Many people think Chinese is THE most difficult language in the world, as the saying goes, “It’s Chinese”. There is obviously no such thing as the most difficult language in the world. There are many factors to consider and it all depends on your native language and what other languages you are already fluent in. For example, learning French is easier for a Spaniard or an Italian than for a German while learning Dutch or Norwegian is much easier for a German than for a Spaniard. The question is, is Chinese a difficult language for westerners to learn? Yes and no. In this article, we are going to look at the Chinese language so that we can understand why it seems so difficult and why sometimes it is surprisingly easy!
Not being able to read anything at first scares many people and this is precisely why Chinese has this reputation of being “impossible to learn”. For Westerners, an unknown language with a “known” alphabet would seem much easier to learn. Let us try to transform these mysterious Chinese to English characters into a well-known alphabet that is much easier to read. We call it the “pinyin”. Pinyin is fully phonetic and can be learned very quickly as there are only 400 syllables in Chinese languages, far fewer than the thousands that exist in Western languages.
Since Chinese does not have many syllables, tones are necessary. In Mandarin, the official language, there are four different tones as well as a neutral tone, which is hardly used. The 4 tones make it possible to pronounce the syllables in a different way and to give them different meanings at the same time.
Learning to hear and pronounce these tones correctly is a challenge for anyone who has never learned a tone language before. Yet its importance should not be overstated. Usually, up to an intermediate level, the meaning will be perfectly clear even if the manner of pronouncement or the tone heard is not correct context help you. We hope so! You could have some more annoying communication problems if this is not the case!
Another example, you try to say “marijuana” to your local dealer but you pronounce it like “big horse”. If he does not understand you, it certainly means that he has already consumed a lot more than he has sold!
If you mispronounce the fourth tone in the verb “to scold”, it cannot be confused with any of the other three meanings, which are not verbs and therefore have no place in the sentence. You can say, “I’m insulting you!” but say “I mommy!” or “I help you!” or “I’m riding you!” does not mean much, unless it’s some coded language you use in some funny underground culture that you belong to.
However, while you do not necessarily have to know the characters to be able to pronounce Chinese, that does not mean that, the characters are an unnecessary invention of the Chinese. The reason why the Chinese invented the characters is mainly that the language has a very large number of homonyms (words with the same pronunciation but with different meanings). Inventing a character to distinguish them was a pure necessity because an alphabetic system is simply too limited for that. We will take a closer look at Chinese characters later in the article. First, let us look at Chinese grammar and Chinese vocabulary.
For all those who have bad memories of the hours spent learning the conjugations of regular and irregular verbs in Spanish, variations of articles in the nominative, accusative, genitive or dative in German or trying to remember masculine, feminine or neutral words. , look no further, Chinese has none of these Western-style complications!
Amanda Byers is a graduate of Columbia, where she played volleyball and annoyed a lot of professors. Now as Zubuz’s entertainment and Lifestyle Editor, she enjoys writing about delicious BBQ, outrageous style trends and all things Buzz worthy.