Is it difficult to learn Chinese?
Of course it is!! It takes an average Chinese student a good 13 years (6 years of Primary + 3 years of secondary + 4 years of high school) to learn it.
Wait…. Isn’t that the same for an English student to learn English?
Exactly. So learning any language properly is never an easy job. But why is Chinese “especially difficult” for English speakers?
Here are some facts:
- Chinese doesn’t use alphabets – so where do we start?
- Chinese write with strokes which must be rendered precisely, because the change of length of a stroke can mean completely different things!
- There are a lot of homophonic characters or even words in Chinese – how do we make out the meaning of what we hear?
- Chinese uses “radical” system, which contains more than 250 radicals – that’s A LOT more than 26 alphabets in English!
- Chinese do not conjugate their verbs – how do we express various tense?
- Chinese use a lot of Cheng-Yu (idioms) in their speech and writing – how do we learn all their historical meanings?
- There are very few instruction books written with the mind-set based on the Chinese language system
OK. Let us work at one thing at a time. While it is true that Chinese do not use alphabets, there are some basic elements that make up each character – STROKES. There are mainly 8 basic strokes (that’s a lot less than 26 alphabets!!):
Heng (across, horizontal stroke) [ pronounced as Hung(ry)]
Shu (vertical stroke)
Pie (left-slanting downward stroke) [pronounced as Pee-eh, NOT as apple PIE]
Na (downwards-right concave stroke)
Ti (tick, upwards stroke)
Zhe (bent stroke)
Let’s first master these strokes, and have more fun looking into other aspects of learning Chinese next time!