Roosh V Forum

Full Version: Comprehensive Introduction To The Chinese Language
You're currently viewing a stripped down version of our content. View the full version with proper formatting.
Pages: 1 2
Introduction To Learning Chinese

Despite the arguments to the contrary, learning Chinese is not easy. If you want to have full fluency, both spoken and written, you'll need to dedicate years of your life to this. Chinese high school and university students continue to learn new characters.

Why? Imagine that you learned 10 characters a day. This would mean at least an hour of study for the fastest learner. Keep in mind, you'd also need to dedicate time to reviewing. So, assume two hours a day of study, minimum, to learn ten new words per day.

You'll be pretty functional at 4000 characters, but you'll still struggle with reading some newspaper articles. About 8000 characters would be more ideal. That would require more than two years of study. Considering that ten new characters a day is a pretty lofty goal, this would be really fast. For some people, it might take two hours of study each day just to learn to speak 10 new words every day.

An Informative Video On How Chinese Is Taught In China And How That Affects Foreign Learners

Video On The Frustrations of Reading And Writing Chinese

There is a bright spot in this. While near-native fluency is a grand goal, functional fluency is achievable in a year or two by any one dedicated enough to put the time in. Mind you, this does not include being about to read and write more than a very basic number of characters -- but you'll be able to speak and understand well enough to converse, date Chinese girls, and have important business related conversations.

When I say that Chinese is not easy, I do not mean to imply that it's unlearnable. In fact, I believe that it is completely learnable. My meaning is more that there is no short cut to learning. If you want to speak even beginner Chinese, you'll have to make an effort. But if you DO make the necessary amount of effort, it's pretty hard not to learn Chinese.

Tip One: Study in China
Individuals gifted in language acquisition and those who have learned several languages already and know exactly how to teach a new one to themselves may have success in Chinese without ever visiting China. However, for most learners, I would recommend doing the needed study in China if at all possible.

There are a number of reasons for this, but this is the main one.

First, you'll need a period of exposure to Chinese to train your brain to recognize tones and Chinese pronunciation. Japanese has fewer than 200 vowel/consonant combinations. Both English and Chinese have thousands. However, this doesn't mean that there is necessarily a lot of overlap. A "B" sound in English may differ somewhat from the closest equivalent in Chinese and vice-versa. So, you'll need some exposure, just so that your brain starts to "think" in Chinese sounds. You have this ability as a baby, but these skills atrophy when they aren't used.

This can, in theory, be done in a classroom setting, but for those whose brain don't quickly reprogram themselves to respond to the new sounds, it would take a long time in classroom, even at 10 hrs of exposure a week to acquire what a month or two in China will give you when you are constantly hearing people speak Chinese.

How much exposure depends the person. When I first began Chinese, it took me about 3 or 4 months for my brain to have much success sorting out the different sounds I was hearing. I knew the difference between the different sounds and could produce a close approximation myself, but identifying what I was hearing when a Chinese person spoke at a normal pace wasn't something I could really do until I had spent months in China. Some people can do this after a couple weeks. Others might take up to a year.

So, saving money and just spending 6 months studying full time in China may be your ticket out of a lot of frustration. Learning outside of China/Taiwan will probably mean spend years accomplishing what you would achieve in a 10th of the time with boots on the ground.

Tip Two: Enroll in a Chinese language school that has history of forcing the language down students' throats
Learning any language usually means dedicating a lot of time to the language. One way of speeding up the process is to enroll in a language school dedicated to putting the pressure on you to learn.

I spent three months studying in a classroom setting in Beijing. I had 10 hrs of class a week, but didn't get very far. I came back the next year and did 4 months of intensive at a very serious school. About 30 hrs of class time per week and 4-5 hrs of homework every night memorizing characters and new words.

I've only studied casually since this, but this got me over an important learning hump and I've improved consistently since them by using Chinese in daily circumstances and especially when teaching English to stupid children.

For comparison sake, an American friend of mine studied with me during those initially 3 months. She has only studied casually since then. We've both spent three years in China.

I can talk to anyone and make myself mostly understood. People don't understand anything coming out of my friend's mouth.

She had a 3.7 GPA in college, so she knows how to study hard. I have a 2.7, so I'm not impressive. A professor who had taught both of us (in a non-Chinese class) was shocked to discover that my Chinese was better, because she viewed me as the inferior student.

Elevator Life Guys Encourage Those Planning To Live In China To Learn Chinese
How To Use This Guide

This guide is not intended to be a textbook. Rather, it's a collection of videos and some commentary designed to provide an introduction to Chinese to someone who is interested in learning it, but has not benefitted from an introduction to the language.

As well, this guide includes some tips on how to plan your learning. Once you've finished working your way through the guide, you'll know how to get started, as well as what you are up against.
History of the Chinese Language

Long (one-hour) lecture on the Chinese language and civilization

A shorter five minute video about the history of characters
Writing System

Well Done Video That Provides An Accessible Introduction To Chinese Character Writing

Everyone learns differently.

Personally, I've had the best luck learning characters by creating flashcards with the English word on one side and the Chinese character on the other side. I look at the English word and try to write the character. Then I flip over the flash card and see if I'm right. If I'm wrong, I practice the character a few times and then move on.

I do this in sets of three or four characters until I know them all and then move onto a new set of three or four. When I've learned all the characters, I test myself on the whole group of new characters that I've just learned and see if I retained the knowledge. I re-study the ones I don't know yet using the same method.

I recommend this method, but something else might work better for others. Experiment, find out what works best for you.
First Words That You Need To Learn

Traditional approaches to teaching Chinese usually involve gradually introducing important, useful words as part of lessons organized by topic. I disagree with this approach. The fastest way to get to a point where you can communicate with locals on the street in China is to start off with a useful core group of Chinese words. Then, as you learn nouns, verbs and adjectives, you'll have functional words to use to make use of them.

I recommend starting off with one of these lists of core words:
Understanding Tones

Read this article on tones.

Or this one.

A Short Video Explaining Mandarin Tones

Another Longer Video Demonstrating Tones
Chinese Sounds

The first thing you'll need to learn to speak and understand Chinese is the sounds used in the language.

All Chinese Sounds In One Video

These sounds can all be written down in the English alphabet using a system called Pin-Yin.

An Introduction To Pin-Yin

Putting this altogether with a tone will allow you to pronounce and speak Chinese.

An Introduction To Chinese Pronunciation
Studying in China

Advice and reactions from students studying language in China. I can't recommend any of the opinions expressed, but these videos will give you a taste of the type of folks you'll encounter as a language student. These videos are accurate about the diversity of people you will meet in a language program in China.

Find a Chinese Language Program

Some Other Advice Blatantly Stolen From Around The Internet

1. Decide which language you wish to learn •Mandarin is the national language of China and Taiwan, and is the dialect you should choose if traveling to those countries, or if you're learning Chinese for academic/business purposes. China's large population makes Mandarin the most spoken language on the planet.
•Cantonese is the primary language of Hong Kong and China's Guangdong province. It is also the most common dialect spoken by Chinese overseas. Choose Cantonese if you're traveling to Hong Kong, doing business in Guangdong (a major economic region), or if you wish to speak with the majority of Chinese in the US, UK, Australia, or Canada.
•Difficulty: Mandarin is more structured and a bit easier to learn, while Cantonese has more tones and an ever-changing variety of slang terms. However, this characteristic also makes Cantonese a rich and enjoyable language to study. While there are similarities between Mandarin and Cantonese (learning one can help with learning the other), attempting to learn both simultaneously would be very confusing and inefficient.

2. Decide whether you wish to learn how to read/write Chinese
•Chinese characters are not based on phonetics (sounds), so learning how to write does not help you learn how to speak. For travel purposes, learning a handful of Chinese characters will help you to read signs and menus in Chinese, but there is no reason to get too serious about writing if travel is your only objective. Most of the sign/menu characters can be extracted from a simple guidebook.
• Many people enjoy learning how to write Chinese characters (calligraphy) solely as a beautiful art form.

3. If you do want to learn Chinese characters, choose the appropriate system
•Simplified Chinese characters are used in China and Singapore. Traditional characters are used in Hong Kong and Taiwan, and will also be seen on most Chinese menus and newspapers found overseas (US, UK, Australia, Canada, etc).
•Character simplification was part of Mao Zedong's pre-Cultural Revolution in 1960's China, which explains why Hong Kong and Taiwan continue using traditional characters. Because the simplified system is based on the traditional one, many characters are actually exactly the same in both systems.

1. Be aware of tones •Both Mandarin and Cantonese are tonal languages, which means that speaking the same word with different pitch will give the word different meanings. Mandarin has 4-5 primary tones, and Cantonese has 6-7.
•Attempts have been made at Romanization (using of the "abc" alphabet) of Chinese words to assist with language learning. However, if you wish to speak Chinese with proper tones, it is highly recommended that you use an audio-based program and focus your efforts on reproducing the sounds that you hear. Romanized/written Chinese only provides an approximation until you become familiar with the actual sounds. It's for that reason that I chose to use audio and "natural language" Romanization, rather than a have students learn a complicated pinyin system in my lessons.

2. Learn Chinese in phrases rather than memorizing vocabulary lists
•Building vocabulary by learning phrases that contain vocabulary will help to make your communication understood by context, even if your tones are a bit off at first.
•Chinese, like other languages, has many words that have the same/similar meaning but are used in particular contexts. Therefore, most students will find it more efficient to learn vocabulary "in context", meaning in phrases where the vocabulary is used.
•Unlike some other languages (such as French or Spanish), there is absolutely no connection between English and Chinese vocabulary (aside from random coincidence and a handful of English words that younger Chinese have adopted). This makes memorization of individual words more challenging, and less efficient than learning Chinese in phrases.

3. Do not put too much emphasis on grammatical rules
•The complexity of Chinese vocabulary is partially offset by the simplicity of it's grammatical structure. And in languages full of exceptions-to-rules (especially in Cantonese), you'll advance more quickly by absorbing a "feeling" for grammatical structure through practice and exposure, rather than intellectual understanding of rules. It's simply more effective to learn how to speak Chinese in the manner that a child learns to speak and language - by listening and repeating what you hear over and over. Imagine asking a 7 year old if a noun goes before a verb -- they probably won't know, but they will be able to say a sentence correctly.

4. Focus on frequent exposure
•A real key to learning Chinese is repeated exposure to the language. In the beginning, this means listening to your audio programs/lessons as often as possible. Soon you'll notice your ability to distinguish and reproduce the tones of Chinese becoming more honed, and you'll speak with proper grammar because it "sounds right". There is simply no substitute for frequent practice when getting started - you won't learn these skills from a book. Listen in your car, while you work out, or set aside some time each morning and evening to immerse yourself in the audios. If you have trouble concentrating, you might be better off with a more interactive program like Pimsleurs, Rosetta Stone, or Fluenz.

5. Have fun!
•If you enjoy learning a language, your mind and efforts will be more focused and you'll learn much faster. A friend of mine took 4 years of Spanish in high school, hated it, and cannot speak a word today. However, she decided to learn French on her own and can speak with conversional fluency after just 6 months! I see the same thing with people who are really motivated to learn Chinese.
•If you think it would be enjoyable, join a Chinese language group. But only stick with them if they actively work on practicing Chinese - otherwise you'll be better off using that time to study on your own. Conversational Chinese classes at community colleges can also be fun (conversational classes tend to be more practical, and are usually attended by students with sincere interest).
•With an abundance of Chinese studying overseas, you might try language exchange with ESL students that wish to practice their English, in return for help on your Chinese. If that's not possible, find some Chinese chat partners online. Skype makes real-time voice chat easy.
•Watch movies in Chinese. There are loads of great Mandarin movies from China, and Hong Kong (Cantonese) has one of the largest film industries in the world. Watching movies was my primary method of learning English, and I've heard of many students reinforcing their Chinese language efforts in the same way.
•Get a tutor! Yes, that's a shameless plug for myself -- but of course you have other choices as well. Any form of one-on-one instruction is usually going to be more effective than a group setting, and more fun if it's someone that you click with. So if one tutor isn't working out, try others until you find someone with whom you feel comfortable. Working with a private tutor who gives assignments can also provide some much needed motivation that learning a language requires.
•Plan a future trip to China, Taiwan, or Hong Kong, and make it your goal to gain a certain level of proficiency by that time.

6. Find the learning style that works best for you
•Although I'd love to say that my Chinese lessons and tutoring are all you'll ever need, the truth is that different people learn more effectively with different methods. Exposing yourself to multiple programs, a variety of Chinese voices, and even hearing the same phrases spoken with slightly different wording will all help to accelerate your learning efforts.
•In general, to really learn Chinese, you'll want to find programs that provide a good amount of material. Although your local bookstore may have several "learn Chinese fast" programs with 1 or 2 audio CD's of basic vocabulary, those aren't going to do much for you. Read reviews on Amazon, but check your local library before spending a lot of money.

Quote:How Long Does It Take To Learn Chinese
So how long does it actually take to learn Chinese? I’m not going to define what is fluent, I believe I’m still far from that, but how long does it take to pass HK6 for example? The highest Chinese Proficiency Test for foreigners at the moment.

How long did it take me to get to HSK6?

My first Chinese course was a month-long travel Chinese course when I was 16. I was already very interested to learn the language on my own then, even though I never had the courage to use my Chinese with my boyfriend at the time (he was ethnic Chinese).

I only started to get more serious with Chinese when I enrolled to the Chinese course in my university back in 2008. For two semesters I had four hours of Chinese every week. During Summer and Autumn 2009 I had only two hours Chinese lessons a week.

When I came to China this is what I could do: introduce my self, ask for directions, buy things, order in a restaurant. But I often found it hard to understand what the locals were saying. I could write maybe 200 characters by hand when I came.

I enrolled in Guangzhou university and spend two and a half semesters there. Spring 2010 I failed the old Elementary-Intermediate HSK exam, but in December I got to the level 4 of old HSK. And then to old HSK5 during spring 2011.

I changed to Sun Yat-Sen University in September 2011 and passed HSK5 in December.

In April 2013 I passed HSK6, 238 points out of 300.

It took me 1,5 years in Finland and 3 years in China to pass and get a nice score from HSK6. If I could get to this level in 4,5 years, you can do even better if you live in China the whole time or/and work harder than I do!

How fast can you learn Chinese?

Based on my experiences learning Chinese, I would guess that you can get to HSK6 in about 4 years in China.

Of course you can’t learn Chinese simply just by being in China.
•You have to enroll in a university, language courses or be a very diligent self studying type.
•You should almost always do your homework and study extra on your own.
•You should take the HSK every year in order to see your progress.
•You should make Chinese friends or have a Chinese boyfriend/girlfriend, someone to talk to everyday in Chinese.
•You should do your best in watching Chinese TV series and movies.
•You should also do your best in reading Chinese books.

Final words

There are many students who have studied Chinese as long as I am and are much better than me. There are also many who have studied Chinese longer than me, but I’m better than them. Everyone studies a language on their own way and speed.

This post is to give you some kind of idea how many years it might take you to learn Chinese. If you agree or disagree, please share your thoughts on the comments section!

Quote:Study Chinese in China: What's the best choice for you?

This article is a general overview of the different options that you have for studying Mandarin Chinese in China. I’ll discuss the pros and cons of every option and suggest the one that best suits you according to your level, expectations, occupation and budget.

There are four main options to study Chinese in China:

•Private schools.
•Internships (exchange programs, fellowships, masters or similar).
•Private tutors.

Study Chinese at the university

Generally speaking, the universities are the place where you can get the courses with the best quality. The reason is simple: most universities have a more experience on teaching Chinese than any private school. Also, the most experienced teachers prefer to work there. These are also the people that wrote most of Chinese textbooks (if not all).

The other big advantage of signing up for a university is that you won’t have any trouble on getting your student visa and a cheap accommodation at the foreign student’s dormitory (normally a private room with bathroom).

But studying Chinese at the university have some problems:
•No flexibility: You can’t start a course at the University whenever you want and the scheduling of the lessons is fixed (and you can’t negotiate it).
•Full-time commitment: Universities only offer full-time courses, with a minimum of compulsory lessons four hours per day, Monday to Friday. So forget to study at the university if you have a full-time job.
•Price: The best universities are more expensive than private schools.
•“Traditional” teaching methods: Universities’ teaching methods work on the longterms but are extremely boring and during the first months you’ll perceive little to no progresses as they’ll focus on characters and phonetics. Also, it doesn’t matter if you are English, Japanese or Iranian: they’ll teach you the same way.
•Best and worst teachers: As I told at the beginning universities have the most experienced teachers but also a bunch of awful teachers that were able to get a position because of they personal connections. Also, you may end up with a master student teaching to you (they need the experience and they pay for it). This actually has a pro and con: the lesson may be quite interesting because master Chinese students are extremely motivated. However they have no teaching experience whatsoever.

Having say that, who should study Chinese at the university? I think this method is ideal for beginners.

When you start studying Chinese it’s important to establish a strong basis so that you can improve much faster later on. Universities are the only ones that provide you with a strong basis.

Study Chinese in a private school

Private schools represent the most flexible and economic way to study Chinese in China. If you wish you show up at the school and start the lessons the same day. Also, if you are at least two people they will start a course for you in one or two days (the time to find a teacher). You can get one to one classes, small groups and sometimes big groups classes (more than 8-10 people).

Another advantage of private academies is that you have the option to pay only when you attend the lesson. Thus, if one day you are sick or tired you don’t need to pay. As you can imagine all these advantages come with a price. Here the main problems of private schools are:
•Business philosophy: Private schools work the same way than other business in China. There’s much more offer than demand and the faster way to get more customers (AKA students) is to lowering the price, of course at expense of the quality. If they succeed to beat the competitors they will start to increase their profit margins by reducing the cost and increasing the price. Even if there are some exceptions, never trust the manager of a private Chinese school when he states that quality comes first.
•Teachers salary: Most of the companies will make their best to reduce the salary of their teachers. The easiest way to reach this goal is to hire teachers without any experience. Also, many teachers may be overwhelmed by too many classes and students so you can’t expect them to prepare the lesson.
•Flexibility leads to no commitment: Because of the flexibility there is a huge turn over of students that join and leave the courses at any time. It may happen that, if most of your classmates decide to leave because they haven’t time anymore or whatever other reason, the course will be cancelled. It’s often no profitable for the school to have only few student and wait for others to join.
•Some schools can’t provide you with student VISA: If you come to China and you want to get a student VISA by joining a course in a private school, make sure that the school you chose can provide you the VISA. Also, make sure to ask how many hours per week you’ll need to attend in order to get the VISA.

Let’s do a practical example. A well-known Chinese school in Beijing that sells itself as providing a state of the art learning method and strict standards to select their teachers, suggests not to apply for their job positions to people that already have a master degree. The reason is that the salary is too low and only suitable for students that are looking for a part-time job.

I suggest these schools to people that already have some basis and are looking for a commitment to keep on studying Chinese and taking their language skills to the next level.

The flexibility and the fact that there is no strict rules and method make the lessons easier to follow and funnier than the lessons you can get at the university.

Do an internship

If you pay for an internships you’ll get or the help you need to get a VISA, organize your trip, find an accommodation and build a social life. However there several problems you should be aware of:
•Price: Internships represent the most expensive way to come to China to study Chinese (unless you get a scholarship).
•Your classmates: You’ll probably end up in a class packed with the fellows of the program that will come from your country or at least have a reasonable English level. In my experience you guys will end up speaking English – or whatever common language you have – most of time. People are lazy and why in the hell should you discuss in broken Mandarin when you can both speak a fairly good English? Conversely, when you attend a Chinese university most of the students are Japanese, Korean or Russian people that speak little to no English. This would force you to communicate in Chinese as it’s the only common language in the classroom.
•Tailor made courses: Internships and equivalents will often sell you a tailor-made course designed especially for your program (for example “Chinese for business people”). My experience is that tailor made courses mean “not-at-all-tested-home-made-methods” and normally end up with a failure.
•You can’t choose where to study Chinese: So make sure your program will send you to a good school or university.

This option is ideal for the people who prefer to pay a bit more money to avoid complications or people that are moving abroad for the very first time.

Get a private Chinese tutor

Private tutors are cheap and easy to find. You’ll find plenty of advertisements in the classified section of expats’ websites such as The Beijinger or Enjoy Shanghai.

Private tutors are a bit more expensive than private schools (after all it’s a one-to-one lesson) and their teaching experience is equivalent or even higher than the teachers in those schools. They are supposed to act as a complement for your regular classes so normally they aren’t willing to prepare so many contents for your lessons. Apart from that I don’t see any problems on hiring a tutors.

Tutors are quite useful for beginners as a complement to the regular classes or for those beginners that are working full-time and don’t have the time to attend a regular course at the university.

I would actually say that tutors are always good at any stage as they can help you to reinforce your weakest points.

The other option is the language exchange. In my opinion this option is overrated as in China there are plenty of native people to speak with; just go outside and get some Chinese friends! Maybe this option it may be useful to people that work in a completely foreign environment and are too shy to go outside and meet new people. But in this case you probably have enough money to pay for a professional teacher so don’t lose your time teaching English in exchange of free Chinese lessons!
你真的会说中文吗? 你说得怎么样?
Do many people learn how to speak Chinese without learning he characters? What do you think of this by-ear approach beyond its obvious limitations.
(12-13-2013 01:46 AM)FretDancer Wrote: [ -> ]你真的会说中文吗? 你说得怎么样?

Naturally. I've been living in China and studying the language off and on since 2006. I'd put my level somewhere between HSK 4 and 5. I haven't studied characters much since 2007, so I can barely write anymore. Used to read and write about 700 characters.

perspectives Wrote:Do many people learn how to speak Chinese without learning he characters? What do you think of this by-ear approach beyond its obvious limitations.

I've known a number of people who have done this. They obviously can't read even basic things, like street signs or the word 'chicken' on a menu (both can be useful), but they have no trouble making business deals. You'd need a like-native fluency pro to translate contracts anyway, so for the negotiations, you can go a long way without learning a single character. Consider what a big pain in the neck learning to read and write is, I'd recommend just learning to speak to anyone who can take advantage of social opportunities to learn (Chinese girlfriend, etc) and doesn't have the years to invest into reading and writing.

Reading and writing is pretty much useless at 3000 characters or less for anything but the most basic things, so if you aren't going to commit to achieving at least a HSK5 level reading/writing ability, you could do much worse than to simply learn to speak.

That said, most instructors are not going to be very pleased with this choice. I've seen it work well for self-taught learners of Chinese, however, who just picked up the language as they lived in China.

There is an initially sharp learning curve, however, the some people would never overcome this way, and may need the services of a tutor who might be pissed if you just want to learn to speak.

It's unusual for someone to learning Chinese well that didn't initially go to China as a student. Very few English teachers "pick it up,"
Thanks for the reply, Suits. I have considered investing time in learning the language but find the whole thing pretty intimidating compared to the prospect of learning another European language where I know I will make immediate progress from the outset and start with thousands of words of vocab off the bat. I don't have much affection for the sound of the language though I do relish the notion of reading Chinese literature. Australia's former PM famously had a pretty good command of Mandarin but I am not certain it proved decisive in forging profound economic or cultural ties between the two countries.
By the way, who the f#@$ says learning Chinese is easy?
a lot of people say the grammar is easy
Actually when you compare its grammar with complex conjugations found in languages like Spanish, you really realize that chinese grammar is very very simple.

Anyways, great posts Suits, I am sure it will be very helpful for the aspiring Chinese learners.

(12-13-2013 02:20 AM)perspective Wrote: [ -> ]Do many people learn how to speak Chinese without learning he characters?

This is what I do. I just learn Pinyin (Romanized representation of characters, with pronunciation hints also) instead of the characters. I more care about being able to speak.

Of course this means I can't read a menu, but often they have photos or I just tell them what I want and they bring it out.
I don't know, the more I study it the more mind fuck it gets. Granted I never seriously studied a romance language, but mandarin is full of words with identical meanings but different usages.
(12-14-2013 01:05 PM)clever alias Wrote: [ -> ]I don't know, the more I study it the more mind fuck it gets. Granted I never seriously studied a romance language, but mandarin is full of words with identical meanings but different usages.

This is merely my unsupported opinion, but as I learn more and more about the language, I've come to suspect that anyone who says it's easy isn't aware of the variety and commonality of the 'plays on words' that come into use in every day speech.

For educated Chinese, being 'clever' when they speak Chinese is a very common activity and requires referencing old Confucian texts and the likes while engaging in friend banter and every day conversation.

I doubt there are more than a tiny group of foreigners who can consistently understand these word games, as it is comparable to understanding an Arrested Development reference without having ever seen the show.

[Image: adreferences_zpsfbd4ac5d.jpg]

Chinese literary references are hopelessly more complex than four seasons of Arrested Development.

I think when people say it is easy, they really mean that it is easy enough to get to a fifth grade level of communication, which is a pretty achievable goal for anyone willing to put the time and effort in.

So yes, certain conversations you can be on board for. But there will be a lot of jokes you won't understand in the least. Making yourself understood, unless you are delving into your deeper philosophical leanings, shouldn't be a problem for most people, with a reasonable amount of work put into the language.
yes, people can get to an elementary level rather quickly. you dont really even need tones for 4/5ths of communication.(and IMO most people who say tones are easy have shit tones or no tones)

but then you get into 同意词,for example, check pleco for 立刻 (li ke) 马上 (ma shang) and 顿时 (dun shi) definitions. All the same. All jave dofferent usages. the language is FULL of these words.
As someone who is currently studying Chinese in school, and is in their sixth year of traditional academic study, i believe I can add some good insight into this thread,

My recommendation to anyone here is to NOT learn Chinese from a traditional classroom, especially one where grades are involved. Chinese is much better learned through private study and a private tutor, which, in China, are reasonably inexpensive.

Second, absolutely do not start with learning Characters. In order to have a good grasp of Chinese, you need to understand the interconnectivity of the different words in Chinese, which is harder to do if you have characters bogging you down. It is much like a more concrete version of Latin/Greek roots in English.

Another reason to not start with characters is because you will likely memorize them incorrectly, making harder characters even harder to memorize at a later date. Chinese people think of their characters in terms of radicals (parts of the characters) instead of the whole character, which westerners tend to do. For larger, more complex characters, they think of simpler characters inside of the larger character.

A final reason is because in your native language, you are completely fluent before you ever even know how to read, so why change the pattern with a second language? Unless you are planning on doing translation work, a vocabulary of 1000-1500 characters is far more than you need to read a newspaper.

A great app for IOS and Android is Pleco. It is free, and is basically a chinese dictionary with sentence examples, pinyin, stroke order addons, native speakers speaking the words. Some of these are paid though, however they are cheap addons and totally worth it.

A final thing--for learning new words passively in your free/down/commuting time--do this: record an MP3 of you saying an english word and then its Chinese equivalent. For example: Say: Friend, pengyou, friend, pengyou, friend, pengyou over and over again like 4 or five times. Do this with 10 or twelve words on a single MP3 and then listen to this 2 minute audio bit over and over again while going for a walk or in the car or on the bus or something. It connects english words to their Chinese counterparts without much effort on your part.

Hope that helps a little.
I'll just add my two cents.

What counts as difficult and "easy" about Chinese can depend on a lot of factors. Some aspects of the language can be regarded as "objectively" difficult, while others can be regarded as "easy". Other aspects can either be difficult, easy, or neutral depending on the individual.


The script can undoubtedly be described as "objectively difficult". I've mentioned this in another thread, but any semanto-phonetic script (i.e. a script in which characters represent entire words or components of words as opposed to sounds) will by necessity require thousands of characters to be able to function. Obviously, the more characters one has to learn, the more time will be needed to gain any level of proficiency in it.


The pronunciation is often described as "difficult", due to the fact that it's a tonal language, but the difficulty of this really varies greatly from individual to individual. Some people pick it up fairly quickly with few major problems, some butcher the pronunciation but get better with practice, while others practice for years and still can't differentiate words like "我贏了wo3 ying2 le" (I won) and "我硬了 wo3 ying4 le" (I'm "hard"), 買mai3 (to buy) and 賣mai4 (to sell), etc. There are also quite a few sounds and sound combinations that either don't exist in many other languages or exist but are not differentiated as separate sounds.

I'm lucky to have generally fairly little difficulty imitating "foreign" sounds, so the pronounciation was never a huge issue with me, and speaking Chinese on a nearly daily basis, both in China outside of China, has helped tremendously, so most Chinese now will say I have a minimal accent (even though my vocabulary, especially written, is not yet as good as I'd like it to be; I'd call it "sub-fluent", but it still has lots of gaps, and my knowledge of idioms and stylistic devices could also use much improvement). Other than speaking and hearing the language regularly, I wish I could give more advice, but the pronunciation really seems to be something you either pick up easily or you don't. They're neither objectively easy nor objectively difficult.

It should also be mentioned that the "tonal" aspect of Chinese has nothing to do with musical tonality (this is a misconception I've heard on a few occasions). The tones here are intonations, so being able to sing well or being musically talented by no means necessarily translates into an ability to pronounce the intonations of Chinese properly. I've met plenty of people who could sing well and absolutely butchered each intonation in Chinese. Likewise, I'm as musically retarded as they get and cannot hit a musical note to save my life, but I have fairly little difficulty with Chinese intonations.

I'm of the opinion that there is no such thing as a language that is objectively difficult or easy to pronounce. In most cases "difficulty" comes down to 1.) how similar is the phonology to that of your mother tongue? 2.) how easily do you naturally pick up and imitate foreign sounds? 3.) how much exposure do you have to the language on a daily or near-daily basis? All of these are important in determining how hard a language will be to pronounce for you, some more than the others.


The lack of inflections, gender, case markers, precise tenses, complex honorifics, or a clear distinction between singular and plural make Chinese grammar fairly easy to learn. Indeed many Chinese people have made the remark (often half jokingly) "中文沒有語法"/Chinese has no grammar." However, this does not mean there aren't quite a few mistakes non-native speakers can make when speaking. This often has to do with the formulation of sentences, where Westerners or other foreigners may unconsciously impose the sentence structure of their native language onto that of Chinese, rendering the sentence at best kind of weird and at worst just fucking incomprehensible.

Surprisingly, while westerners usually learn Chinese grammar and sentence structure pretty easily, I've noticed that Koreans and Japanese seem to have a harder time with the word order and grammar. A few months ago, I saw a Chinese woman tutoring a Korean and Japanese student, asking them to point out the difference between the sentences.

他騎自行車去火車站: literally: "he ride bike go trainstation" ("he rides a bike to go to the trainstation" or "he goes to the trainstation by bike")


他去火車站騎自行車: literally "he go trainstation ride bike" ("he goes to the trainstation [in order] to ride a bike")

Most English and German speakers (probably other European languages as well) would have no problem differentiating these two sentences, provided that they knew what each word meant. Surprisingly, the Japanese and Korean couldn't tell the difference and asked if they weren't just the same thing. I guess this is because in Japanese (and I'm assuming Korean), the word order would be roughly the same in both sentences, namely something like "彼は自転車で駅に行く" (he bike-by station-to go) and "彼は自転車に乗りに駅に行く。" (he bike ride-to station-to go). There was also another case where a Japanese who had taken some Chinese classes found the grammar to be difficult. I guess this goes to show that difficulty is often relative.

Interestingly, a lot of Japanese and Korean people have the false impression that Chinese is similar to English. Apparently, this seems to stem from the fact that English also has a basic subject-verb-object order and it uses (relatively) few inflections and honorifics. Interestingly, I have noticed quite a few coincidental commonalities between Chinese and several European languages like English, German and the Romance languages (the last of which I have only limited knowledge of). Most of these we take for granted and therefore don't notice until we've learned a language with an even more different grammar, like Japanese, Korean or any other Altaic language.

All in all, I'd say while there are aspects of the language, like the script, that are difficult regardless how you cut it, Chinese is definitely a learnable language (at least to the point of proficiency in everyday conversation). As with most things, the more you use it the better you'll get at, it will just take noticably longer since you don't have the advantage that would normally be present when learning other Western languages.
(12-29-2013 02:20 AM)Switch Wrote: [ -> ]As someone who is currently studying Chinese in school, and is in their sixth year of traditional academic study, i believe I can add some good insight into this thread,

What does this mean? How much of your time has been applied to specifically studying Chinese?

Quote:My recommendation to anyone here is to NOT learn Chinese from a traditional classroom, especially one where grades are involved. Chinese is much better learned through private study and a private tutor, which, in China, are reasonably inexpensive.

Agreed. I'm not against taking traditional classes where grades are assigned, but I am against taking classes where the grades assigned show up on a permanent transcript.

Everyone learns at their own pace. Grading systems are designed to essentially rank you against your classmates, other students at your school and students in schools in general.

When learning a language as time consuming as Chinese, your main benchmark should be "how well do I speak/understand/read this language."

The courses you take shouldn't have any bearing on your future. Language learning is all about repetition until you lock what you need to know inside your brain.

You need to repeat material until you feel comfortable. While private tutoring isn't the only way to learn, classes have been very helpful to me, you are ultimately in charge of evaluating your progress and creating your on-going learning plan.

Don't base your evaluation on a system designed to rate you based on how well you keep up with your classmates in relation to a defined syllabus over a specific timeline.

You need the freedom to just keep trucking away until it finally sticks.

Quote:Second, absolutely do not start with learning Characters. In order to have a good grasp of Chinese, you need to understand the interconnectivity of the different words in Chinese, which is harder to do if you have characters bogging you down. It is much like a more concrete version of Latin/Greek roots in English.

Another reason to not start with characters is because you will likely memorize them incorrectly, making harder characters even harder to memorize at a later date. Chinese people think of their characters in terms of radicals (parts of the characters) instead of the whole character, which westerners tend to do. For larger, more complex characters, they think of simpler characters inside of the larger character.

A final reason is because in your native language, you are completely fluent before you ever even know how to read, so why change the pattern with a second language?

Possibly true, it depends on what you plan to use the language for. But think about this:

Would you advise a person moving to Canada to start a company that he really didn't need to know how to read and write English? He could just learn to speak it? I think that it many cases, learning characters ties in well with the gradual adaption to seeing Chinese as a unique language, rather that approximating it in terms in which you are familiar (i.e. Use of Pinyin).

Quote:Unless you are planning on doing translation work, a vocabulary of 1000-1500 characters is far more than you need to read a newspaper.

Statements like these cause me to question your exact qualifications.

Quote: In Taiwan, knowledge of about 4,000 traditional characters is necessary for reading a newspaper and for most other common purposes, while in mainland China only 3,000 simplified characters may be adequate.

Quote:You will only need about 2-3,000 to be able to read a newspaper.

Quote:My opinion, based on experience: at least 3500 [to read a newspaper].

Quote:Depends on how fluent you like to be and what words/characters you have learned. Already with some 1000 frequent characters you can read a lot but have to use a dictionary equally often. With 2000 you can be down to only have to use the dictionary for a couple of words per article. With 3000 you will only need it now and then depending on what sort of article you read.

Quote:I'd say that even at only 1300ish characters, a majority of my notes are on words that are made up entirely or primarily of characters I know. Granted, she gave it to me as an easy book and I have a harder time with newspapers...

Quote:95% of the words in Chinese newspapers are made up of the most common 2000 characters.

Now, that's probably not what you'd call "reading", but if you needed to understand something you could probably put up with looking up 1 in 20 characters.

Quote:Everyone has heard that Chinese is hard because of the huge number of characters one has to learn, and this is absolutely true. There are a lot of popular books and articles that downplay this difficulty, saying things like "Despite the fact that Chinese has [10,000, 25,000, 50,000, take your pick] separate characters you really only need 2,000 or so to read a newspaper". Poppycock. I couldn't comfortably read a newspaper when I had 2,000 characters under my belt. I often had to look up several characters per line, and even after that I had trouble pulling the meaning out of the article. (I take it as a given that what is meant by "read" in this context is "read and basically comprehend the text without having to look up dozens of characters"; otherwise the claim is rather empty.)
This fairy tale is promulgated because of the fact that, when you look at the character frequencies, over 95% of the characters in any newspaper are easily among the first 2,000 most common ones.4 But what such accounts don't tell you is that there will still be plenty of unfamiliar words made up of those familiar characters. (To illustrate this problem, note that in English, knowing the words "up" and "tight" doesn't mean you know the word "uptight".) Plus, as anyone who has studied any language knows, you can often be familiar with every single word in a text and still not be able to grasp the meaning. Reading comprehension is not simply a matter of knowing a lot of words; one has to get a feeling for how those words combine with other words in a multitude of different contexts.5 In addition, there is the obvious fact that even though you may know 95% of the characters in a given text, the remaining 5% are often the very characters that are crucial for understanding the main point of the text. A non-native speaker of English reading an article with the headline "JACUZZIS FOUND EFFECTIVE IN TREATING PHLEBITIS" is not going to get very far if they don't know the words "jacuzzi" or "phlebitis".

Looks like the entire Internet disagrees with you. 1500 characters will make reading a newspaper an extremely frustrating experience. 2000 will still mean constant use of a dictionary. 3000 will be reasonably comfortable and 4000 would require the occasional use of a dictionary.

I'm sorry, 1500 characters is an absolute bare minimum and probably only useful for reading books written for children.

Regardless, thank you for contributing your thoughts and especially your study tips.
1000 - 1,500 is nowhere near enough to read a newspaper. unless you mean individual characters are able to combine them how you please for understanding, in which case you would only get a basic meaning, nothing really concrete or usable
I likely have more than 1500-2000 characters under my belt (that I haven't forgotten and can and still recognize regularly) and I still need the help of a dictionary to read a newspaper.
Pages: 1 2
Reference URL's