and writing of Asian languages. Of course, Mandarin is very different from Japanese, especially in the pronunciation. However, I find that Chinese grammar is not too difficult. If there’s one thing I can share with beginner language learners is to constantly immerse in the language. That is because you need a language environment to learn Chinese. I think the hardest part of learning Chinese is learning Chinese in another country.

Martin: I am a professor at Beijing Foreign Studies University, the leading foreign language and culture university in China. One day, I was chatting with Mandy, an Australian student majoring in Chinese at Tsinghua University. Mandy said that Chinese writing is difficult to understand and seems to be a string of strange and random symbols.

But over time, like coding Apps, she figured it out. From our brief communication with Chinese, it is obvious that she has mastered five tones (one, two, three, four tones, and light tone) of Putonghua.

I’m sure her Mandarin is more fluent than mine because her grandparents are from Guangdong!

As we all know, it is difficult for westerners to learn a language that is not based on the Latin alphabet. Learning Chinese is as challenging as learning any non-native language.

Is Mandarin hard to learn? However, as long as we know the difficulties in learning this language, we can always find parallelism with our mother tongue and derive language rules from it. Through this, I believe it will be easier for everyone to learn!

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