With its rich history, beautiful geography, and unique cultural identity, China is one of the world’s most compelling destinations. It’s also home to 1.357 billion people. So if you are going to learn a second language that a lot of people speak, Chinese is an excellent choice.
Defining the Chinese language is a bit of a challenge, however, since Chinese is arguably not just one language, but a family of languages. All Chinese regional languages (fāngyán) belong to the Sino-Tibetan language family. While each regional language or variety of Chinese is related, they are mutually unintelligible. Each variety has a variety of dialects and sub-dialects, adding to the complexity of Chinese.
Chinese is a Challenge!With so many varieties and dialects and sub-dialects, Chinese is undeniably daunting to take on. You’ll have to pick a starting point, one of the regional languages. If you’re a westerner, the entire structure of the language may confuse you in the beginning because it is so different from the Romance languages you are likely more familiar with.
A surprising number of words we use in English come from Chinese.
Here are a few you doubtless recognize:
Kowtow, ketchup, ramen, wok.
Interestingly enough, there are a couple of popular English language phrases which are literal translations of Chinese phrases as well. A couple of these include:
“Long time no see.”
“No can do.”
What’s your excuse?
So what’s stopping you from learning Chinese? Here are some excuses that may sound familiar:
- I’m just not smart enough to do this. It’s too complicated a language to learn.
- I’m just not a linguist.
- I don’t have the time or the money.
- No one else thinks I can do it.
But seriously… this is just invalidating nonsense. Whatever you’ve been told, whatever bad experiences you may have had in school trying to learn a foreign language, leave them in the past!
The Chinese regional languages all offer you beautiful, rich linguistic worlds to explore. Along the way, you’ll learn more about the history and culture of China, and may even learn a few things about English. It’s an exciting journey to undertake, and if you are passionate about it, you will succeed. Learning a new language can change your life, and Chinese is one that may even open up career opportunities.
Why It’s Not As Hard As You Think
Here are a couple commonly cited reasons why Chinese is “the hardest language to learn.”
- There are thousands of characters to memorize.
- Chinese is a tonal language, where tones not only convey moods (as they do in English), but also different meanings.
Really, though, you do not need to know all those thousands of characters just to get by. You don’t need an entire comprehensive vocabulary to speak fluently. You don’t have to master a language completely to be a solid intermediate speaker or writer. As for those tones, remember, context counts, and it will help you convey and recognize meanings!
Yes, learning to speak and read Chinese well will probably take you years of study. But it is worth it. Not only will you learn an amazing language, but you’ll learn what you are capable of!
“But I was terrible at this stuff in school.”
It doesn’t matter. A lot of school systems teach languages ineffectually. They focus on memorizing vocabulary words you don’t need instead of drilling basic grammar. When you teach yourself, you get to focus on only what you really need to learn to speak and understand!
And guess what … with the internet, everything you need to learn Chinese right now is at your fingertips. It’s all free, and you never have to leave the comfort of your home. That means no expensive Chinese classes or textbooks. Learn at your own pace and pick the materials that help you based on your learning style.
How can you learn Chinese online? Here are our recommendations:
Websites are an awesome resource for learning a foreign language like Chinese! There are tons of great sites where you can learn Chinese words and grammar, view character sets, take quizzes, find answers to commonly asked questions, and more.
1.1. Speak Like NativeWe offer a great starting point for you to learn basic Chinese phrases, character sets, and more. Read free lessons and take fun quizzes; we update our materials regularly!
1.2. OMNIGLOTThis is one of the best websites for learning a variety of languages. Omniglot has sections on written and spoken Chinese, Chinese numbers, and Chinese classifiers. Learning materials and video lessons are available.
1.3. ChinesePodThis website is a great destination for vocabulary. With a built-in player, you can check your pronunciation right away. The website also provides paid lessons, but for your purposes, the free lessons should be more than sufficient.
1.4. eChineseLearningOne of the few websites that provide ‘1-on-1’ online tutoring with a professional native Chinese speaker. By signing up for trial, you can get 1 free lesson and ebook for free. Otherwise, you need to pay for each additional lesson but the price is VERY reasonable.
1.5. BBC Chinese sectionThis is a great resource for building up knowledge of the Chinese language with useful phrases, audio recordings and interesting articles. Definitely worth checking out!
I am Adam and I originally come from Czech Republic, small but adorable country in the heart of Europe. I started to learn languages in kindergarten and since then I am big language enthusiast. Besides my native language, which is Czech, I can also speak Spanish, German, English and partly Chinese. However, I am also in the process of mastering Russian. It took me lots of time to manage each of the languages mentioned, therefore, I wanted to share all the methods, tips and tricks that I developed over time with people who might find it useful.