What aspects of the Chinese language are the most difficult to learn for a westerner? In particular I'm interested in thoughts on:

  • What do you find are the main difficulties?
  • Are there any aspects of Chinese that you find easier than expected?
  • Do you find the grammar more or less complex than that of Latin/Romance languages?
  • Are you sure this is a fitting question for this site? It's a good one, no doubt, but any of those three is asking for personal opinions and is therefore subjective. Can you consider rephrasing it so it becomes a bit more "objective"? Such as, "what usually are the most difficult things to learn for a westerner?"... Just an example. :D
    – Alenanno
    Dec 14 '11 at 10:23
  • I agree with @Alenanno, I don't think this question is a good fit for the site.
    – brc
    Dec 15 '11 at 9:05
  • 1
    I think this is a valid question to ask. Sure, it's a bit subjective, but you could probably use that argument for 90% of the question that get asked on SE sites. It perhaps was a bit ambigous tho, and certainly the title perhaps wasn't phrased very well - I've edited my question accordingly
    – Cocowalla
    Dec 15 '11 at 9:29

I think the difficulties include:

  1. The tones, while almost all western languages don't have such a conception.
  2. Remember how to write a character. There are many characters that you have to learn and remember.

but the grammar is easier. In Chinese, you don't have to take care of gender, inflection,conjugation, number and particles.

  • I certainly struggle to remember which tone to use at times. I also sometimes find the word order a bit confusing.
    – Cocowalla
    Dec 14 '11 at 9:14
  • if you speak some a language like German, you would be used to not taking care of word order. In Chinese, it's important since it can be used to specify the meaning. in general,the order is SVO
    – Huang
    Dec 14 '11 at 9:39
  • Sorry, what is 'SVO'?
    – Cocowalla
    Dec 14 '11 at 9:53
  • sorry,I am browsing this site with my phone and it's not convenient for me to input. S is subject, V is verb and O is object. I can give you more details after I get back home.
    – Huang
    Dec 14 '11 at 10:04
  • Usually, the stem of a statement sentence is subject+verb+object. Adjective should be at front of a noun, adverb should be at front of an adjective or a verb. Hmm, I find I shall learn some jargons for grammar. I think I can discuss the order of specific sentence for you.
    – Huang
    Dec 14 '11 at 13:22

The main difficulty is that Chinese, having a different linguistic root from English, does not have the shared vocabulary that European languages have.. for example:

  • English: telephone
  • French: téléphone
  • Spanish: teléfono
  • Portugese: telefone
  • German: Telefon
  • Dutch: telefoon
  • Danish: telefon
  • Italian: telefono
  • Hungarian: telefon
  • Estonian: telefon
  • Slovak: telefón
  • Polish: telefon

There are many many words with common roots in European languages, so it is much easier to acquire vocabulary. However I find that once I had a "base" in Mandarin, once I knew the basis of many compound words - this obstacle had less impact.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.