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Is Chinese hard to learn? What’s the best way to learn Chinese?

Jul. 29, 2016

learn Chinese

If you’re interested in learning Chinese, I strongly suggest you work with a qualified teacher. A teacher will be able to help you make the most of your studies in a way that studying on your own is hard to imitate. And since going to China isn’t realistic for everyone, you can simulate a Chinese learning environment at home when you work with a native speaker.

Chinese is considered one of the most difficult languages for native English speakers to learn for a variety of reasons. Yet, many have conquered this language, and so can you. Here are some of the reasons learning Chinese is difficult. Keep in mind that a teacher would be able to assist you with handling each of these points.

Tones

Unlike languages like English, in Chinese how you pronounce a sound dictates what that sound means. This would be something similar to where you place the stress on a word in English changing its meaning. For this reason, Chinese is considered a tonal language. Standard Chinese recognizes four tones: high, rising, falling-rising and falling. It is a little like singing while speaking. For most, mastering the tones takes years of trial and error. Why? Well, there are just certain sounds that exist in Chinese that don’t exist in other languages.

Characters

The Chinese script is among the world’s most recognized. In fact, it’s one of the reasons many are initially drawn to learning the language. But written Chinese is far different than languages that make use of a romanized alphabet system. Written Chinese is made up of thousands of characters, each having their own meaning and pronunciation. In order to survive, you’ll need to know somewhere between 3,500 and 4,000 different characters.

It’s often said that each character represents an idea. This actually isn’t true. Characters have a variety of functions, and when strung together to form words their meanings can change drastically. Characters also shouldn’t be viewed as puzzles. Characters can be broken down into individual pieces, but there’s no guarantee that those individual pieces will reveal what that character truly means.

Dialects

What many don’t realize is that even though Chinese has standardized rules of pronunciation, most people in China speak a regional dialect. In fact, most Chinese people learn their regional dialect before learning standard Mandarin. Regional dialects often sound wildly different from what you’ll be taught in a classroom. Luckily, most educated Chinese have no problem switching to standard Mandarin. Communicating with the average local might be a bit more challenging, but as you learn you will get used to hearing different accents. And remember if you signed up for Chinese, you’re probably ready for the challenges!

Just make sure you learn in the most effective manner—work with a teacher!

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