Learning Chinese, a challenging and rewarding experience
Learning Chinese is a rewarding experience as it gives you the opportunity to communicate with more than a billion people.
The Chinese language has the most number of first language speakers in the world, and about 80.72 percent of China's population spoke Putonghua, or Mandarin Chinese, in 2020.
Chinese is often viewed as a mysterious and difficult language in other countries, with its character-based writing system very different to the Roman alphabet.
Upon beginning to study Chinese, the obscurity can disappear fast.
You may find that Chinese is actually not much more difficult than learning any other language. One advantage is that Chinese does not require memorizing the kind of complex tenses found in European languages.
Although there is certainly a learning curve for non-native speakers, in my experience the basics in Chinese can be picked up pretty fast.
You will certainly find differences between the language as taught in textbooks and people’s everyday speech.
One example of this is the difference between language on the street and written Chinese, compounded by the impact of modern lifestyles such as internet culture, which frequently produce new phrases and vocabulary.
The fast pace of life nowadays means people often use short, less conversational phrases to communicate with each other.
China has many provinces and dialects vary. After becoming accustomed to the Beijing dialect with its rising and falling tones and harsh ‘r’, one may find it hard to understand Shanghai dialect with its gentler tones, slipping ‘s’ sounds and own unique vocabulary.
Thus the language which Chinese people speak today contains many new developments, a potential obstacle for the learner, no matter how familiar they are with the textbook.
I hope that one day more Chinese courses are able to incorporate ‘real’ spoken Chinese, resembling the way in which Chinese people speak daily, to help bridge the gap between learners and native speakers.
Being able to speak a language very different from your own may be part of the appeal for non-native speakers showing interest in the language. Another factor may be the beauty and charm of the Chinese writing system and calligraphy or ‘shufa’.
Especially given China’s recent fast economic development, many would see learning Chinese as a good opportunity and more people would certainly study it if given the opportunity at a young age, which would also pique their interest in the culture.