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Why is learning Chinese difficult for Westerners?

Why is learning Chinese difficult for Westerners?

Learning Chinese is not easy, and there is a lot to consider when thinking about picking up a new language. One of the most difficult things for Westerners is learning a new alphabet and letters.

There are apparently over 80,000 Chinese characters, although thankfully you only need to learn about 3,500 to get by, but this is still a lot more than we have in English. Furthermore, the characters themselves are a lot more complex to physically write compared to those in the English alphabet, and in fact, many learners choose to become an illiterate speaker to avoid this problem.

When learning most European languages, you are often faced with the task of learning new grammar. However, Chinese grammar is extremely simple. There are no conjugations, no gendered parts of speech or worrying about agreements and the word order is very straightforward.  But whilst this may sound easy, it can cause a lot of confusion. Learners regularly find themselves struggling to decipher the meaning of a sentence without clues from the grammar.  The fact that it is so simple causes a lot of difficulty in understanding what a person is saying.

Chinese is also a tonal language, meaning that words differ in meaning depending on the tone as well as the pronunciation.  A lot of beginners therefore have difficulty in expressing themselves, as in English we use tone to indicate a feeling towards the meaning without changing it. In Chinese, a change in tone can completely change the meaning of the word. As well as this, the actual pronunciation of words can be difficult for learners as it differs so much from sounds we make in English.

All this combined can put a lot of people off learning Chinese, but, as with any language, if you stick to it and reinforce what you’ve learned, the experience can be extremely rewarding.

If you need help with Chinese communication or Chinese translation and want to leave it to the professionals, get in touch with us now on

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