Learning Mandarin – A Long and Interesting Journey

20 May

Learning Mandarin takes time, but the time is not wasted in any way.

What makes learning Mandarin so much more difficult than learning a different language? The answer is that Mandarin is not much more difficult to learn than for example Italian or German, even for a person that already speaks another derivative of the Latin or Germanic languages. Harder, yes, but not as hard as its reputation will tell you!

The source of the bad reputation is rather something more alike to differences. It is not that Chinese Mandarin is difficult to learn, it is that the language is just very very strange to a European or someone that speaks a language originating in Europe. These differences may look like major obstacles to learning the language, but they are not, and after a few months of learning Mandarin you will see why. They are rather basic concepts, the only thing that makes them seem complicated is the fact that you have not seen anything like them before, but as soon as you get used to them they appear to be much smaller hindrances on your road to proficiency. To put that little idea into its proper context; that road is pretty long regardless of which language you choose to study, if the first few miles are a bit bumpy it really wont matter much when you reach your destination.

So what do those bumps consist off? The first thing you will see as you enter China, cause trust me, you really need to be here to learn Chinese, is the written language. That looks complicated and it is a little bump on the road that you just need to get over. But don’t worry too much; the pictures you see instead of an alphabet are not random thought they may seem like it at first. There is a major underlying structure that you will get to grips with in due time and once you have such concepts as stroke order and radical composition in your pocket, you will see into that structure and the bump will be gone. Easy cruising.

The second bump you will face is when you try to open your mouth. Spoken Chinese can be a female dog if you are not properly instructed. No fretting though, twenty to fifty hours with a teacher focusing on just your spoken word will let your tongue come to grips with the new syllables and the very new tones and that bump will also in your rearview mirror.

I will now use this slightly overused metaphor of a lonesome road one more time to impart one more little nugget of advice. Learn Mandarin a way that suits you. You will clear the two obstacles that I described above fairly quickly. Then begins your real journey, and that trip is going to take some time. Learning Mandarin in a way that suits you pretty much means that you are not only enduring overcoming the barriers, it means that you are able to enjoy your studies as well. Life is short and there is no sense in wasting 1 or 2 years of it by doing something you don’t like
Lastly I would like to say this: the decision to learn a language like Mandarin is never confined to the barriers that stand between a prospective student and finally achieving proficiency in the language. The decision is pretty much always relating to what people imagine speaking will be like. What do you think of when you envision learning Mandarin? No doubt it has something to do with a career. China is after all probably the hottest prospect in the world right now. It probably also has something to with exploring the country? Keep the career in mind, it is what is going to justify coming to China, and it is what is going to let you stay. But beyond that I think you will find you life in the Middle Kingdom to be interesting and varied.

The road ahead of you will be really exiting.

Rui Ming works for a Mandarin Language School in China that is a great option for those that want to learn mandarin, the Chinese lingua franca. See the program overview page for more information about learning Chinese in China.

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