Learning any new language is never easy. But if there’s any language that’s harder to learn than others, Mandarin Chinese may just take the crown!
Many learners from an English-speaking background say Mandarin Chinese is one of the hardest languages to learn, because it is just so drastically different from the things they know from English. However, this doesn’t mean it should discourage you from learning the language. Although Mandarin Chinese may seem harder to pick up, the benefits of gaining fluency in this language is also abundant!
So, what exactly is so hard about Chinese? Let’s break it down and explore these challenges, and discover ways you can overcome them.
Mandarin Chinese makes use of tones to differentiate words. This can be very confusing to speakers of non-tonal language, where tones are typically reserved for conveying expressions. Some learners may have trouble distinguishing or producing the tones when they start learning.
One way to get around this is to expose yourself more to the sound of Chinese! Listen to podcasts and video lessons, and get familiar with the rise and fall of the tones. Beginners may also find it helpful to compare the tones to similar words and emotions in English. For example, some people say the fourth tone, a falling tone, sounds harsh and angry.
When it comes to reading and writing in Chinese, learners are presented with another hurdle. Instead of alphabets, Chinese uses symbols to represent words. So, there’s no way to figure out how to read a word if you’ve never actually learnt the pronunciation before. This makes reading and writing in Chinese a huge test of memorisation.
While there’s no easy way out to memorising Chinese characters, learners can make it easier by reading widely and practising writing often. Reading is better than trying to memorise words in isolation, because it puts words in context as well. Writing is also a great way to memorise because it combines the visual memory with the muscle memory.
Language is heavily intertwined with culture, and Chinese is no exception to this. The stark contrast between the Chinese culture and most Western cultures can make learning Chinese exceptionally difficult, because of a lot of embedded concepts in the language are unheard of in the West. For example, try to explain concepts like ‘guanxi’ (关系: the relationships and connections between people) to a someone unfamiliar with the Chinese culture, or why Chinese speakers say ‘nali’ (哪里: literally, ‘where’) when responding to compliments directed at them.
These concepts may seem counterintuitive or outright strange to non-Chinese speakers, but when you realise that every language has their own idiosyncrasies and cultural influences, you can begin to appreciate and understand it better.
Indeed, learning Chinese is not easy! But we hope you realise that it is not quite so vastly different from learning any other language. Once you know the right techniques and have the motivation to learn, you’ll find that Chinese is a joy to learn!
If you want to find out more about learning Chinese in a systematic and effective manner, we urge you to pick up a Chinese language course! At the moment, we are conducting online Mandarin courses for all our classes. We look forward to welcoming you in class to discover the joys of Mandarin Chinese together!