How difficult it is to learn Chinese for Indians?
Chinese is a group of language varieties that form the Sinitic branch of the Sino-Tibetan languages, spoken by the ethnic Han Chinese majority and many minority ethnic groups in Greater China. About 1.3 billion people (or approximately 16% of the world’s population) speak a variety of Chinese as their first language. If you are an English speaker first learning Chinese, the most difficult part may very well be the five tones. Since Chinese is a tonal language, the meaning of your words can change drastically based on the tone you use to pronounce them.
- Generally, how hard a specific target language for any particular person depends on a number of factors, including sociocultural and individual factors.
- It also depends on how similar your native language is to Chinese.
- Chinese is difficult because of its tones and characters. If you know Japanese, you can learn characters faster. If you know Vietnamese or Thai, you can catch up with the tones easier. But if your native language doesn’t have these elements, it will be very difficult.
- Chinese is not the easiest language for an English speaker to learn! In fact, it takes much longer to learn Chinese than many other languages (Spanish, French, German…). The United States State Department estimates it to take almost 88 weeks to be advanced conversational.
So, what’s the deal? Why is Chinese so hard? Is there a way to make it not so hard? Today we’ll give you 5 reasons why Chinese is difficult.
Reason #1: Chinese tones are hard (and unfamiliar!)
English is not a tonal language. Adding tones to every word you speak is a very unfamiliar and difficult process for non-native speakers.
First, you need to listen and comprehend the tone, which is difficult at the beginning (more so if you’re tone deaf!). Then you need to be able to make the same tone sound with your mouth. Then you need to apply these tones to every word of every sentence you speak quickly. What a process! It takes a long time to get good enough to understand a fast-talking native Chinese speaker and talkback with them!
Reason #2: Chinese is not a phonetic language
Chinese doesn’t use an alphabet. It’s a pictorial language that relies on strokes and radicals to make up individual Chinese characters that then go on to make up Chinese words. This means that you cannot just read the language after you learn the alphabet. You need to learn all these components and memorize each distinct Chinese character in order to read it.
Reason #3: Chinese requires a lot of memorization
To learn Chinese, you need to learn Chinese words. For each word, you need to memorize 4 different things. The meaning, the pronunciation, the tone, the character. And really, you need to memorize the radicals that make up the character and practice writing this character by repeatedly writing it on blank sheets of paper! The process of learning to read, write, listen, and just one Chinese word is exhausting! And there are so many of them!
Reason #4: Chinese is a bit ambiguous
Chinese is famous for having tons of homonyms and a lack of grammar. This can make it easy to get started… but hard to get good. Especially in spoken conversations where characters aren’t there to clarify things.
There are tons of homonyms in Chinese! The word “he” “she” and “it” all have the same pronunciation and same tone “ta” with a first tone. So when you hear a story about how she gave it to him… it just sounds like “ta” gave “ta” to “ta.” Sometimes when you hear a story in Chinese you’re never quite sure who is doing what to whom with what!
Reason #5: Chinese has many accents and dialects
Just like there are many versions of English (American, British, Australian) there are many dialects of the Chinese language family. While some can be mutually understood (slightly different accent, slightly different localisms) other ones are not the same. There are dialects like Shanghainese and Ningbonese that you still will not be able to understand.
Chinese is deceptively easy and hard depending on your viewpoint. For basic communication probably not so hard. For true fluency really quite possibly the hardest language in the world.
- Chinese isn’t hard to speak, especially Mandarin. Grammar is easy. Pinyin is helpful. Pronunciation and tones surmountable.
- Computers and smartphones have really helped things sooooo much. I used to have to look up characters by strokes in a paper dictionary just 7 years ago.
- True Chinese dialects are basically different languages, and much much harder to boot. I dare someone to find me a foreign-born native level speaker in any of the main Wu, Min, Yue dialects.
- The writing system is ridiculous with two versions depending on whether you’re on the Mainland or not. I learned the simplified and now back in the States everyone uses Traditional. Argh.
We have managed to implement a strategy into a new kind of Chinese learning app. If you would like to learn more or know more, you can check out it at Multibhashi. It is an ed-tech platform that facilitates online learning in an effective and innovative manner through the medium of audio-visual training sessions and app-based learning. Whether you wish to learn in a group or demand complete attention from the instructor, they have both options to suit your learning needs.
So why are you waiting?? Start learning!!!