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Mandarin Chinese really so hard?

  Tags: Difficulty | Mandarin
 Language Learning Forum : Specific Languages Post Reply
36 messages over 5 pages: 1 2 3 4 5  Next >>
United States
Joined 4387 days ago

41 posts - 43 votes
Speaks: English*, Portuguese, Spanish, French
Studies: Modern Hebrew, Arabic (Written), Mandarin, Basque

 Message 1 of 36
23 August 2007 at 6:00pm | IP Logged 
So I stumbled upon this paper on Chinese and was looking for an opinion on it because know nothing about Chinese other than what I read here. Is it really as hard as this article suggests?

Take the time to read it because it really is interesting.
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Senior Member
United States
lille.theoffside.comRegistered users can see my Skype Name
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4 sounds
Speaks: English*
Studies: French, Arabic (Written)

 Message 2 of 36
23 August 2007 at 6:11pm | IP Logged 
Supposely, the writing system is really hard, but speaking isn't too bad.
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Senior Member
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Studies: Latin

 Message 3 of 36
23 August 2007 at 11:09pm | IP Logged 
There was a discussion on this very article only a few weeks ago.

See this thread.
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Senior Member
United States
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 Message 4 of 36
23 August 2007 at 11:17pm | IP Logged 
Well, the grammar is supposed to be very simple and the pronunciation is
easy compared to that of many languages, but it is still a very challenging
language (even just speaking it). For some people, the tones are extremely
difficult.   Also, there aren't a lot of cognates/loan words from Germanic or
romance languages, so depending on your base languages the vocabulary
learning load can be quite high. Learning to read/write it, is of course very

LilleOSC wrote:
Supposely, the writing system is really hard, but
speaking isn't too bad.

1 person has voted this message useful

Senior Member
United States
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Speaks: English*, Mandarin, French
Studies: Esperanto, Ukrainian, German, Italian, Spanish, Russian, Persian

 Message 5 of 36
24 August 2007 at 2:10am | IP Logged 
Speaking from experience, learning to speak Chinese isn't very difficult. If you go to China there are basically loads (everyone?) of people who want to say something to you, so engaging in conversations are not really that difficult. Taxi drivers, shop assistants, fast-food workers, barbershop employees, the little lady who fries stuffed 饼 (don't know what to call this in english like a stuffed pancake maybe) on the corner. Really everyone is interested as long as you get out of the big touristy cities. And it's easy to make friends. Most of them are very excited to talk to a foreigner. So, speaking = easy part.

Learning to read/write Chinese takes a considerable more amount of time. However, it's easier to learn how to read and recognize characters than it is to actually write them w/ pen and paper.

The most effective tool I had for learning characters was my cellphone. I'd send messages to my friends, and they'd reply and I could look up the characters I didn't know. As I remember I pretty much had my little red pocket-sized dictionary on me at all times.

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 Message 6 of 36
24 August 2007 at 11:44am | IP Logged 
The challenge is that Mandarin can sound very different when spoken by people from different areas. The so-called "standard" dialect promoted by the communists in Beijing can sound quite different from the ones spoken in Taiwan.
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Senior Member
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Speaks: English*, Mandarin
Studies: German

 Message 7 of 36
24 August 2007 at 12:45pm | IP Logged 
Chinese pronunciation is not easy. I was recently talking to a guy that speaks Japanese and he said that with Japanese from the first time he opened his mouth he could be understood. This will not be the case with Chinese. When I started 3 years ago at times it was very hard to make people understand me and this is a pretty common situation with many people.

True everyone will want to talk to you so that's definately a plus. Even in more remoter cities you'll be 'worshiped'.

The accent in the south is very different to the north don't expect to understand uneducated speakers. Half a year ago I was in Nanjing and with some people it was very hard to communitcate with (bear in mind that usually I can happily carry out my daily life in terms of speaking and listening 100% in Chinese).

Reading and writing must be the most challenging thing about this language. You need at least 4000 characters to be comfortable with a newspaper! Compare this to Japanese where you only need 2000 (but each character will have more pronunciations).

You will barely recognise any of the vocabulary as even the borrowed words barely sound like the English equivilents 麦当劳 maidanglao - McDonalds 肯德基 kendeji - kentucky (Fried Chicken).

Grammar don't let anyone fool you that the supposedly easy grammar of chinese makes it easy. Just because one verb will always be the same in the future past and present does not make it easy. If you're a speaker of a European tongue it will seem like logical second nature to modify the verb to form sentence in the past, future etc.

Just because there is no masculine and femine in the language will not make it easier. Lets face it in French you could use 'La' all the time and still be understood. However for Chinese you have 5 tones (including the neutral one) which you must plant on ever single adjective, verb, noun etc. Ok so in context you'll be understood but be prepared to have to repeat and repeat yourself for a long time. Have you heard how strange it sounds for a Chinese person speaking English? The flow just doesn't sound right. Even for some reason beginner native Arabic speakers seem to have a better flow and this is also a hard language. You'll also sound pretty damn strange to the Chinese people.

What verbs will work with what nouns will often be a complete mystery at the start and your mind will have to make bizzare leaps of logic to fit the Mandarin idiom.

Anyway don't let that put you off. With a good deal of effort and shedding of blood (along with selling your soul) you'll master the language within 4-5 years, if you work on it full time, like a madman.

Honestly though I've met 'elite' Harvard Yale Mandarin students in their 3rd year and I wouldn't say they will be close to mastering the language in another year or two.

I've been studying Chinese for 3 years and I hope that in one more year i'll be able to gain entrance to a Chinese university studying Law or business. However I have an awful feeling that I'll need another 2 years before I really feel comfortable. Then it will be 3 or 4 years in a Chinese uni - hopefully after that i'll be able to say my Chinese is excellent so all in all i'll possibly need 7-9 years. 加油
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Senior Member
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 Message 8 of 36
24 August 2007 at 10:16pm | IP Logged 
delectric wrote:

Honestly though I've met 'elite' Harvard Yale Mandarin students in their 3rd year and I wouldn't say they will be close to mastering the language in another year or two.

How would you rate their chinese. Obviously hard to generalize since everyones' talents differ, but any universal strong and weak points you could mention?

Did these people actually have jobs that utilized their chinese everyday professionally with clients (not just chatting with coworkers) or were they just purely studying abroad?

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