Have you ever heard the common rhetoric that Chinese Mandarin is the most difficult language you could learn? Do you agree with it? Why do you?
Well, let’s get this out of the way first of all: 1. Chinese characters are much different from the regular Roman characters adopted by most languages of the world. 2. Chinese is a tonal language where one word could have different meanings based on the tone used in pronunciation.
The above are the two most common accusations labelled against the language. In truth, the said difficulty of any language is highly subjective to every individual. Italian natives would find learning Spanish much easier than an English native. German natives would find learning languages such as Norwegian much easier than an Italian… and so on. Get the gist?
It can be said in no uncertain terms that the use of the character system in written Chinese makes it difficult to grab by those birthed and brought up learning and using Roman characters. However, the Pinyin system has been introduced, reducing written Chinese from impossible to comprehend to very easy to comprehend. The Pinyin writing system employs Roman characters in a pronounce-as-you-see writing system. This makes written Chinese much easier to read than it should be using the character system.
Chinese has mighty few syllables. This has led the language to focus more on tones in order to convey different meanings. Mandarin Chinese has 4 such tones and a neutral tone. Admittedly, this is a stumbling block for any who has never learned a tonal language before. Still, it is more of a roadblock (which you can go around) than an unbreakable brick wall. Even when you find it difficult identifying the original meaning of the tone by itself, the context in which it is used and its grammatical position easily give away the meaning of any tone. Interestingly, Chinese words are mostly duo-syllabic, thus reducing any confusion. So, you do not exactly need to hear a tone correctly to fully identify its meaning. Tonal difficulty is overstated, to say the least.
When you get past all of the supposed difficulty, you’ll find that Chinese is much easier when you take it beyond face value. One of the major barriers to learning a language like French is the difficulty associated with identifying masculine and feminine forms, learning the plural form of nouns, or identifying irregular verb conjugations. Not to worry, Chinese offers you none of those problems. The Chinese grammar is one of the least complicated you’d ever find. To put it simply, there are no tenses (for past, present, continuous, or past participle), no verb conjugations (one verb, one form; no irregular verbs), no plurals (context tells quantity or add quantifiers before the noun), no genders (words do not change based on gender), no irregular sentence patterns (always subject-verb-object).
So, pinyin (the Roman form of written Chinese) is more of a phonetic language than your regular ABC; Mandarin Chinese has fewer combination sounds; it is mostly mono-syllabic or duo-syllabic at best; there are no articles; and the grammar is super easy.
Now, what’s hard about learning Chinese!