“Chinese is one of the hardest languages to learn!”
Have you heard this before? So have we! Is there any easy way to learn it, though? Most people wouldn’t say so. Chinese isn’t easy to learn and most Europeans would agree.
There are thousands of characters, the pronunciation is very different to our own, and tones are almost an alien concept to us. It doesn't help that the Chinese language and culture sometimes seem very distant to our own, too. Learning French, German, or Spanish might be easier because we share some of our vocabulary and roots with these languages. A lack of similarities is why Chinese is often thought to be really difficult.
A lot of people start learning Chinese and quickly discover just how difficult it can be. However, all language learning has difficult elements. Even understanding the basics can be quite a challenge for anyone who’s just starting out.
Don’t worry, though! There are ways for Europeans to learn Chinese and get the most out of their Chinese lesson.
How can I learn how to speak Chinese more easily? Where do I start? What difficulties am I going to face when you start learning Chinese?
If you’re asking yourself these questions, you’re in luck! Superprof has all these answers for you in this very article!
Here is our advice for making learning Chinese a bit simpler...
Is Chinese an easy language to learn?
As we mentioned, speaking Chinese can be difficult for Europeans. Don’t feel bad, though! Chinese speakers can find learning English just as difficult for the very same reasons!
We’re going to see 5 reasons why Chinese isn’t actually that difficult to understand. If you are yet to learn the basics of Chinese, these reasons might be quite surprising!
Read our tips for learning Chinese quickly...
Simplify Chinese characters with Pinyin
When you see Chinese characters, you might start to lose motivation for learning the language. Most beginners will struggle with identifying Chinese characters in the beginning. However, to avoid feeling lost, there is a method that can help you better understand Chinese characters.
There are a lot of people who are worried about not understanding the writing system. It’s actually one of the reasons why most people in the West think that learning Chinese is impossible.
The first thing you have to do is simplify the Chinese writing system. The simplest way to do this is to use the Pinyin system for romanising the Chinese writing system. You can use it to write Chinese words using the Latin Alphabet and it’s often used to help teach people Chinese.
Mandarin Chinese has four different tones. This means word and phrases can have four different meanings based on how they're pronounced.
Scared? So were we in the beginning. However, there are some dialects that don’t use them at all and we’re not the only people to struggle with the tones in Mandarin Chinese. The most important thing to know is that even though you might find Chinese pronunciation and identifying tones difficult in the beginning, you’ll still be able to communicate in Chinese and reach a conversational level without fully mastering them.
Think of it this way: Even though a Ferrari is faster, you can still get around town in a Vauxhall Nova! Being able to flawlessly identify the four tones will give you the same feeling as sitting in a Ferrari. However, not being able to won’t hinder you as much as you might think and isn't anywhere near as embarrassing as driving around in a Nova!
To make learning Chinese simpler, don’t think of the tones as a problem but rather a way to make your Chinese even better.
Discover more ways you can learn Chinese on your own...
For anyone who’s studied French, Italian, or Spanish, you might wince a bit at the thought of learning conjugations. Chinese doesn’t have this problem! In Chinese, there aren’t any conjugations. Gone are the days of sitting through language courses and repeating verb conjugations like a parrot. Nouns and adjectives don’t have singular, plural, masculine, or feminine forms like they do in Romance languages. Things couldn’t be simpler!
While we usually add an “s” to a noun to make it plural, Chinese always uses the same form of the noun. Take an example with several dogs. It would be like saying “these dog” rather than saying “these dogs” (since “these” already tells us that it’s plural). You wouldn’t say a “man” but rather a “human male”.
When it comes to conjugations, things are really simple. While we usually say I, you, we, or they “eat” and he, she, or it “eats”, Chinese doesn’t change the verb. You don’t even have tenses to worry about. If you want to say “We’re going to eat tomorrow”, you can just say “we eat tomorrow” in Chinese.
As you can see, there are certain ways in which Chinese is much simpler than English.
Vocabulary in Chinese
Remembering new vocabulary and how to pronounce certain words can be difficult in any language. This isn’t a problem that’s unique to Chinese. Chinese people will find learning and pronouncing English words difficult.
Generally speaking, Chinese vocabulary is put together quite logically. Once you’ve learnt the basic vocabulary, you’ll start learning more words with even greater ease. As you learn, you’ll be surprised to find out that a number of words are just a combination of words that you’ve already learnt.
Let’s play a little game. If you use your brain a little, you’ll be able to guess what these words mean:
- 电脑 diàn-năo = electricity + brain = ?
- 电话 diàn-huà = electricity + words = ?
- 电视 diàn-shì = electricity + visual = ?
- 变色龙 biàn-sè-lóng = change + colour + dragon = ?
- 长颈鹿 cháng-jĭng-lù = long + neck + deer = ?
- 猫头鹰 māo-tóu-yīng = cat + head + eagle = ?
(Answers at the end of the article!)
Learn other ways you can have fun while learning Chinese!
Two Alternative Ways to Learn Chinese More Easily
To make learning Chinese easier, you need to practise daily! There are also a few radical ways to do this...
Method 1: Travel to China
Whether it’s part of an exchange programme at school or university or for work or a holiday to discover Chinese cuisine, the easiest way to learn Chinese is to put yourself in China. There are roughly around 38,000 Brits currently living in China.
Method 2: Get Chinese lessons where you are.
Studying in China is obviously a great way to learn the language and learn more about the country and its culture.
However, if you don’t have the means to do this, you could always do a language exchange. Why not look for a Chinese student who would like to learn English? In exchange, they could teach you Chinese. If you live in a rural area, why not look for someone who'd be happy to help you practice Chinese online?
There’s always a way to learn a language. The better you get, the more activities you can do completely in Chinese.
Discover all the ways you can learn to speak Chinese...
Is It Easy to Study Chinese in the UK?
Where can you learn Chinese in the UK? This is an important question to ask if you’re serious about learning Chinese.
Chinese Language Schools
There are plenty of language schools around the UK and more and more of them are offering Chinese lessons. This is a great way to learn the basics and quickly move on to more advanced levels.
The Confucius Institute has partnered with a number of universities around the UK where you can study Chinese. As a result, there are weekly language classes being offered in Chinese all over the country.
Chinese at University
There are also universities all over the country offering degrees in Chinese. Cambridge currently tops the list for East & South Asian Studies with Oxford and Durham in second and third respectively.
A degree from any of these academic institutions could do wonders for your career prospects in Chinese-speaking jobs.
Learn Chinese with a Private Tutor
Thanks to how popular learning Chinese is, there are literally tonnes of private Chinese tutors popping up every day. With a private tutor, you can get personalised tuition in a number of foreign languages. It’s a quick and easy way to learn a language.
While some cities have more tutors than others, there’s a good spread of Chinese tutors around the country. Chinese tutorials can be really useful and private tutorials through platforms like Superprof, where you can find both qualified and native tutors near you or online, are the first places you should check if you’re happy to pay for tutorials.
On-line tutors are great for those who live in rural areas where there mightn’t be large numbers of Chinese-speaking residents. A tutor will also teach you using the methods that work for you and ensure you get the most out of every hour spent together. By working on your Chinese every day, you’ll be sure to make steady and impressive progress.
Answers to our earlier quiz:
Languages are supposed to be spoken, after all. If you’d like to learn Mandarin Chinese, you should go for it! You won’t regret it!
5 Tips for Learning Mandarin Chinese
Spend time with Chinese friends who are happy to speak a bit of the language with you. Even a 5-minute conversation can work wonders. Go to Chinatown and visit the local restaurants. Visit the kind of places we’re talking about. The places where the whole menu’s in Chinese and there isn’t a single word of English to be found anywhere. Most of the customers are Chinese, too. These are also great places to try good Chinese food.
Watch Chinese films and TV shows. Even those who rarely watch TV should consider using this method to help them hear and speak more Chinese. You’ll hear the sounds being pronounced by native speakers in a variety of different situations. This will help you to see the language in a variety of different contexts and bring the language to life. You can’t learn to speak Chinese just by reading, after all. You have to hear it, too.
Listen to Chinese songs. It’s a beautiful language and there’s a lot of music being made in it. You can learn an awful lot by listening to (and even singing along to) Chinese pop songs. There’s also karaoke! Why not organise an evening with your Chinese-speaking friends?
Teach English in China or Taiwan. There are plenty of English teachers working in Chinese-speaking countries and getting paid for it, too. It’s a great way to learn Chinese while earning money. It could also fund Chinese lessons.
Travel to China or Taiwan. This is both a fascinating and fun way to learn the Chinese language and more about the countries themselves.
Learning a language like Chinese is a journey rather than a destination and unless you want to interpret at the UN or be a secret agent (which would be cool!), you don’t have to learn to speak Mandarin Chinese perfectly.
Discover also how you can learn Chinese...
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