How difficult is chinese to learn, disregarding writing?
As the title says.
I remember reading that chinese is rather simple with regards to grammatics, is that true?
Grammatically Chinese is relatively straightforward. It has no verb conjugation, a pretty strict SVO word order, and rules with very few exceptions. The hard part of the grammar comes from learning new concepts (such as asking a yes/no question by putting a verb in a sentence twice, one with negation).
Chinese is a considered little harder in pronounciation than grammar but I think that it’s mainly the tones.
Guess I'm the odd man out. I find it difficult. I've been meeting with Chinese neighbours now, twice a week, for a number of years, as we teach each other Mandarin and English. Because Duolingo did not have a Chinese course for English speakers until recently, I tried the English for Chinese speakers one and have reached level 15, which I think brings me only to the 25th topic. It's challenging because I can't read the Notes. I don't move to a new topic unless all the previous circles are golden. Progress is slow but steady at 10 XPs a day. I started the Chinese for English speakers when it became available and have reached level 8, doing 10 XPs a day there too. At this point I focus on recognizing the characters and will leave the writing to later. In terms of grammar, it's true that the verbs don't change, but Chinese has lots of other idiosyncrasies that keep you on your toes (and are sometimes maddeningly frustrating). But that's probably my issue, not the Chinese language's. The only way to find out if it's easy or difficult to learn for you is to try it. Lots of luck.
Yes, Mandarin Chinese is very grammatically simple. It has been simplified to make it easier to learn. Other Chinese dialects are more complex and difficult. I have a friend at my college who is from Hong Kong so his native language is Cantonese, the tones are more complex, and there is a lot of added grammar rules that are not present in Mandarin. As far as difficulty, the tonal qualities still present a challenge to speakers of non-tonal languages. However, they are what is called "contour tones" where the difference in tone is determined by the shape of the tone, as opposed to "pitch-accent tones" where the highness or lowness of the pitch changes the meaning. If you are finding the characters too hard to learn, but are still interested in learning a tonal language, I would recommend trying to learn Vietnamese. "Tiếng Việt" is written in the latin script and tones are clearly marked, as you can see in the example. The tonal qualities are a bit harder than Mandarin because they have "combined tones" Like ế or ệ but the writing is much easier. (I know a little mandarin, but I can only type, and can only write a few characters by hand from memory.) I hope this helped.
This is based on my experience learning Mandarin for about four or five years and studying abroad in China. I would say every language is difficult, just in different ways, and depending on your native language. As a native english speaker, the hardest part of spoken Chinese for me is learning the tones well. It can take a long time with dedicated practice while you're starting out, like at least two months every day. But once you get that, and once you learn the pinyin system, you've sort of "learned how to learn." It gets much better after that.
I think basic phrases and conversation can be pretty easy, and as others have said, the basics of Chinese grammar are very straightforward and map out to english quite well. However, there are some really funky things in Chinese that have been hard to wrap my head around. I'm not even sure how to classify it. Chinese uses special "words" (I think called particles) that just don't make sense in english parts of speech. These can indicate past tense, mood, questions, and others. The most difficult is the word "le". While it's very easy to use it in simple cases to make the equivalent of english past tense, fully grasping how to use it is incredibly difficult. It means something more like, "the action has been completed", but not quite. Another really tough one is "dui", which can vaguely be translated as "in regards to" in most cases, but feels impossible to really translate. It's these things that are really, really difficult, because you just can't think about things in terms of english as you would be able to with German or Spanish.
I can't speak to Duo's Chinese course, I haven't done it. I can't imagine how they would address the problem of characters and pinyin.