Learning the Chinese language is not nearly as difficult as people say it is. Seriously, 1.3 billion Chinese people speak it perfectly, they can’t all be language geniuses can they?
The hard part is the reading and writing. Speaking Chinese is not only not all that difficult, it can also be fun, and will make you masses of Chinese friends, and earn you much exaggerated praise, wherever you go.
Chinese people are always delighted to meet a student of Mandarin and will enjoy helping you learn. Even if you can’t spend the time learning language in China, alternatives such as online lessons are both effective and affordable.
Whatever you decide to do, learning Chinese is great fun and the only way to understand Chinese culture.
People are usually put off by the fact that Chinese is a tonal language. Don’t be. There are three things to remember about tones.
1) You use tones in every sentence of English you ever speak. If you didn’t you’d sound like a robot. You know tones already.
2) Some people claim that they ‘are tone deaf’ or not musical, and therefore won’t be able to handle a tonal language. What about those 1.3billion Chinese people, are none of them tone deaf? It doesn’t matter.
3) Thousands of foreigners, (including some very distinguished professors of Chinese), have been getting by for years without actually learning any tones at all, so don’t worry about it.
The other thing people worry about with the Chinese language is Chinese characters – there are so many of them and they look so strange that it’s rather daunting. It’s true that there are thousands of different characters to learn – but they’re not just random squiggles, there’s a logic to them that makes them much easier to learn and remember.
Almost all characters are made up of other characters, and by knowing those component characters, you can often have a guess at the meaning and/or pronunciation of new characters.
Also, although we don’t have any concrete evidence to prove it, it seems that once you start learning characters, your brain somehow learns ways to learn them quicker – which means that after you’ve learnt the first few hundred or so, the others start to come much more naturally.
Another great thing about Chinese is that the pronunciation is much easier than you might think and the grammar and way of saying things is rarely fancy and convoluted. The language is very straightforward and direct – a bit like Chinese people.
Wonder at the Great Wall, be awed by the magnificent Forbidden City, drink in the scenery from a boat on the Summer Palace’s Kunming Lake.