Is learning Chinese as difficult as they say?

If only there were a magic formula for learning Chinese without having to study. Unfortunately, in reality, this is virtually impossible. Although some people manage to do it, learning Chinese in a short amount of time is a huge challenge. First of all, Chinese (Mandarin) has about 50,000 characters and four different tones.

However, it's not impossible to learn Chinese. In fact, some people claim that Japanese is more complicated (if that's possible). Nowadays, there are several methods available to help you learn to speak Chinese properly. Shall we take a look at them?

It's not all about Chinese (Mandarin)

First, we need to consider how many types of Chinese language exist. The most well-known and official language is Mandarin. It is based on a dialect spoken during the Han dynasty in northern China. Today, when we say "Chinese," we tend to refer to the official language. However, sometimes the term "Mandarin Chinese" is used to differentiate it from other dialects. In addition to Mandarin, other variants include Wu Chinese, Min Chinese, and Cantonese. Indeed, Cantonese, together with English, is one of the official languages of Hong Kong.

Why is Chinese said to be the most difficult language?

Typically, we learn to read at school. At this educational stage, a Spanish child is shown the letter B and, from that moment on, knows how to pronounce it. However, in China, when children learn to read, they have to perform two processes whenever they see a character (Hanzi): they have to know what it means and how to pronounce it by breaking it down into individual phonemes. What's more, Chinese speakers have to pay attention to intonation. Mandarin has four tones, which are crucial to conveying the meaning of a term or sentence.

Raquel Ruiz, a Spanish student of Chinese, can attest to this difficulty. In fact, what caught her attention about Chinese is that it is a tonal language, in which the meaning of a word changes depending on the tone used to pronounce it. "For example, the word ma in the first tone means "mother". However, in the second tone, it means "hemp", in the third, "horse", and in the fourth, "to insult". What's more, there are no written instructions on which tone to use in each case. You simply have to memorize the tone for each concept".

Useful methods

Once you have overcome your initial fear, there are several methods available that can make the process of learning Chinese much easier. This is the method used by the Madrid-based company, 8Belts.com. They guarantee that you can learn to speak Chinese in just eight months. "We use a very scientific system that uses different algorithms," explains founder and CEO, Anxo Pérez. And it's based on a key premise: "20% of the language is used in 80% of situations". Based on this theory, "if you want to learn a lot, learn less". This forms the foundation of his method.

And is language immersion important? Of course! You could say it is the best of all methods. After studying the language for a few months, writer Juan Patricio Lombera moved to the Chinese capital and was able to start having basic communications. For writers, the best way to improve in the language is to dive into the culture of the country, get over their shyness, and start talking.