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Is Chinese Hard to Learn?

It is twice easy to learn Chinese in China than you ever imagine! According to British Council Survey, lots of people tend to think that learning Chinese Mandarin is difficult,  with every new challenge in our lives, it is hard at the start but with a bit of effort, we surprise ourselves, and learning Chinese is no exception. The answer may not be straightforward, but with my experience, I can comfortably say that it is not hard to learn Chinese primarily spoken Mandarin, writing Chinese Characters may be a different ball game altogether. You remember learning to drive and holding the steering wheel for the first time, learning to swim, or even travel alone? You noticed how hesitant you were? The Same hesitation is usually encountered by the first time Chinese Mandarin Learners. Chinese Mandarin is an interesting and logical language; by understanding the logic of the Chinese language coupled with light vocabulary and practice, you may be stunned how soon you will be able to communicate in Chinese. For example, above I used the word “challenge,” in Chinese challenge is ‘tiao zhan’ (挑战) which means jump over the obstacle. A word such as the cellular phone is ‘shou ji’ (手机) meaning hand (手) machine (机) or phone call which is ‘dian hua’ (电话) translates to electric (电) talk (话). In China, every day is an opportunity to learn new words and expressions. Soon enough you will be roaming the streets of Beijing, Shanghai, or any other city speaking with locals and don’t be surprised if you find yourself expressing emotions of excitement, etc  to other foreigners in  Chinese that’s is always very cool. However, how fast one learns depends on each. Below are some suggested ways to learn Chinese language:-

What is the best way to Learn Chinese?

I have received several inquiries from people looking to start learning Chinese. The popular fear is that Chinese may be too hard to learn. I have lived in Beijing as a foreigner for the past 5 years and I can say with confidence that the best way to learn Chinese is starting with Oral Mandarin. It is the easiest to master then move slowly into reading and Character recognization and then prioritize writing as the last task. The fact that you are speaking will motivate you to go for the reading and then writing. Keep it and you will never be demotivated. I have a snapshot of the strategy I call the best way to learning Chinese

1. Start with Oral Mandarin: Put all energy into spoken Mandarin don’t start with all modules at once Your

2. Continue with Character Identification: Your success achieved in step 1 will keep you going. It feels good when you can read signposts and road signs

3. Start learning to write Characters.


#1: Approach Mandarin learning with an open and curious mind

Whether you are taking a Chinese Summer Camp, or Intensive Mandarin Program within a group, private or university curriculum, there is always going to be a huge language barrier. Typically this does not happen in the classroom or learning environment but between you and the people on the street and you will find it hard or even impossible to understand what they are saying and to express yourself in the beginning. Sometimes, sign languages rescue new arrivals who arrive to learn Chinese in Beijing or Shanghai. The way forward is not to lose heart and remind yourself you are new in China, and although the language seems hard others have done it and so can you. Keep an open mind and make it easier for you to learn something new. The reason studying Chinese in China is the best possible way is that you find yourself interacting with locals and this is a great advantage


#2: Understanding the logic of the Chinese language

Chinese has fascinating explanations for the language especially the character writing. Each Chinese character shape is shown how came it to be which and why it is written in that way making it easy to grasp the language.


#3: Get familiar with the pronunciation (4 tones)

In the Chinese language, every word has four ways of pronunciation, Mandarin is a tonal language, and each tone has a distinctive pitch contour that gives a different meaning to word based on the tone used.

is it easy to learn Chinese tones? xie1 zi (scorpion) xie2 zi (shoes)


#4: Install Chinese-English dictionaries Apps like Pleco 

You need a VPN to use Goggle translate service in China, but luckily there are many accurate Chinese- English dictionaries and translators you could use when learning the language in a classroom, trying to order food or renting an apartment. The apps are available so take full advantage them; they are helpful. Visit Google Play store download these apps and start learning. Read more on the best apps to use


#5: Finding Chinese friends and Language Partners

At CIP, we assist our Chinese Language School in Beijing and Shanghai pairs learners to Partners. Having a Chinese Language Partner speeds your skills by 20%. The facts remains that many Chinese natives would like to have a foreign friend because they see as an opportunity to have free oral English classes. You should also take the opportunity for some free oral Chinese classes by having a Chinese friend or as it is termed here a language buddy. Having a language partner not only helps with just the language but you get to understand the culture and Chinese way of thinking. I have to warn you though many foreign friends end up dating their language buddies. its ok to fall in love, and if you do, just enjoy it 🙂

For fast results especially for spoken Chinese, a language buddy is the recommended choice.


#6: Watching Chinese movies/shows (subtitles)

Much young Chinese youth will ask you about shows such as Friends and The Big Bang Theory. They love watching these shows not just because of entertainment but also, it is a fantastic English learning tool. The same could be done for learning Chinese by watching Chinese TV shows/movies which help with your listening and expansion of your vocabulary. Always look up the unknown words that you don’t recognize in the subtitles.


#7: Challenging yourself to using the language as much as possible

Challenge yourself to use the language as much as possible, and this is surely one of the best ways to learn Chinese Language. I cannot reiterate enough the importance of that statement.  To improve to learn you have to try bottom line. In many of the bigger cities, many Chinese people can speak English in places usually frequented by foreigners. Many go through their day-to-day lives hardly using any Chinese, and obviously they still cannot speak or understand, avoid been that kind of intern.  Look for every possible opportunity to use the language even by talking the language to a local. Don’t shy away from the challenge or miss the chances to improve your oral and listening skills.

When I was learning Chinese, I used to enjoy having conversations with the taxi drivers,  the compound guard, the cashier in the supermarket and who ever would listen to me and answer in Chinese.

 How Hard is it to learn Chinese?

The question we asked at the beginning was “is Chinese hard to learn”? I have rephrased the question again as for how hard is it to learn Chinese? I am sure you may have an answer now. It all depends on how you approach it. The truth is that we should not downplay the realities of learning Chinese language at any point at all. It is not as simple too but with the right strategy, you are sure to succeed. A non-Chinese could start speaking survival Mandarin just few weeks but its not easy to write the characters. It takes constant practice in order to keep up with very professional communication especially through writing. So always begin with Oral Chinese Language studies before proceeding to write.


Other Questions that I have encountered

I will try to be very simple and snappy with these questions below

1. Is Chinese harder than Japanese and Korean?

Koran and Japanese and sister languages to Chinese Mandarin. I have studied Japanese and Korean Languages, and I can confidently say that Chinese may be more difficult. The reasons are that Japanese and Koran languages do not have too many characters compared with Mandarin. While the Chinese Language has 4 tones,  Korean and Japanese do not have tones at all so your ability to speak may be quicker.

So the multimillion question then is, should you spend your precious time learning Chinese Mandarin at all? Pause, relax and check my answer below at question 3


2. How to learn Mandarin Chinese as a Beginner 

As a beginner, take it slow and easily keep it straightforward. Spend time with the locals, don’t isolate yourself. Trying to accomplish it all by yourself may steepen your learning curve and also demotivate you. If you are studying in China, take the time to make more friends and spend more time speaking rather than writing or reading. When you master the basics, you increase the pace. These just my view 🙂 and it worked for me, and I am sure it will work for you too

3. Is learning Chinese worth it? 

After reading so much about the Chinese language, the questions “is it worth it? My colleague had put together an excellent article about why you should learn Chinese

4. Is Chinese hard to learn in College?

If you get the opportunity to learn Chinese language in College, Please Do! The advantage is that you will get the fundamentals and don’t worry about the difficulty. Usually, the College Chinese lessons and courses are not hard to grab. If you take the language in College, it makes it easier to travel to China in summer and improve upon it. 


Final Nuggets (summary)

  • When starting to learn Chinese language as a beginner, always start with “spoken Chinese” and then advance from there
  • Always enrol into best Chinese Language Schools or courses
  • Make sure your Teachers are Native Chinese speakers. That way, you pick the right accent and tonnes. Avoid as many confusion as possible
  • If you get the opportunity to study Chinese in college, please do
  • If you want to learn Chinese for free, there are always opportunities to do so. Make friends with Chinese studying in your college or university. There are also tonnes of opportunities online to learn Mandarin for free without paying a dime!


Learn Chinese Best Mandarin Schools in China

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