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How on earth am i supposed to learn chinese

Iv been looking at Chinese recently and as an English speaker it is simply the hardest language in the world the fact it has no alphabet mean that even if you spend pain staking amount of time learning a few hundred characters theirs a seeming infinite amount of 'squiggles' you can possibly see which makes it so incredibly hard The writing is just impossible aswell like it would taking me 5 hours to write in Chinese then there is the traditional characters and the simplified characters the language is quite simply monstrous for someone to even attempt to learn someone please help me understand his god forsaken language and if your a native English speaker who has progressed quite well with (mandarin) Chinese please tell me how on earth you did it

December 30, 2017


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Slowly and steadily. You have to stick at it for quite some time and put in a good amount of work regularly. It also helps to have some motivation...


Yes, and this is what makes it so much fun! I am having more fun on Chinese than on any of the others I have done, because it is so darn challenging!

Just hang in there! No one says you have to learn it all in one day, or one week, or one year. Do a little each day, and you will make connections.

I started looking at the characters and thinking to my self 'wow, these look nothing like anything I can associate them to in my mind...' forcing me to create brand new synaptic connections in my old brain.

Though sometimes they do look right. Telephone 电话 for example looks like a teenager on their bed laying down on the phone connected to the world... and eat 吃 looks like a mouth eating... but where 哪里 looks like someone saying "dab" so I just imagine someone waving while doing the dab... (Where are you)

Others are completely abstract and fit nothing in my brain. However, after learning a few, I have begun to see them in new characters that I learn, allowing me to associate them with each other.

The bottom line is, that it is definitely challenging. Take it day by day. You goal is to just have fun. Not to speak fluently tomorrow!


Pinyin and a lot of writing practice will get you far. Also try HelloChinese (app), ChineseSkill (app) or Nyan Chinese (website).


Link to Nyan Chinese?


I find Chinese is a very hard language to get started in. The nature of the writing system, it being tonal, and other aspects of the pronounciation, all make it hard to get started.

That said, my experience is that if you can get over the initial hurdle, there are some other ways in which Chinese is actually a pretty easy / straightforward language. A lot of these benefits / easy aspects of the language, only become evident once you've mastered the basics. Some of the things that are easy about it include: (1) lack of conjugation / word endings (2) very regular word order (3) very logical structure that often makes it easy to understand what a new word or grammatical construct means, even before you've been taught it. In Chinese, once you get to a critical mass of knowing enough vocab, you'll start to be able to figure out things from context very easily. I find this is more true of Chinese than other languages. The grammar is also particularly intuitive to me.

So how do you do this?

I started by working on pronunciation. For me, learning tones was actually pretty easy, but I have a musical ear, and some people find this hard. I found the toughest part for me were the consonant sounds. Focusing on "initial" and "final" components to a word is critical...if you can't hear things accurately, and can't pronounce them accurately, all the vocabulary in the word will be useless. You don't need to master pronunciation, but you need it to be solid enough that you can at least be understood accurately by native speakers. Ideally, find some native speakers who can listen to your speech and critique it. Also, look up videos and read about how to pronounce things.

You NEED to do a lot more work. Even letters written in pinyin as "b,p,d,t", etc, are NOT the same as their English sounds.

I find that the writing system becomes easier once you are exposed to it more. Things will look all the same and confusing when you haven't seen a lot of it, but the more you see, the easier it will get.

Good luck! I hope you find this useful!


The thing that strikes me as I am moving through the first levels is that Chinese has high complexity in writing system, but as you point out, has very low complexity in grammar (especially compared to Russian, for example). It’s almost like the human brain can only do so much and languages balance themselves out.


Can you imagine a language with the grammatical complexity of Russian and the written complexity of Chinese? My brain wants to explode just imagining it 8-o


Hehe I remember when I used to think this. Here's how I got over it.

Ignore the characters. They aren't important, at first. Chinese children learn to speak the language and spell things with pinyin, so if worst came to worst a native speaker could understand you with pinyin. For this approach to the language, Duolingo is not the best place to learn.

I use the app Hello Chinese which is... a very similar structure to Duolingo, but a bit different. The app does show the hanzi (the "squiggles") and has a few lessons where it asks you to draw the symbol after the computer, but you can easily get through that and go on. I haven't learned a single hanzi symbol from the app, but it always shows the pinyin along with it. And it explains the tones and has short clips of people speaking the sentences for you to hear, plus a woman's voice overlaid in all the lessons just like Duolingo. It's a great way to pick up the basics.

Now, the symbols. The thing is, they're not so alien as you think. Have you ever drawn? I like drawing. The hanzi are just like art, and they're beautiful and a little addicting once you get the hang of it. I bought a book to learn them in, and I can find the specific one later if you like -- it has short sections on numbers, types of words, and so forth, then short exercise sections that asks you to fill in spaces etc. The book breaks down the symbols by stroke and stroke order/direction, then gives you like 10 spaces to practice. It's very nice. Looking at the radical (a repeated symbol piece that will show up and then be combined with other strokes to complete the character), the stroke order, the definition of the base symbol and some vocab that uses that symbol combined with others... it gets to be fun in a way.

Rest assured that once you have a very base understanding of Chinese tones, the hardest part is the characters. Most languages start easy and get harder -- Chinese starts hard and gets easier. Chinese grammar is very simple. There is one tense, always, and Chinese words are made by combining other Chinese words (for reference, English words are generally amalgamations of roots and prefixes/suffixes from a smattering of different langauges and are pronounced sometimes seemingly randomly because of this). So once you get started and if you persevere through the hard bits, you'll have smooth sailing from there. Don't give up -- best of luck!!


One suggestion I read somewhere said to leave learning how to write the Chinese characters for later. When you're first starting, just focus on recognizing the characters, and learning the tones and pinyin for each one, and the English translations of course. Remember that a pinyin word may represent many different characters. That's why writing a sentence in pinyin only would be difficult to translate. It takes patience and perseverance to learn a new language, particularly this one. But it's so satisfying when you make progress. And you will, if you keep at it..


i was half-way through the hellochinese app when duolingo released the mandarin course so i got a little bit of basics on the language. you should try it to supplement your studies.


I read the FSI article and it says Japanese is even more difficult (which I agree and am continually struggling with it… LOL).

As native Chinese I do not know which would be the most helpful way for you. But I think the most important is to keep yourself motivated.

There was a talk show in China where they gathered some youngmen from all over the world: American, English, German, French, Italian, Russian, Thai,… all of them speak very good Chinese:


So it must not be an impossible thing! You can also be like one of them!


Hi! Here's something that made mandarin learning easier for me. Chinese characters are made up of things called "radicals" that are essentially their equivalent of an alphabet. It takes a while to understand but when looking at a character, radicals usually let you know the meaning and aid with pronunciation of the word.


Do you know the best book or websites that you have come across that explain these radicals (also thank you to everyone who shared your advice really appreciated as i feel like most people look at things in life and never bother to know about them i want to try and learn these things maybe il progress one day in mandarin )


you just gotta get used to the way its different from english, after you get past that it gets better I started learning chinese as a small child learning in a real school and was always pretty good but according to my parents that I am horrible at it (but they are fluent so...). So I grew up knowing that it doesn't have an alphabet and theres a certain way to write the characters etc. Plus I'm mostly do chinese Duolingo to really help me with grammar and sentence structure which is what i mostly struggle with


i am not native, yet i am not american. i am not doing VERY well with it, im ok. I understand it must be very hard, i hear chinese every day and it is still isn't easy. Maybe you just need a real life teahcer. that helps

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