Is Chinese difficult to learn?

No, for oral Chinese, it is much easier then most European languages. You can learn Pinyin, with some efforts with four tones first. Chinese grammar is easy and straightforward:

  • There’s no gender, there’s no plural, there aren't even articles like, “a”, “an” or “the”
  • There is no verb conjugations, or example: verb “to be” stays the same for “I am, I was, you are, you were, we are, we were etc”
  • For simple past, using Verb + 了 (le), for example, I learned Chinese will be "I learn了 Chinese."
  • For presant progress, using 在(zài)+ Verb, for example, I am learning Chinese will be "I 在(zài)learn Chinese."
  • For future tense, using 将(jiāng)or 要 (yào) or 将要(jiāngyào)or a few other options + Verb, for example, I will learn Chinese will be "I 将(jiāng)learn Chinese."
  • When people say that ”Chinese is difficult to learn”, they mainly refer to the written language, known as Chinese characters. However, if you making efforst learning some simple Chinese characters to associate the meaning with the sound, and the image, it will become easier. First 100 Chinese characters will take you some time to learn, bit further 250 will onlt take you about half of the time. More you learn, easier it gets. When you leaned about 500 Chinese characters, you will find you can read many things on a website!

    Mandarin is considered the “standard Chinese,” and is the official language of China and Singapore. Pretty much everyone in China has to learn to speak Mandarin at school. It’s based on the dialect spoken in Beijing, but the accent and grammar are standard throughout China. Chinese, on the other hand, is a general term. It includes Mandarin and some other common regional dialects you may have heard of, like Cantonese and Shanghainese. Since the majority of Chinese people speak Mandarin, when people talk about “the Chinese language,” they’re usually referring to Mandarin.

    There are so many different ways to say “Chinese language”: zhōng wén (中文), hàn yǔ (汉语), pǔ tōng huà (普通话), guó yǔ (国语) and huá yǔ (华语). The differences are subtle and the nuances are commonly overlooked by foreign Chinese speakers.

    What is pinyin?

    Pinyin is the standardized system to ”spell” Chinese words in the Roman alphabet. Mandarin contains some sounds which do not exist in English.

    Pinyin consiste initials (声母; 聲母; shēngmǔ) - consonant and finals (韵母; 韻母; yùnmǔ) - vowels and tones. Pinyin looks like English, but do pay extra attention to a few pronounced: j, q, x, z, c, s, r, zh, ch, sh.

    Tones are essential for correct pronunciation of Mandarin syllables. Pinyin is excellent tool to learning Chinese as a second language.

    For example, "you yong" can be “swimming - yóu yǒng” (游泳) or “useful - yǒu yòng” (有用), you might be completely misunderstood if you use the wrong tones and speak the word independently.

    Characters or no characters? That is the question

    Pinyin uses letters that we are familiar with, Also, a sound (a Pinyin) can be represented by many different Chinese characters, each of which means something completely different. For example “yu” can mean “slit”, “fish”, “rain”, “jade”, and many, many other things. If you are asking your brain to store each of these meanings in association with a single spelling, it can be very confusing. So, I would say Pinyin is just a good tool to help you learn a very different language. After all, learning characters is brilliant, exquisite and fun. They are jammed full of anecdotes, cultural insights and artistic flair. The experience of seeing meaning grow out of the incomprehensible squiggles is one of the most deliciously enjoyable learning experiences that the world has to offer.

    For the same example, "you yong" in characters: “swimming - 游泳 or useful - 有用", it is not possible for anybosy to misunderstood you, even if you use the wrong tones.

    Traditional characters or simplified?

    Do you know that people in Taiwan still use traditional characters? It is one of the only places where they are still officially used. If you are a beginner, it might be better to learn the simplified characters that are used in mainland China, Singapore, Hong Kong, Macau, Malaysia, the United States, Canada, Indonesia, Vietnam, and other places with significant Overseas Chinese communities.

    Examples of Traditional characters: 媽 mā, 麻 má, 馬 mǎ, 罵 mà 嗎 ma

    Simplified characters: 妈 mā, 麻 má, 马 mǎ, 骂 mà, 吗 ma

    The words are "mother", "hemp", "horse", "scold" and a question particle, respectively.

    What is a Chinese word?

    Different from English, a Chinese “word” is often a combination of two different Chinese characters that are used together as a phrase to express one idea. In a two-character Chinese phrase, each character is considered a word component.

    For example, the Chinese word for “airplane” is “飞机 (fēi jī)”. It contains two components “飞(fēi) – fly” and “机(jī)-machine”. 机 character is made up from numbers(几)of piece of woods(木)at ancient time. Do you notice the similarity on the Pinyin 机(jī) and 几 (jǐ)? Yes, Chinese characters can be phonics.

    The Chinese word for “cell phone” is “手机(shǒu jī)”. It contains two components “手(shǒu) – hand” and “机(jī)-machine”.

    The Chinese word for “helicopter” is “直升机 (zhí shēng jī)”, and it consists three components “直(zhí)-straight”, “升(shēng)-ascend” and ”机(jī)-machine”.

    So basically, each Chinese word is reshuffling and recycling different Chinese word component, or a Chinese character. Here, please note that even though the word component “机(jī)” means machine, it cannot be used alone as a word. Most Chinese words are two characters. To really say the word “machine” in Chinese, it’s “机器(jī qì)”, which consists of the word components ”机(jī)-machine” and “器(qì)-equipment or instrument”.

    Another difference between an English word and a Chinese word is that there’s space between English words, but there’s no space in between Chinese words. You’ll have to separate the sentence yourself in your head.

    How many Chinese characters do I need to learn to be able to read?

    Different from English, a Chinese “word” is often a combination of two different Chinese characters that are used together as a phrase to express one idea. In a two-character Chinese phrase, each character is considered a word component.

    There are over 80,000 Chinese characters. How many Chinese characters do you need to know? Here are the coverage rates of the most frequently used Chinese characters:

    • Most frequently used 1,000 characters: ~90% (Coverage rate)
    • Most frequently used 2,500 characters: 98.0% (Coverage rate)
    • Most frequently used 3,500 characters: 99.5% (Coverage rate)

    Therefore, if you know about 3,500 Chinese characters, you should be able to handle normal reading - books, websites, emails and others.

    Does it matter if I learn with a teacher who has regional accents?

    China is geographically diverse, so the language has fractured into many different-sounding dialects. Many of these you have heard of, such as Cantonese and Shanghainese, but so very many dialects are spoken in such a small area that it would not serve you to need to learn them.

    Many Chinese speak Mandarin combined with elements of their own dialect or accent. People often mix up zh and z, ch and c, and sh and s. Some cannot distinguish an initial n and l, or final n and ng. As a result, it can be difficult for people to understand you, especially if you are a foreigner learning the language.

    It would not help to look up a word in a dictionary or type it on a computer either. Therefore, you should try your best to find a teacher who is a native Putonghua speaker, even if it might cost you a bit more. You will find out later that it is really worth it.

    What do I need to know before I start?

    What are your objectives? A holiday in China and working with a Chinese business partner are two very different reasons for wanting to learn Mandarin.

    For advanced students there may be no English used during a lesson whereas for beginners, key concepts will need to be explained in English, giving examples in Chinese.

    Are you able to spend time doing homework? Or do you prefer to review work during the lesson?

    Can I use English keyboard type Chinese?

    Yes, the simplest one is the pinyin method (simplified Chinese: 拼音输入法; traditional Chinese: 拼音輸入法; pinyin: pīnyīn shūrù fǎ). You can input Chinese characters by entering the pinyin, as long as you made correct settings. Modern pinyin methods provide a number of convenient features, if you type in full sentances. The method attempts to guess the appropriate characters by using word phrases from a dictionary, grammatical structure, and context. It is ensesial that you type in Putonghua - Standard Mandarin Chinese. While the phonetic system is easy to use, choosing appropriate Chinese characters slows typing speed. Most users report a typing speed of fifty characters per minute, though some reach over one hundred per minute.

    Treatment of extended Pinyin ü: the letter "v" is unused in Mandarin pinyin, it is universally used as an alias for ü. For example, typing "nv" into the input method would bring up the candidate list for pinyin: nǚ, one of them will be female.

    There are many Shape-based and Hybrid inputing methods, but you do need some training.

    Do you cater for advanced students?

    Yes, we do have many certifications in Modern Chinese and Japanese Preparation course for you. The course will be tailored to suit your needs based on assessments and your objectives. We do follow exam boards' syllabus and exam criteria. If you are willing to work hard, we can help you to achieve your goal within your time. For more information, please see Certificate exams preparation.

    Do you teach children?

    Yes, we have been teaching children as young as four years old very successfully for over four years, including Mandarin club in some schools. They learn through a fun packed program: games, songs, sports, draw and paint, but is very purposeful, building knowledge organically. In fact it is the best age start to learn; they can develop bilingual skills (different brain structure), and they can speak like natives, with no or very little accent.

    I am going to China in two weeks time, can you teach me some quick Mandarin?

    Yes, we do run Intensive Language Workshop designed for a last-minute business trip or having more fun on a lifetime dream holiday in China.

    Do you provide online teaching?

    Yes, with Skype and FaceTime, distance is no longer a big issue, as long as you have a good internet connection. Please call for details.

    What books will I use for my course?

    We offer free learning materials for beginnerss on general Mandarin and business Mandarin. They including vocabularies with online videos, grammar and exercises, essential words, phrases and sentances for ordering food and taxi, numerals for money, date and time, and emergency, not forgetting to learn the art of shopping and bargaining in China. For intermediate learners, we will propose some good books or choices of your own dependent on what you are learning it for. For more information, please see Learning materials.

    Can I learn at a time that suit me?

    Yes, we can teach from early morning to late evening, Mon-Sat. We don't usually arrange sessions on Sundays, but we do not totally rule it out - this can be organised in agreement with individual teachers.

    Where do you teach?

    We want you to learn Chinese where you feel most comfortable, so you decide where you would like to study. It can be arranged at our office in Cheltenham, or at your home, workplace or anywhere in the local area. We may ask you to contribute some traveling expenses if you are not local.

    Can I have a trial lesson before I start?

    Yes, you can have one trial lesson free, if you are going to learn with us. Through the lesson, you will understand our Chinese teaching method, quality and style; we will find out your learning objectives; if you are not a total beginner, we will find out your current level. We also discuss your other learning requirements.

    Most importantly, you will be able to judge that if you are going to enjoy your learning with your teacher or not. After all, the learning process should be fun, as well as achiving.

    What happens if I miss a lesson?

    If you need to change a booked lesson, please give your teacher at least one full working day’s notice. She/he will make it up at a mutually convenient time in the same week or the following week. You wouldn't lose your fee.

    How long will it take me to get to a level that I can hold a conversation?

    With good motivation and aptitude, plus some revision between sessions, you should be able to master pronunciation, Pinyin and basic grammar within about 12 sessions. A further 12 sessions will give you time to learn more vocabulary, grammar and cultural references. You should then be able to survive quite nicely in China.

    How does your fees structure work?

    Fees are per person per hour for one-to-one lesson; the costs for two-to-one lesson work out a lot less for each individual. A small group is the most cost-effective way of learning. If you are really keen to learn, and can't afford for 1:1 lesson, why not try getting one together with your family, friends or colleagues? Our office is a perfect place for it.

    Our standard lesson length for adults is 1.5 hours, for children, it is usually an hour, 3/4 hours for very young leaners. Lessons must be paid for in advance, usually per month for adults and per term for children. We do provide invoices.

    Do you have some good tips for me so I can learn quickly?

    Yes.

    • Master the Chinese Mandarin’s phonics - Pinyin with a good Mandarin teacher who speaks standard Mandarin
    • Start a new learning habits by scheduling learning or reviewing Chinese at regular time everyday for 10 minutes, and no more then half an hour each time
    • Speaks English as little as possible during your lessons
    • Finally, be persistent and never give up!