aki1 Post time 2012-2-8 17:17:57

The 7 Hurdles in Mastering Chinese

The following is the list of 7 reasons, according to the Chinese website Sohu, why the Chinese language is a pain for ‘laowai’ to get our heads round.

1) The writing system is ridiculous

The beauty of the characters is indisputable, but those little pictures don’t seem too practical for daily use. It is absolutely true that Chinese is hard because of the huge number of characters one has to learn. And Chinese is seemingly random, which means that often you just completely forget how to write a character, if there is no obvious semantic clue in the radical, and no helpful phonetic component somewhere in the character then your mind often just draws a blank.

2) The language doesn't have the common sense to use an alphabet

English is so easy because of the skills needed to master the writing system are 26 letters and they are written from left to right, horizontally, across the page, with spaces to indicate word boundaries. In comparison, Chinese has nothing that corresponds to an alphabet, though there are recurring components that make up the characters. This can leave many people scratching their heads and wondering why they don’t just use pinyin!

3) Even looking up a word in the dictionary is complicated

One of the most unreasonably difficult things about learning Chinese is that merely learning how to look up a word in the dictionary seems to take about the equivalent of an entire semester of secretarial school. Chinese must also be one of the most dictionary-intensive languages on earth for there are various dictionaries. Indeed, once students get past beginners level you find yourself turning into a ‘dictionary monkey’.

4) Classical Chinese (Literary Chinese)

Whereas modern Mandarin is merely perversely hard, classical Chinese is deliberately impossible. For those students serious about getting to grips with Chinese on a cultural as well as day to day linguistic level, then a knowledge of the literary language helps. Classical Chinese really consists of several centuries of esoteric anecdotes and in-jokes written in a kind of terse, miserly code for dissemination among a small, elite group of intellectually-inbred bookworms who already knew the whole literature backwards and forwards. But don’t let that put you off!

5) There are too many Romanization methods and they all suck

Perhaps that's too harsh, but it is true that there are too many of them, and most of them were designed either by a committee or by linguists, or - even worse - by a committee of linguists. It is, of course, a very tricky task to devise a Romanization method; some are better than others, but all involve plenty of counterintuitive spellings.

6) Tonal languages are weird

It's one of the most common complaints about learning Chinese, and it's also one of the aspects of the language that westerners are notoriously bad at. As non-native speakers, you must memorize tones along with the vowels and consonants. The real difficulty comes in when you start to really use Chinese to express yourself. Intonation and stress habits are incredibly ingrained and second-nature. Fear not though, it will become second nature to you too.

7) Cultural differences

One of the main reasons Chinese is so difficult for westerners is that the cultures of the East and the West have been isolated for so long. China has had extensive contact with the West in the last few decades, but there is still a vast sea of knowledge and ideas that is not shared by both cultures. When Westerners and Chinese get together, there is often not just a language barrier, but an immense cultural barrier as well.

However, when all is said and done, Chinese is just a language like any other. As the article above explains, tackling Chinese is not without pain, but it is worth it in the end. If you have any horror stories or tips from when learning Chinese, why not leave a comment at the bottom of this article.

longzhou Post time 2012-2-8 17:51:47

I have been learning Chinese for years; I say have been because I think we never stop to learn. I consider myself fluent in speaking and can read and write (well, maybe I would be a bit slow if I had to write the reports I write directly by hand instead than on computer).
I find the most difficult thing might be remembering the characters, especially at an early stage but soon you get used to knowing the radicals and phonetical parts. Once this learned it is pretty much staright forward.
Our kids, on the contrary, seem to be more familiar with it; that's just ebcause they have attended Chinese schools and they learned the language ina  natural way. As for us parents it took a great effort, at least for me, because we had to combine work with learning!
Finally my 2 cents on learning Chinese: don't rush and take it day by day. Practice writting and reading daily adn try to make your Chinese friends speak to you in Chinese and not in English unless necessary.

xilaren Post time 2012-2-9 03:31:25

All the above are true.
I have told many times that chinese is my sweet torture.
Then one day one chinese asked me ,how can a torture be sweet?Really I have not found the answer yet

xilaren Post time 2012-2-9 03:32:34

I agree with the above but the chinese language is fascinating.At least for me.

robert237 Post time 2012-2-11 13:00:11

I found that one hurdle is easier. Have my wife learn English. ;P

longzhou Post time 2012-2-11 16:34:25

robert237 Post time: 2012-2-11 13:00 static/image/common/back.gif
I found that one hurdle is easier. Have my wife learn English.

You lazy az! ;P
Wait until she gives you a baby and she just teaches the kid Chinese....hahahahha:D

robert237 Post time 2012-2-12 02:41:47

longzhou Post time: 2012-2-11 00:34 static/image/common/back.gif
You lazy az!
Wait until she gives you a baby and she just teaches the kid Chinese....hahahahha: ...

Not a problem. She not much younger than I am and I'm approaching retirement age.
She doesn't want any kids and I don't either. I have three already. :P
Page: [1] 2 3
View full version: The 7 Hurdles in Mastering Chinese