Mandarin Chinese is spoken by over 1 billion people worldwide, which places it at Number 1 of the world’s most spoken languages. There are 873 million native speakers of Mandarin Chinese, and a further 178 million secondary speakers.
As a Mandarin learner, that means you’re instantly able to communicate with 13% of the world’s population (compared with Spanish, the third most spoken language, which unlocks just 0.55% of the world’s population.) Chinese is also one of the 6 official UN languages – the others being English, Arabic, French, Russian and Spanish.
What are the hardest things about learning Mandarin Chinese?
One of the things learners find the hardest is mastering the tones of Mandarin Chinese. There are four basic tones, plus a fifth neutral tone, and the pitch and intonation you use changes the meaning of the word. For example, tāng with a high tone it means soup and táng with a rising tone means sugar. You can tell which tone to give a syllable from the marks above the vowels in pinyin, the writing system that uses the Latin alphabet.
Writing Chinese Characters
Another thing that makes Mandarin unique is that it has no alphabet – it’s made up of 50,000 characters, which might sound a bit daunting to new learners. However, only roughly 10,000 characters are in conversational use and according to research conducted, you can understand over 97% of written Chinese with a grasp of just 2,500 characters. Which sounds a lot more manageable!
There is also the difference between Simplified and Traditional Chinese characters which some learners find difficult. Simplified Chinese characters are used in Mainland China and Singapore while Traditional Chinese characters are used in Taiwan, Hong Kong, Macau and by most overseas Chinese.
Simplified Chinese is used more often online and in publications such as newspapers, whereas Traditional Chinese is used in classical works, such as poems, calligraphy and works of art, such as paintings.
Speaking and Understanding
Mandarin is a tonal language, which can make misunderstandings common when you’re new to the language. But that can happen in any every language! So don’t be too hard on yourself if when you start out you find it hard to speak and understand Mandarin Chinese. You need to train your ear to hear the elemental sounds of Chinese, and training your mouth to pronounce them. It’s like picking up a new instrument. You won’t get it straight away, but the more you practice and teach your muscles the more you will understand.
What are the easiest things about learning Mandarin Chinese?
Mandarin grammar is one of the simplest grammar structures language learners will encounter. Unlike many Latin-based languages, it doesn’t have different forms based on gender and it also doesn’t have different forms for singular and plural.
Not only this, but the structure of Mandarin sentences is actually very similar to the structure in English. They consist of a subject, a predicate and an object in the same order as in English. For example, ‘I wash my hands’ in Chinese is 我 Wo (I) 洗 xi (wash) 手 shou (hands).
Not only this but unlike a lot of Latin languages, there aren’t many deviations from grammatical rules (unlike English, which has as many rule exceptions as it does instances that follow the rules!) And there aren’t complicated verb conjugations, every language lover’s dream!
Abundance of Practice Partners
If you’re learning Mandarin Chinese, you have a billion potential language buddies. And more often than not, you can find practice partners online as well as in person, wherever you are in the world.
One great way to practice your Mandarin Chinese is through WeChat, which is free to use. What’s more, you can offer up your English (or other language) skills in exchange and both practice your target languages together.
The Best Thing about Learning Mandarin:
According to our survey respondents, the best about learning Mandarin is the fact you get access to a wealth of new information and connect with a beautiful culture that has a rich history.
Tips for Mandarin Learners
Our language learners had the following tips for people starting out on their Mandarin journey:
Make sure you focus on pronunciation! It is reasonably quick easy to get good at reading and build your vocabulary, but it is more important that you get your pronunciation right early rather than later so that you do not end up ingraining the wrong pronunciation into your muscle memory when you read in Chinese.
You can improve pronunciation by doing The Mimic Method’s Mandarin Flow Course, and from there the best thing to do is to get out and speak with native Chinese speakers, as this will further develop pronunciation as well as listening skills. – Ryan
Focus more on the vocabulary – Vivian
Listen a lot! – Vittorio
Don’t be too concerned about accurate tones. It comes as you train your ear. – Francine
Start slow, and try and blend it as much as possible into your daily life. – Michaela
Focus first on pronunciation, get the tones right, then when learning the characters, take the time to learn to hand write them. And with characters, go traditional. It’s easier to get from there to simplified. – Anthony
Tones! Tones! Tones! Learn words and tones use the context of a full sentence. Tones pronunciation can sometimes change via Tone Sandhi. – Amy
Persevere! – Cidéron