Is Mandarin Hard to Learn: 5 Things You Must Know

Mandarin belongs to China and is the most spoken language in the world. The language has over 1 billion speakers worldwide and is one of the top six official UN languages.

Learning Mandarin has both easy and difficult learning curves. Nevertheless, learning it means you can instantly communicate with at least 13% of the world’s population. This is huge and makes learning the language a priority for anyone who wishes to be multilingual. 

There are key features to note before learning Mandarin. These and the best practical ways to learn the language are what you will learn in this guide.

5 Things You Must Know Before Learning Mandarin

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The things you must know before learning Mandarin Chinese include:

1. Tones

Mandarin has four basic tones and a fifth (neutral) tone. Understanding their tones is one of the biggest challenges you must overcome. 

These tones, if used wrongly, easily change the meaning of words and sentences. For example, depending on the tone, tāng can either mean soup or sugar.

When pronounced with a high tone, it means soup. However, with a rising tone, it becomes sugar. Telling which tone to give a syllable depends on the mark on the vowels and sound knowledge of pinyin.

SEE: What Is The Hardest Language To Learn?

2. Chinese characters

Another demanding aspect of Mandarin is writing Chinese characters. This is because there is no alphabet in the language. What you have are characters, about 50,000 of them.

While this might sound daunting, you only need about 10,000 characters to be able to communicate in Mandarin. To write in the language, just 2,500 characters are enough.

You also need to know the difference between Simplified and Traditional Chinese characters. Simplified characters are used primarily in Mainland China and Singapore (Malaysia).

Traditional characters are prevalent in Hong Kong, Taiwan, Macau, and other Chinese-speaking countries.

Publications such as newspapers and online news often feature simple characters, while traditional characters are featured more in poems, paintings, and calligraphy.

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3. Speaking and understanding

With tones easily influencing the meaning of words, speaking and understanding Mandarin can be difficult. 

You must train your ears to recognize the elemental sounds of Chinese and your mouth to pronounce them. 

The more you practice, the better you will get at positioning your muscles to make the right sound for each word.

4. Grammar

Understanding grammar in Mandarin is one aspect that should not trouble you much. Unlike Latin-based languages, you do not have to change forms to address genders.

The same can be said for singular and plural words. Just like English sentences, Mandarin sentences follow a subject, predicate, and object sequence.

It also does not feature too many rules and complex verb conjugations. 

5. Abundance of practice partners

As the most spoken language in the world, Mandarin will likely connect you with online or physical friends.

Learning with the help of a Chinese friend will increase your comprehension and make the process more enjoyable. You can also offer to teach your language if your buddy is interested.

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Practical Ways to Learn Mandarin

To grasp Mandarin quickly, you must prioritize what works for you in terms of learning styles. These are some of the proven ways you can quickly learn Mandarin:

1. Buy foundational books or use a language app

If you are the type, who values the classroom-textbook learning process, getting one or two beginner’s texts is a good way to start. You can also attend physical classes with these books if you have the time.

Applications like Duolingo, Busuu, and HelloTalk are free and flexible ways to learn Mandarin. While each method is sufficient, combining them will help you achieve your goals faster.

SEE: Best Platforms To Learn Languages: Free and Paid

2. Become familiar with the Pinyin system

The invention of Pinyin simplified Mandarin. It is the official phonetic system for translating Chinese characters into Latin.

In other words, the Pinyin system allows you to learn pronunciation and tones easily. A strong foundation in those two aspects is all you need to become a fluent speaker.

3. Get a Chinese friend to practice with

While learning Mandarin, having one or two friends to practice with is a cheat code. If these friends are close by, you can invite them for a simple meal and engage them in chats purely in Mandarin.

For friends staying far away, calling them at the end of each week and speaking mostly Mandarin is one way to improve.

Friends can easily hold you accountable for your progress and inspire you to step up. The more you engage yourself in such conversations, the better you become.

SEE: Peer Tutoring – Definitions and Importance 

4. Watch Chinese movies or TV shows

Combining your studies with watching Chinese movies in your leisure hours works too. Hearing movie characters speak the language will greatly help with your intonation.

These shows will expose you to picking up vocabulary and idioms in their right context. Here is a list of Chinese movies or TV shows you can binge during time outs, including The Blue Kite and Lost in Thailand.

There are also amazing Chinese musicians you can learn from if music is more of your thing. Karaoke is another way to experiment with your Mandarin.

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5. Travel to China or visit Chinatown often

Spending your holiday in countries that speak the language you want to learn is a great way to complement your effort.

This decision will allow you to mingle with natives and force you to speak the language. While you might not be fluent, your mistakes can be easily corrected.

If traveling is not an option, visit Google and confirm if your current city has a Chinatown. You can visit their restaurants regularly to witness Mandarin conversations between buyers and sellers.

SEE: Benefits Of Learning A Second Language

FAQs

How long does it take to learn Mandarin?

It may take up to a year to reach a fairly fluent level in Mandarin. To be fully fluent, you must practice for about 4 years.

Is Mandarin the hardest language to learn?

Mandarin is considered the most difficult language to learn. It can be more complex for people with a Latino background.

Is it worth it to learn Mandarin?

Yes, learning Mandarin is worth it. It has over 9 million native speakers.

Is it possible to learn Mandarin by yourself?

Learning Mandarin on your own is possible. However, external help will do you a lot of good at some point.

Conclusion

There are so many ways you can learn Mandarin. However, due to its complexity, it is best to start with the basics, such as understanding the characters and intonations.

Once you understand the basic features, use simple phrases like greetings and pick-up lines for starters. More importantly, it would be best if you prioritized the learning medium that works best for you. 

Did you find this article helpful? Perhaps you are yet to decide on learning Mandarin; discover other easy languages you can learn.

Thanks for reading.