How long does it take the average person to learn Chinese ?
So glad that Duolingo finally has the Chinese course available and I am already going through it now!
I was wondering how long does it take to learn Mandarin to the point where I can speak/read it pretty well? I know that I am visiting China in the summer and probably moving there in around 4 years so I guess I have a clock ticking, anyone with experience on this matter? Thanks!
I was working 3 months in China this year and I met some Westerners living there while I was traveling in Tibet. I noticed that quite many who were fluent had studied about 3-5 years. Like they were really good and had no problems to communicate even in the phone with the natives.
Before China I had studied Chinese for 1 year (1 class/week) and I struggled a lot. I lost all of my motivation in one point and after returning to Finland I didn't open my Chinese book or study any Chinese until now. I feel like after a small break I know the basics quite well, but yeah I think I need about 2-3 years to talk fluently. At least now I have the motivation again.
There's no one-size-fits-all answer to this one, but 4 years seems more than enough time for me. People talk about how hard Chinese is and I really disagree. I think if you approach it the right way it can actually be easy.
I have known people who put 2+ years of intense study into Chinese only to get really limited results, have poor conversational skills, and retain very little after some time passes. I know people who went to China on trips and picked up very little of the language.
On the other hand I have put in a lot less effort than that and gotten a lot more. I think for me, I realized that pronunciation was key. Most Americans don't really do a passable job, let alone a good job, of learning Mandarin pronunciation. There are the tones, which some people either ignore or fail to master, but I think a bigger problem can actually be the pronunciation of vowels and consonants. More so than a lot of other languages, the consonants in particular in Mandarin don't map cleanly onto English consonants...and the romanizations can be deceptive. So for example, when I first started learning, I would sometimes mishear "k" as "p" or "d" as "t" or "j" as "d", or any number of other connections that I wasn't even "watching for" if that makes sense? Like it really had me scratching my head. I also noticed that I'd try to pronounce something and native speakers would hear me totally wrong, or would be confused as to what I was trying to say, because of my consonants.
I went back and really paid more attention to the pronunciation and now things are really different. Native speakers now tell me that my pronunciation is unusually clear and correct for an American and that I sound pretty natural.
When I got to that point, suddenly the language seemed much more easy and accessible to me. The grammar is very logical and I find it was easier to get into more complex constructions in Chinese than some languages because there are no endings to words and the word order is very predictable.
And practicing it is easy! There are Chinese people virtually everywhere these days...I encounter them in my daily life almost every day, because I work at a university, and when I've traveled abroad I've met them in other countries too. There are ample opportunities to practice Mandarin! And lots of native Mandarin speakers who want to work on their English and who love sharing their culture too, so I find it's easy to have conversations where we are both learning lots of stuff!
And the writing system is also much easier to crack because of online tools. I primarily encounter written Chinese online, and online it's just a couple clicks to translate something AND see how it's pronounced.
So Chinese actually feels a very accessible language.
There's a few other things you can use like LingoDeer and ChineseSkill. I use those along with the other apps you use. I've also heard there's another one but I haven't tried it. Duolingo is simplified and mainland Chinese uses simplified. If you do to countries outside of china they use traditional. Other places use Cantonese and other dialects so you might want to pay attention to things that which might help you on your trip.
Edit: I found another app but it throws you straight into the deep end even though it's a level one. I can't find the other app people have been taking about but if it's this one it isn't good.
If you live in a good place with a few native speakers and you are using many other sources, I'd say 4 years is enough to become pretty fluent. I have been speaking it for 10-15 years, but I believe after the basics it only takes around 3 years to be able to communicate. 3+ years is pretty good and with practice and learning you will be able to become pretty fluent, perhaps knowing anywhere from 1000 (a lot of what you need) to 2000 (practically everything you need) to speak it. If you can't beat the time, with 500 characters you can do quite a bit.
Start studying now! The earlier you start, the more time you will be able to use to learn, study, and practice. Good luck!