For most western people, Chinese is not really an easy language to learn because of its writing system and pronunciation with different tones. However, there are still plenty of people who would like to take on the challenge and try to conquer the Chinese language.
The motivation to learn Chinese
For some foreigners, learning Chinese is about their passion or curiosity about the mysterious and fascinating Far Eastern culture of China. It may also be because of their interest in Chinese martial arts and Chinese literature that leads them to learn Chinese in order for them to understand them better.
On the other hand, China has also shown great change and rapid growth this past decade. Now, it is the second largest economy in the world. With a population of over one and a half billion, people have realized that if they want to conduct more business with them, it’s better to understand their language. For career purposes, it is an advantage to show that you can speak the Chinese language.
In the UK, the government even plans to train more than 1,200 teachers to teach Chinese by 2020 since learning Chinese has became the trendy language in recent years. Lately, UK’s Prime Minister David Cameron made a speech, saying “I want Britain linked up to the world’s fast-growing economies and that includes our young people learning the languages to seal tomorrow’s business deals.”
The difficulties in learning Chinese
For most foreigners who are learning Chinese, they find it difficult to distinguish the tones when it comes to listening, especially with the second and the third tone. It is not easy for them to recognize the difference. It is funny to hear some of them say that speaking Chinese sounds like singing.
To read Modern Standard Chinese, you need to commit to about 4,000 – 5,000 Chinese characters to memory. Learning to read and write the Chinese script is particularly challenging because it consists of thousands of complex characters, and each character represents both sound and meaning.
Ways to Learn Chinese
Thanks to technology nowadays, there are so many websites that offer some self-learning materials or online Chinese courses. Recently, a Taiwanese entrepreneur and author, ShaoLan Hsueh, who was born in Taiwan and moved to London, launched a project called “Chineasy” to make it easier and more fun for foreigners to learn Chinese. Using smart phones is another modern way where they can download apps to learn the language on the go, such as Pleco, Skritter, Duolingo and so on. There are some good ones to help to memorize Chinese characters and improve writing as well.
Apart from these electronic learning methods, some people still like to do it the old school way. Attending courses is an efficient way to learn the language. Through teacher’s professional lecture together with text books and some activities and practicing with other classmates in the class, students comprehend the language more effectively. For some language learners, they may find one-on-one classes to be more comfortable and flexible to learn Chinese.
Due to more and more travelers visiting Asia, some even living and working here, there are language exchange groups who come up with some social events for local people to meet foreigners and the other way around. Through these meetings, you can practice more natural and conversational Chinese.
Although English is still the major language to do business and communicate internationally for other purposes, the future may gradually turn to Asia since we can see how fast China has grown economically. As Mandela once said, ‘If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his own language, that goes to his heart.'” No matter what reasons you may have to learn Chinese, I wish you all the best in learning it.