Is Chinese really the hardest language to learn in the world?

So now, quite simply: No.

This no, however, is followed by a rather long list of points that are likely to draw people back to the Yes side.

From a German point of view, Chinese is simply culturally and geographically so far away that you don’t have an anchor point where you could start.When you move around Europe, you always have a clue and a few basic ideas that you start from: whether Finnish or Russian or Portuguese, namely:

  • The concept of an “alphabet” (often Latin, but also Cyrillic or even Hebrew or Arabic)
  • Declination and conjugation
  • Derived words from Latin

As soon as you move away from these points, people find everything extremely difficult, because you can’t imagine anything else right.

If you ask the people from China’s neighboring countries, especially Japan, that’s not so bad with Chinese anymore.Many Japanese learn classical Chinese literature, just as you can learn Latin or ancient Greek at school. The Japanese writing system has been derived and adapted from Chinese; In principle, a quarter of the work has already been done. For many from Asia, German will probably be much more difficult to learn than Chinese.

So if you can basically free yourself from the prevailing ideas and start “all over the place”, then Chinese is no longer difficult.After all, millions of Chinese children learn this every day.

A few details about the language:

  • Chinese grammar is very indulgent, flexible and more or less manageably intuitivewhen you get used to it a bit.

No bold formal rules that look like Wikipedia. No declination, no conjugation, no articles, nada. Everything that is expressed here by the change in the word itself, i.e. the endings or any special rules in pluralizing like books/books, are expressed in Chinese by adding more words or taking away words.

  • Instead of “I -> we” there is “pluralization” in Chinese ,where and (where men), where “pluralization” is signaled.

Accordingly, instead of “you -> you” (ni) and (ni men).

  • Sentence building in modern Chinese is a far-reaching subject-verb object, so nothing grandiosely new.
  • No conjugation, no declination, no articles: many sentences in Chinese can be translated in a way like “I go friends house”.
  • If you want to change the time form now, you simply add new words to the sentence that express it: “I go friends house tomorrow”. If you want to address certain undefined things in the past, you can take a so-called particle, a kind of “special word” that expresses this function: “I go yesterday [particles friends house”. If you leave that “yesterday”, you just say that you were there at some point in the past.

  • Chinese pronunciation may take some getting usedto.
  • The good thing is that Chinese is quite monosillab, so no long words where you can make hyphenation. But no European language I know is tonal, here you only know intonation/emphasis on sentences. The concept of tonality has to be re-learned and you need a lot of practice to always pronounce the right vocal position changes right away. A European ear must therefore recognize new patterns of voice.

  • Chinese writing is actually what scares everyone.
  • The basic principles are explained quite quickly; the crowd is more of what worries people. It is good that a large proportion of Chinese nowadays write “simplified Chinese”. By the way, “simplified” does not mean the language itself, but only the writing! Imagine this as the change of serif fonts into those without serifs, only in larger dimensions. What makes learning a diligent task, however, is the number: With about 2000 or so you can fight your way through in everyday life, at 5 000+ you are really good with and with 8 000+ you are quite educated and at 10k you are a historian/linguist.

    • Unfortunately, however, this is a sign in itself that does not always say an insane amount about the pronunciation of that sign; sometimes you are lucky and can “advise” an approximate pronunciation from the parts of the sign that one recognizes, but correct tonality cannot be inferred from this.
    • With modern input methods in computers or smartphones, you can often rely on the pinyin and a vague idea of what the sign looks like.

    This isn’t really recommended now, but it makes writing incredibly easy.

  • All those who have dealt with Chinese will quickly find that educated Chinese is quite poetic and contains flowery formulations.
  • All these formulations do not have a proper counterpart in the German language, are a kind of mixture of literary cultural references and phrases/idioms. Many of these forums are so-called Chengyuandalways consist of 4 characters (a common term in English for this is “4-character idioms”) . Just like all The Chinese, but especially those who are educated, they like to sprinkle a few of these formulations in their sentences in order to make a point of content or to shorten things (and occasionally to show that you are educated).

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