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How much difficult is chinese?

#1
Today among the YouTube suggestions there was this about how difficult is the chinese language.
YouTube keeps suggesting these mainstream videos which aim to reach a lot of views with contents like "how it is being fat in china?" or "how to understand if a japanese girl is interested in you".
So I often don't watch them, but I watched this and I was a little perplexed about comments, where people say that the Chinese (Mandarin) language is easier than the French language.


Quote:I started learning Chinese one year ago and to me. (I am a native French speaker) To me, Mandarin Chinese is way easier to learn than French. There are like 23 different tenses in French (though there are a few that we never use.. but still had to learn them). So coming from French, Chinese grammar looks super easy. The hardest thing for me to learn in Chinese is to remember each tone for each character.

Quote:Ha, I'm an English speaker who is learning French and Mandarin, and Mandarin's definitely easier! People are surprised when I say it, but the stupid tenses are usually the first thing I bring up. Still love French, but damn it, I must say the tenses are a pain.

Quote:I'm a native Spanish speaker and I learned English, French and now it's been three months since I started studying Chinese. For me, learning Chinese it's been easier than learning French. At least when it comes to speaking.

Quote:I took a Mandarin class at work, just to see how hard it was. It really did "demystify" it. We have a huge Asian population in Seattle and I think most are Chinese. I wondered about the different "tones" I would hear daily when walking around and why they were used. Studying even a few months really answered a lot of questions. And it really didn't seem any harder than French or German.

Quote:German is very related to English and it's STILL more difficult than Chinese believe me...

Quote:having experience learning each of these, in terms of difficulties I would say it is more something like this : easiest // chinese <<<<<<<<<<<<<<< german<<<japanese // hardest I have learned chinese for a couple years it was smooth learning, pure fun and very rewarding (since you've been told all your life it is the most difficult language by people who have no experience whatsoever learning it, and realize it is actually ridiculously simple), you can get conversational in a matter of months if you love the language, of course far from fluency Smile

I think that there is this misconception that "to study a language" = "to study grammar". Like the French native who thinks that Chinese is easier because of lack of tenses, except he follows by saying that tones are hard. Aren't tone actually part of the language?

I think also that some people have a very loose definition of "conversational".
What do they mean by "being conversational in Chinese is easier than in French"? Maybe learning a bunch of common sentences and words. What about pronunciation and tones? Aren't they an essential part of Mandarin if you want to be understood and if you want to understand what the others say to you?

I mean, today I was watching the Pope speaking english with a bad accent, but it was intelligible. I know nothing about Chinese but I seem to understand that if you have a bad pronunciation, let alone the tones, you won't be understood.

About the French language. I never studied it, but if I open a random page in French, I understand like 80% of what is written. Even speaking is easy to understand.

This is not the first time I read things like that. Even with the Japanese language I read things like "the speaking part is easy, it's the kanji that's hard!". I wonder how much they know the language in order to say that.

So, what do you think?
Edited: 2016-12-17, 4:15 pm
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#2
FYI there are sentence decks for Chinese and other languages on Ankiweb that make the Japanese offerings look pretty crap tbh: link
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#3
People tend to feel that the things for which they have an affinity are easier. You'd be hard pressed to find a monolingual English speaker who, after the same amount of time spent on French and Chinese using similarly effective approaches in each language, speaks better Chinese than French.

I think that what these people generally mean when they say they find X hard language easier than Y easy language is that X is easier to study because it's more enjoyable to them, personally, and that X is easier because it has fewer and/or simpler inflections.
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#4
Maybe you should just try it out yourself
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#5
http://pinyin.info/readings/texts/moser.html
Maybe Chinese is not hard, but it takes a shitload of time. Above is a well received article why Chinese is hard by the respected David Moser.
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#6
I've looked into it.
Once you have done the RTH [like RTK but with your choice of Simplified or Traditional characters] the big stumbling block is pronunciation both of overlapping Pinyin and tonal problems. Some of those pinyin sound very close to the English ear and well, tones are tones.
If you can get past the pronunciation issues you should be golden. The grammar is pretty straight forward, just a matter of pounding back the vocab and getting your ear and mouth trained.
However it seems a lot of people have problems with pronunciation and even after significant amount of time can't be understood, although it seems a lot of western based instruction don't push tones hard enough and if you are motivated you can keep an eye on it. So it might not apply to you.
I know of one data point of a South American who just couldn't learn Chinese but managed to pick up Japanese having lived in both countries for a similar amount of time.

If you go from one Euro Language to another you will get there. You might have a horrible accent, like dem guy who play da 'ockey on da hice and your grammar might be subpar but if you put in the time at least people will understand you.
With Chinese it seems to not always work out that way, sometimes it does, maybe most of the time and if it doesn't it might be fixable but it is a risk you are going to take.

That being said, all the spelling issues in English and the grammar brutality of Euro languages, I don't think I'd want to learn English as a second language.

It does seem to take more time to learn Chinese [or Japanese] over Euro languages though. Estimates for the HSK 6 or the JLPT N1 are much much higher than the C2 level of Euro language tests and those tests seem to indicate a higher level than the HSK6.

I've also seen it said that Chinese is hard up front but once you get over the pronunciation hump it gets easy, whereas Japanese up front is easy [ignoring Kanji I guess] and gets harder as you go deeper.

All those people who claim Chinese is much easier are probably right. However they also probably still speak gibberish and would have difficulty understanding full native speech.

Or at least that is what I've learned from looking into the subject.
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#7
From what I understand of it, even though Chinese grammar may appear simple, that is misleading, because since it is a non European language, expressing oneself idiomatically in Chinese is very hard, so even if one uses correct grammar, one may not be understood by a native Chinese speaker, or so I've read in many places.

I think there is another layer to languages than just grammar, and that is how the people native of that language perceive and communicate about the world and life, and to learn that from a foreigner's perspective is very hard and takes time, for some it may even be impossible. Japanese has this layer to a great extent, and according to sources I've read, Chinese has it too, so don't go into learning Chinese thinking it will be an easy ride to really master the language, it won't.

If you think about it, Japanese grammar is "easy" too, much more than Latin's for example, and we all know Japanese is not an easy language.
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#8
Yeah, this is mostly what I think! There is this guy, "Vladimir Skultety", who speaks about Chinese grammar in one of his videos.
He basically says what luri_ said. No inflections doesn't mean no grammar. He states that chinese grammar is so hard and convoluted than there isn't even a book which tries to list it, like there are for the Japanese language (the japanese dictionaries and so on). He also says, and even Luca Lampariello says something similar, that at the beginning it's pretty simple, if you want to express the basic things, but it became harder when you want to say more complex things.

So I think that who says "the chinese language is easier than the french language" knows only a little bit of it.
I think after a couple of months of studying french you will be able to express even relatively complex emotions, while I'm sure even people who have studied chinese for a couple of years struggle with less concrete things like expressing emotions and so on.

I'm trying to read the little prince in french and I don't ever need a dictionary at hand, and after a couple of chapters I'm even able to express myself to a little extent.

Even the article linked by HerrPetersen does a similar example with the spanish language.
Even if I think he is over-exaggerating the difficulty of learning kanji. I mean, 10 years of study and he finds hard to read even a couple of pages of a book? I don't believe that ._.
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#9
There are some languages that take that even further than Chinese and Japanese (and Korean), I believe that most Indigenous languages of Americas should fall in this category(totally guessing here), and maybe some others around the world. Those are the languages that have comnpletely alien concepts and logic than that of other languages.

I heard that Navajo is so difficult that it's practically impossible for a non-native to learn, one would have to literally reset his own brain and be born again to be able to grasp it's concepts and view of reality.
Edited: 2016-12-18, 12:03 pm
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#10
I don't really like that Moser article. Of course it's fun to read, but in the end it's mostly whining about the writing system.

I believe Chinese grammar is difficult, not easy, because there is no inflection. In Japanese the grammar is mostly rules on how to conjugate verbs or adjectives, whereas in Chinese the grammar is just a long list of all the vocab and how and when to use it. And 了. Wink Also, it's relativly easy to somehow get your point across. But doing so in a way a native speaker would; not that simple.
The pronunciation seems harder than in Japanese and easier than in Korean. Japanese has pitch accent but people are going to understand you even if you mess up. Korean has some hard stuff like the difference between ㄱ,ㅋ and ㄲ. But that's just my impression after learning a little Korean.
All in all I don't think that Chinese is especially hard, it's just always more. More 汉子, more vocab.

If you already know Japanese it's not that different for reading purposes (from Kino no Tabi):
一片绿海之中,延伸出一道茶色的线。vs. 緑の海の中に、茶色の線が延びていた。
Edited: 2016-12-18, 1:08 pm
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#11
(2016-12-17, 4:11 pm)cophnia61 Wrote: This is not the first time I read things like that. Even with the Japanese language I read things like "the speaking part is easy, it's the kanji that's hard!". I wonder how much they know the language in order to say that.

This might differ on when and how you started studying, and whether you've ever lived in Japan. I've found people who have lived in the country have a much more natural speaking rhythm than I do; only a handful of them, however, took the time to learn to read, and still find it challenging. I find reading comparatively easy because it's my major form of study, but I still get tongue-tied on occasion when trying to express myself. I think it's just a matter of where you invest your practice time.
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#12
I would say Mandarin is somewhat less hard than people might think, but no way is it easier than French, for English speakers.
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#13
These testimonials sound like propaganda from the Chinese government...
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#14
(2016-12-18, 8:03 pm)juniperpansy Wrote: These testimonials sound like propaganda from the  Chinese government...

Actually they might tend to assume that only Chinese can properly learn Chinese.
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#15
(2016-12-18, 8:12 pm)ChestnutMouse Wrote:
(2016-12-18, 8:03 pm)juniperpansy Wrote: These testimonials sound like propaganda from the  Chinese government...

Actually they might tend to assume that only Chinese can properly learn Chinese.

I don't think so. I don't really know too much about it, but I have heard (via NPR) that in 3rd world nations (mostly African) where China is developing industries, the people working for the Chinese are learning Chinese, at similar or higher rates to when American companies develop industries in the third world. Just in general I've never heard that kind of 'too hard for foreigners' kind of rhetoric about Chinese, or indeed about any language other than Japanese. I don't think the same cultural bias applies.

I certainly can't imagine a Japanese company ever training the local workers in the Japanese language... it seems to me the Japanese would just assume their own language is too hard for that, and despite the cost disparity between first world and third world wages, they'd train their people from home in the overseas language. Maybe that's part of why Japan's overseas expansions are mostly into China and America rather than into third world nations. Well, that and developing resources in your largest markets can't be bad.
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#16
(2016-12-18, 8:12 pm)ChestnutMouse Wrote:
(2016-12-18, 8:03 pm)juniperpansy Wrote: These testimonials sound like propaganda from the  Chinese government...

Actually they might tend to assume that only Chinese can properly learn Chinese.

That was the old belief. I think China has realised the folly of such thinking
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#17
Oh, if you are considering Chinese. There is a useful app. Hello Chinese.

It covers a bit over 500 words and 250 characters plus some grammar points.
Best of all it not only tests you in a normal way but some of the tests have you speak into your device and it grades you on how close you got it [which is very annoying]

It's free. I'd guess with lessons and if you use the word/character drill section it would take about 50 or 60 hours to go through plus extra work on repeating the pinyin chapter.

I figure if you go through it you would know if it is for you or not. If it is, you can go forth in confidence, if not, it cost you no money and just a bit of time. I really like the feedback you get on your spoken Chinese.

On the down side it really doesn't explain much like why a word should go in one spot vs another. Nor does it really explain how the tone can shift depending on the situation. I would have been thrown for a loop if I didn't read that somewhere.

However it is free. Personally I am aiming to just push through it as a pre test of my ability of actually learning the language.
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#18
Ok, sorry for the late answer!
I'm not considering to study the Chinese language, it was just out of curiosity Tongue

I'm trying some French and German and they are both way easier than the Japanese language, and I am sure this would be no different with the Chinese language.

Thank you all for the answers!
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#19
(2016-12-18, 5:17 am)HerrPetersen Wrote: http://pinyin.info/readings/texts/moser.html
Maybe Chinese is not hard, but it takes a shitload of time. Above is a well received article why Chinese is hard by the respected David Moser.

Put me down as another person who doesn't like this article. I know it's written a bit tongue in cheek, but I find it a bit... irresponsible? It's one thing to make fun of yourself and your own antics, mistakes and inadequacies. Another to try and (even humorously) put the blame on a language or its writing system. 

I don't know the author, so this is not necessarily going to apply to him personally, but there are many thousands of native English speakers like him who have...

1) Grown up monolingual.
2) Decided to learn Chinese as a young adult. Probably they start as an undergraduate. Maybe they had lessons in high school, but not much.
3) Only seriously interacted with the language as an object of study. 

These are smart people, who put in hard work, and have good intentions. Then they look back six or seven or ten years later and think, why the -heck- can I still not read??? Damnit, it's the fault of this stupid language.

Only, how many books have they ever read? At any level? Real literacy has a cost in time (and access to materials). It's a high cost to be sure. And most adults, young or otherwise, are entirely unwilling to pay the price. That's normal. People are busy, and have other things they would rather be doing. But that's not the fault of Chinese. Saying so conceals a potentially helpful message for would-be learners who could be put off by Mosers message: If you spent lots of time reading, you will get good at reading. 

I'm going to link this again, because I think they are a great rejoinder to Moser and others who make similar claims.
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#20
(2016-12-28, 10:47 pm)Danchan Wrote:
(2016-12-18, 5:17 am)HerrPetersen Wrote: http://pinyin.info/readings/texts/moser.html
Maybe Chinese is not hard, but it takes a shitload of time. Above is a well received article why Chinese is hard by the respected David Moser.

Put me down as another person who doesn't like this article.

Owww. Your post reminded me that I hadn't yet read this article, but honestly... it's so much complaining for complaining's sake...

I mean, I guess it was written a long time ago so some of the complaints (like how hard it is to use a dictionary, well, not 'like', specifically that complaint only) were 'valid' at the time, in a sense but... ehhhh.

Really, I'm very put off anymore by complaints about how 'bad' a given language is and how it doesn't 'make sense' or 'could be better if'. Language isn't designed by committee and nobody is going to change no matter how many people sign onto a petition for your complaint.

Neither is human nature, so I guess it's a little pot and kettle for me to be complaining right now so I'll just stop here.
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#21
The essay was written as part of a collection put together for the 80th birthday of noted pinyin advocate John DeFrancis, in which context taking some humorous potshots at the writing system is likely to be well appreciated by its audience.

And yes, real literacy takes a lot of time and effort, but Moser's point is that the Chinese writing system significantly increases the burden. I suspect most learners of Chinese or Japanese have groused about this at one time or another (which doesn't imply that they're not putting in the time and hours of reading). A quick google of his biography suggests he is a long way from being somebody who's only interacted with the language as an object of study, incidentally.
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#22
(2016-12-29, 7:12 am)pm215 Wrote: The essay was written as part of a collection put together for the 80th birthday of noted pinyin advocate John DeFrancis, in which context taking some humorous potshots at the writing system is likely to be well appreciated by its audience.

And yes, real literacy takes a lot of time and effort, but Moser's point is that the Chinese writing system significantly increases the burden. I suspect most learners of Chinese or Japanese have groused about this at one time or another (which doesn't imply that they're not putting in the time and hours of reading). A quick google of his biography suggests he is a long way from being somebody who's only interacted with the language as an object of study, incidentally.

Regarding the context, it is up there on the web as a page you can access and read as is. Regarding John DeFrancis, he is one of those westerners who argued that the Chinese script was harmful to literacy in China, and needed to be replaced by a more efficient writing system for the sake of modernization. Maybe this stance was somewhat more defensible in the 70s, before today's developments in computers made things a lot easier, but I would argue that it was as wrongheaded then as it is now. More than that, it's a view that you can't really separate from the political and economic inequalities of the time. America was full of confidence in itself and its cultural superiority vis. Asia. It's the same superiority on display with the whole fiasco in Japan, where the GHQ pushed for the abolition of Kanji (Khatz discusses this in the article I linked. I also really liked the discussion on the topic in this book which I would recommend to anybody interested in the history of the Japanese language and literature in modern times). 

Regarding Moser's point. Elsewhere I found an article where he writes the following:


Quote:Chinese characters may have a bright future, as Mullaney suggests, but the stubborn reality of their continuing cognitive and ergonomic disadvantages require clear-headed, scientific solutions, not headline-grabbing hype about nonexistent culture clashes. We should pool our knowledge and our digital resources to tackle the very real problems of learning to read and write Chinese characters—and not merely pretend that such problems are a mirage brought on by Western delusions of cultural superiority.
https://www.chinafile.com/media/backward...characters

If this was what he was saying in the "Why Chinese is so damn hard" article, then that would be fine. The writing system does have disadvantages, as all do, and these need to be understood in order to help users of the language. However, what he does is present the system as that which is responsible for making it so hard for people to become comfortable at reading. For example, he mentions PhD students in the states who are writing theses on Chinese literature, yet actually struggle to read Chinese with any decent speed. What I would suggest is that the complexity of the Chinese writing system is just a factor. What is needed here is occams razor. How much time have they spent reading Chinese? And how much time would be needed, in general, for a person to become comfortable reading literature in any foreign language, especially one with a different script, and a very different cultural world? 


Quote:A quick google of his biography suggests he is a long way from being somebody who's only interacted with the language as an object of study, incidentally.

Yes, so as I noted, I didn't want to claim that this was necessarily true of Moser himself. 

It's worth pointing out however that there are lots of western professors out there who are experts in Chinese or Japanese linguistics, literature, philosophy and so forth, who can struggle to speak very well, and have middle school reading skills. The modern language of the academic world is English, and increasingly becoming so in Asia. A Chinese or Japanese undergraduate trying to function in an English speaking university could be under significantly more pressure and higher expectations to perform than a western professor and expert in the Chinese or Japanese language who is living in China or Japan.

I don't say any of that to disparage the importance of theorizing, or to run any particular person down. I just think it's important to take with a grain of salt the qualifications of many foreign experts, and particularly professors. They don't always necessarily know what they are talking about.
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