An article on WHY LEARNING CHINESE IS HARD.

In a nutshell:  An activity that is time consuming (learning Chinese) is different from an activity that is hard (can’t think of one right now).

Thoughts

The greatest frustration for me with learning Chinese is that there are four different skills to master:

  1. Reading
  2. Listening
  3. Speaking
  4. Writing

Listening, this skill exists in all languages. So what is the problem? The problem is there are sooooo many accents out there. If you find a radio station or TV channel that you are comfortable with then stick to it for awhile. When you are ready change channels and you will soon discover that you are hearing Chinese but it is not the Chinese you have been training yourself for. Adaptation is key and patience is vital.

Reading is in my opinion the most straightforward activity. By reading I mean sight reading and not translating. Chinese is like learning music, you learn the building blocks and within minutes the Hanzi start smiling at you and that creates the ‘ah ha!’ moment. I feel the most rewarding activity is the reading. The time you put into learning characters quickly translates into reading possibilities. Then you build on this little by little. Learning characters becomes less and less time consuming but it is quickly replaced by learning words which are more demanding than individual characters.

Speaking, well that’s a different kettle of fish. I am starting to think that speaking Chinese is not the same thing as speaking Spanish, not that I thought they were the same, I am just trying to show you how optimistic I was.  Within a couple of weeks of learning Spanish you can string a variety of sentences to say the same thing. In Chinese I am still stuck with one or two versions of a particular sentence, I just don’t know how to be creative with Mandarin. It may help that my native languages are not related in any way to Chinese. One could argue that English and Mandarin have similar word order, the similarities for now stop there.

Writing is closely linked to Reading. The more I work on deconstructing a word and taking my time on this ‘time consuming’ aspect of Mandarin learning, the easier it is to recall characters, then words, then sentences. It is also important to practise what the French call ‘dictée’. We use to do this once or twice weekly in my French primary school. Our French literature teacher would select several passages from a book we were studying, for example ‘Le petit Nicolas’. She would read it aloud and we would write it down. At the end of the exercise we submitted it to her/him or our classmate for correction.

Did this exercise help? In French it helped improve my spelling and grammar and gave me a solid foundation. Could this help in Chinese? I think so, I think a little bit of dictée on a weekly basis may keep the language forgetting monster at bay.

Q. What do you think?

Reasons why your child should not be learning Chinese.

I think that before buying Chinese language lessons for your child, who I am assuming is not of Chinese descent, parents should set the example and study Chinese too and show interest in the culture.

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