101 Reasons Why Learning Mandarin Chinese Is Not as Hard as People Say

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A very good morning to everybody from Beijing, China! I have decided to move this post to the top today, because I am going full out on my drive to persuade all the people around me that it is not an impossible task to learn to speak Chinese, and spread the message through  this website!  Thanks to everybody who has supported the site so far. I have more great content coming soon, but in the mean time I would love it if you could do me a small favour by following the site’s Facebook group or Twitter with the link on the right. Also, if you like this article, please help me to share it on Facebook/Google+/Twitter using the buttons at the bottom of the page :-)

Is learning Chinese hard? An age-old debate among language learners is whether Chinese is exponentially more difficult to learn than other languages. Here are 101 reasons why it is not so hard to learn to understand, speak, read and write Mandarin, why there are actually a lot of things in your favour and how there are a lot of tools that can help you.

  1. Chinese, like any other language, is just made up of repeated patterns, which can be practised and learnt.
  2. Verbs don’t conjugate in Chinese.
  3. There are no noun cases in Chinese.
  4. There are no ‘irregular’ nouns/verbs in Chinese
  5. If you can learn whether a noun is masculine, feminine or neuter in another language, then why should remembering the tones for a word in Mandarin be any more difficult?
  6. You don’t need ot be able to sing to pronounce Chinese tones.
  7. All languages have intonation, you use it when you raise your voice to ask a question, therefore tones are not that difficult for anybody to use.
  8. Even if you make mistakes with tones, people can generally still understand.
  9. I have known people who speak Chinese with no tones; it is still perfectly possible to communicate even if your pronunciation is not completely right.
  10. China has set down a standard for the language and pronunciation – Putonghua – which makes a learner’s life easier.
  11. Tones are not hard if you copy native speakers and recordings as closely as you can, and build good habits.
  12. Cantonese also has tones, but people just learn them by repeating and ‘getting used to them’. If you ask somebody from Hong Kong which tone a character is, they often don’t know.
  13. Chinese teachers and broadcasters are tested for perfect pronunciation, so you have good models to learn from.
  14. There is a standard system of Romanisation for Mandarin, Pinyin, used in all new dictionaries and courses. Pronunciation is easier to learn from the Roman alphabet.
  15. There are many websites and apps with pronunciation audio, which makes it easy to practice problem syllables.
  16. It is easy to find native speakers online using Skype, Busuu etc.
  17. Pinyin follows a logical system, once you know it, you can pronounce any character.
  18. There are fewer phonemes in Mandarin than in other languages.
  19. Mandarin only has 4 tone contours, some languages have more.
  20. Whether or not a language is tonal does not change the copy and repeat, practice and perfect model, it just means you have to pay attention to the way words are being pronounced.
  21. There are many more resources for learning Mandarin than 10 years ago.
  22. Many websites provide free materials for learning Chinese.
  23. FSI have their course in the public domain, with loads of audio and an effective method.
  24. DLI courses are also publicly available.
  25. There are several free podcasts related to learning Chinese.
  26. Many broadcasters provide Mandarin podcasts on iTunes
  27. BBC Chinese provides some free learning resources.
  28. There are many good courses published in China, if you go to any foreign languages bookshop in China you can find them.
  29. Most Chinese course now come with CDs for you to listen to.
  30. If you go to China, books for foreigners to learn Chinese are cheap and plentiful.
  31. All the popular publishers and famous courses have Mandarin versions, eg Linguaphone, Rosetta Stone, Teach Yourself, Colloquial, Living Language, Berlitz, Michel Thomas, Earworms, Hugo etc.
  32. Pimsleur have put together an audio only course that is slow and methodical.
  33. The BBC world service have a great news podcast in Mandarin, and so do many other international news broadcasters
  34. Chinese is a major language of the Internet, so there are abundant written resources.
  35. Chinese internet forums such as Tianya can teach you about current issues and put you in touch with slang.
  36. You can use Chinese instant messaging services such as QQ or Weixin to practice typing Chinese and chat online.
  37. By using Chinese social networks such as renren, you can connect and study at the same time.
  38. Weibo is a twitter like microblog that provides short bulletin length messages – great reading practice and a way to keep in touch with current hot topics in China.
  39. Using online Chinese corpuses, you can search for words and learn how to use them.
  40. You can use the search engine Baidu to enter keywords and find out how to use Chinese words.
  41. There are great dictionaries online such as nciku.com
  42. There are many websites dedicated to learning Chinese.
  43. Zhongwen.com breaks down characters into parts and makes them easier to understand for learners.
  44. The ABC dictionary allows you to look up words by Pinyin pronunciation, making dictionary look-ups easier.
  45. There are now electronic dictionaries to look up words quickly.
  46. You can use Pleco on your iPhone/ Android phone to look up words anywhere, or write characters on the screen to look them up.
  47. With Pleco you can also look up Chinese characters just by focussing the camera of your smartphone on them.
  48. ‘Lingoes’ dictionary software helps you to search multiple resources at the same time, and includes some of the biggest dictionaries.images
  49. Chinese characters are made up of radicals, components which often give you the area of meaning eg. Wood, metal, a hand, water, flesh, silk, bamboo etc. These radicals can help you to connect characters together.
  50. Many characters contain a pronunciation component that can often jog your memory as to how to pronounce the character.
  51. Although there are thousands of characters in Chinese, only a small proportion are in use, most are archaic.
  52. Simplified characters can make writing Chinese faster.
  53. If you know only the top 500 characters, you can recognise 75% of characters in modern Chinese texts.
  54.  If you know only the top 1000 characters, you can recognise 89% of characters in modern Chinese texts.
  55. If you know only the top 3000 characters, you can recognise 99.2% of characters in modern Chinese texts – this is pretty much full coverage, and is a realistic goal for the long term learner.
  56. By knowing the two characters that make up a word, you can often guess the meaning of an unknown word eg. 居民 (resident) = live + people
  57. Some radicals cover whole areas of meaning, for example almost all trees have the tree radical, fish the fish radical, metals the metal radical, many parts of the body contain the flesh radical etc.
  58. The number of characters used to transcribe foreign names is limited and standardised.
  59. Many textbooks list Chinese characters and Pinyin together, so you can study pronunciation.
  60. You can use Anki with its spaced repetition algorithm to enter flashcards into the software and review them at intervals, making vocab learning easy.
  61. By learning sentences you will find that Chinese expressions are much easier to remember and use.
  62. There are many great apps for Chinese character learning.
  63. Using Wenlin or Dimsum or websites, software can show you exactly how to write any Chinese character, step by step, if you copy and practice this it makes learning to write easy.
  64. There are rules for stroke order in Chinese, it is systematic and if you use software to learn to write, you will pick up the rules easily.
  65. By learning with Chinese character frequency lists, you can learn the most common characters first, and become fluent at reading Chinese quicker.
  66. Using Wenlin you can copy and paste texts and get definitions of words just by moving your mouse over the characters.
  67. Chinese Perakun or Adsotrans give you mouseover definitions in your internet browser, Word etc.
  68. There are many courses for Chinese characters available online.
  69. Courses often provide characters, Pinyin and English, making study convenient.
  70. Since apps and software make it so easy to look up words, you can do it multiple times for any given phrase over time, which helps you to remember words naturally.
  71. It is easy to read Chinese news online on websites such as QQ, Sina etc.
  72. Almost all Chinese TV shows have Chinese subtitles.
  73. All DVDs you buy in China have subtitles in Chinese and usually in English too.
  74. Going to karaoke gives you simple Chinese with the characters, you can sing your way to better Mandarin!
  75. You can watch English films with Chinese subtitles online using Youku or PPLive or buy buying DVDs in China. This is great for intensive study.
  76. It is easy to watch Chinese TV live online with ifeng.com, CNTV etc
  77. IPTV gives you access to Chinese TV programs and films, I recommend the software PPLive.
  78. Some TV Shows such as 非诚勿扰 or 非你莫属 can be entertaining by also use simpler language that learners can benefit from.
  79. It is easy to listen to Chinese radio on tunein.com
  80. Many Chinese news websites such as Sina, QQ have very short bulletins which are good for bitesize study.
  81. Many Chinese books for learning English have bilingual texts in English and Chinese, so are also great for learning Chinese.
  82. A lot of English learning resources in China have audio provided and written Chinese translations, so they are good for listening to English and studying the Chinese versions at the same time.
  83. Phrasebooks such as Lonely Planet have comprehensive coverage and good pronunciation guides for the beginner – great for getting around.
  84. Jukuu.com provides sentence examples of how to translate sentences into Chinese.
  85. The Oxford Beginner’s Chinese Dictionary has Pinyin for every definition, easy to understand usage explanations and lists measure words, so it is a great resource for beginners to understand vocabulary quickly.
  86. Chinese people are very willing to speak Mandarin to foreigners (this is my experience), and are also very patient with learners.
  87. The Chinese will encourage learners by complimenting even the most simple efforts to say things in Mandarin.
  88. Even if you just know some basic phrases, numbers and vocabulary, it will get you a long way in China.
  89. Xj71.com provides hundreds of speeches and lectures in Chinese, many with manuscripts and PowerPoints, so there are many resources for the advanced learner to educate himself in Chinese.
  90. Even young children in China learn to speak at an early age; with the advantage of being an adult learner you can actually progress quicker.
  91. To type Chinese on a computer or mobile phone you actually only need to know the Pinyin for a word and be able to recognise the characters. This means that to ‘write’ on a computer, you only really need to be able to ‘read and speak’.
  92. A mobile phone is a resource that you can use to jog your memory about a character you have forgotten how to write, wherever you are.
  93. If you write characters a bit wrong, people can generally recognise them. Even Chinese people frequently forget how to write some characters, so it is nothing to worry about!
  94. It is actually much simpler than you think to be able to recognise a large number of Chinese characters. If you can see a ball and know it is spelt ‘b a l l’ then learning to recognise a Chinese character is actually the same principle.
  95. There are more resources for intermediate and advanced learners of Mandarin than for many other languages. In particular the Beijing Language and Culture University Press publishes a large number of textbooks for reading and listening at the intermediate and advanced level.
  96. Podcasts such as Chinesepod provided a lot of audio practice to make it easy to improve listening comprehension in Mandarin.
  97. Taxi drivers in China love to talk and are great people to practice Chinese with!
  98. By putting your phone or computer into Chinese you can gain a lot of vocab passively.
  99. Once you start opening your mouth and practising Chinese, you will actually find that you progress in it very quickly.
  100. The hardest thing in any learning process is pushing yourself to get started and keep it up, but if you can do this then you will actually make very steady progress. If you make Chinese a part of your life, you can take it on quicker.
  101. I am a Brit who has learnt Chinese from scratch, if I can do it then so can you!

5 Responses to 101 Reasons Why Learning Mandarin Chinese Is Not as Hard as People Say

  1. anna says:

    wow, this is really impressive! thank you for putting all this together! i’ve been studying Chinese for about a year now, though there was a bit of a break in between, and i find that while consistency and patience is the key to any language, this applies even more to Mandarin…. learn, forget, learn better, forget better…. but it is manageable if you stay concentrated, and it actually is quite easy remembering key phrases. Actually, compared to remembering the characters, spoken Mandarin appears quite easy to me :)

    I wouldn’t agree with your point about young kids learning the language and the advantage of being an adult though… i do agree that you can learn any language at any age, but kids learn languages much faster and much more efficiently, for the most part (except for academic and other written language). and may i also correct: it’s corpora, not corpuses ;)

    • Nobody says:

      In studies with language learning from scratch, adults have more often than not outperformed children when given the same time and methods to learning languages.

      • anna says:

        what do you mean, “from scratch”? mandarin native speakers are hardly from-scratch-learners, since they’re surrounded by the language and their language develops guided by specific adult-to-children communication strategies (“motherese”). young kids who learn second languages are normally also guided by communicative strategies like explaining, categorizing and correction by adults and other kids. adults who start learning new languages are guided by their knowledge about grammar, categories, mnemotecnics etc.. So we’re comparing adults, who have strategical approaches, to kids who have more communicative approaches. this will most likely bring very different results at different stages. though i know there are studies that show adults outperform children at pattern recognition (including grammar patterns of artificial languages and nonce words) that does not mean they are generally superior at language learning after a longer while, especially considering the fact that adults perform better at tasks which don’t seem to make much apparent sense. obviously, kids who start learning a language in immersion (like expats’ kids from and in different countries) outperform many adults attempting to learn the same languages.

  2. Jason Miller says:

    You have covered the points very well. I liked the number 91 much more among 101. Thanks

  3. […] So, yes it is completely possible for an English speaker to achieve fluency in Mandarin Chinese or any other Chinese dialect. It is mostly a question of putting in the effort and perservering! Click here to find out why learning Chinese can in fact be easier than you think….. […]

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