How difficult is Chinese
Is Chinese difficult? How hard is it really?
It's almost a known "fact" that Chinese difficult be. However, many people are beginning to believe that Chinese is actually much easier than you think. It's easy to argue about how difficult Chinese really is. Very difficult for some, not so difficult for some. And when you ask me, I say: Extremely easy!
And I'm not saying that because I'm a native Chinese speaker. On the contrary, after studying English and Sinology, I also know why many Indo-European native speakers find Chinese difficult. Two years ago we produced an explanatory video to explain this phenomenon, what exactly Chinese difficult makes:
In short, there are two things that make Chinese difficult:
- Spoken and written Chinese use two different writing systems, but they have no connection to one another. In order to be able to read, one has to learn a “second language”, practically a documentation system that reproduces what is spoken in a completely different form.
- The 4 pitches that sound very similar. For Indo-European native speakers it is almost impossible to notice the difference right at the beginning, let alone master it.
The two difficulties come from trying to learn Chinese like an Indo-European language because:
- With the writing system, one is used to the fact that writing is an aid to pronunciation. This not only teaches you how to write a word such as "egg", but also helps you to remember how a word is pronounced.
- In most Indo-European languages, a word works with a single, or very few, meanings. A word such as "sweet" cannot mean anything else when you hear it. This word doesn't have to be in a context. A single word makes the meaning clear. In contrast, Chinese is a language that exists in context. That is, when you hear "tian", even with the correct pitch, you can't bet on what it is. You need a connection. If you don't just say “tian” but rather “tian bu tian” (sweet not sweet - a typical question for: is it sweet?) Then you automatically know what that means. And the more connections there are, the easier communication becomes.
That means: It is not really a question of whether Chinese difficult is, but how different is Chinese from your mother tongue?
When you recognize this fact and part with the idea of learning Chinese the way Indo-European languages do, then learning Chinese becomes pretty easy. Because:
- Chinese has no grammar - none that you know as grammar.
There are no tenses or cases in Chinese, there is not even a plural! All words are used in their original form (infinitive, singular). This is one of the reasons the “decoding” in our system works so well for Chinese.
“I went shopping yesterday.” Would mean in Chinese: “I'll go shopping yesterday.” The word “le” is a sign that something has already happened. You use it when something has already happened. That it happened in the past is already expressed by “yesterday” and “le”.
There is also no plural in Chinese. Whether one or twenty apples, as long as the number is known, why do you need a change in the word? This is how Chinese works.
- Even if it's hard to believe, Chinese vocabulary is very simple.
When I started with German, I found the German vocabulary extremely difficult: How do you know that “broccoli” is a vegetable and “willow” is a tree? Because I assumed that it would work in German as in Chinese.
In Chinese, many nouns are named after a "type". "Cai" means vegetable / dish in Chinese. And a "bai cai" (white vegetable) is a Chinese cabbage, "qing cai" (green vegetable) is the name for almost all vegetables with green leaves, "jiu cai" means wild garlic, "qin cai" is celery ...
Danger! There are always exceptions, in this case many. But if there is such a rule, it definitely helps to collect vocabulary.
Trees also work like this: All trees are called “shu” (tree) in Chinese, a “liu shu” is a willow, a “yang shu” is a poplar.
There are innumerable examples of this.
- The numbers are very simple in Chinese too.
One of the biggest difficulties with many foreign languages is the numbers. German is not necessarily the easiest language in this case. To this day I can't quite naturally write “23” out of “twenty-three” because it's still too complicated for me to this day.
Or maybe it's because Chinese is extremely easy in this case! Because Chinese has 1 - 10, and after that comes 11, which is expressed as "ten one". For example, "23" would be simply "two ten three". This goes up to 99, then 100 comes as a unit, and the same rule applies again.
- Asking questions is very easy in Chinese.
In order to ask a question, one or sometimes several elements in the sentence are implemented in German or English to express the form of the question.
We'll first take an example with a “yes / no” question. This means that the answer must be answered with "yes" or "no".
The sky is blue. ->Is the sky blue?
In Chinese you just put a “ma” after the sentence in this case. That is:
The sky is blue. -> The sky is blue ma?
The W questions are also much easier in Chinese. W questions are "who / when / how / what / why ..."
I went shopping with Julia yesterday. -> With whom did you go shopping yesterday?
In Chinese, one would simply exchange the element in question, since there are no cases in Chinese, all words remain in their original form:
I went shopping with Julia yesterday. -> You were yesterday with whom shop?
There are still many such examples.
- In Chinese, people tend to speak as simply as possible in everyday life.
Dominik noticed the phrase “bu hao chi bu yao qian” while we were strolling through the streets in Sanya, China. The phrase literally means: "do not eat well, do not want money". So, if you don't like it, I won't take any money from you. He was amazed how easily a sentence can be built. Most of the sentences in colloquial language have a similar structure.
So my conclusion is: Chinese is easy as soon as you look at it from a completely different angle.
And when you've got the courage and desire, try the first lesson right away! You can speak immediately afterwards!
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