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Why is Mandarin Chinese a difficult language to learn?

Sixteen of the world population speaks Chinese. Therefore it is the most widely spoken language in the world. Around a billion people speak Mandarin throughout the globe! However, according to China’s Education Ministry, over 400 million Chinese natives cannot speak Mandarin. These 400 million will generally speak a different dialect of Chinese like Cantonese or Min Nan. This variety of language has even caused the Chinese government to force businesses to use Mandarin instead of other dialects. The challenge is that Mandarin Chinese is a difficult language to learn.

What makes Mandarin so tricky to learn?

Chinese boy with balloon

If so many people speak it, how could it be all that difficult?

While there is no definitive or scientific answer to why it is so difficult to learn, I think it is fair to say that its tonal differences are what makes the language so difficult, as Mandarin is a tone language. If you are a native English speaker, tone languages are a bit confusing, as our words do not change with the tone of voice. Our attitude and feeling behind our words can vary, but the definition is generally the same.

For example, when I say the word “bye” with a high-pitch and cheery sound or “bye” with a short and low-pitch sound. Both are used as a way to depart with a group or individual (even if it has a different attitude behind it). This is not the case for Mandarin Chinese.

Four different tones in Mandarin Chinese

In Mandarin Chinese, there are four different tones used: high level (first tone), rising (second tone), falling-rising (third tone), and falling (fourth tone). For an example of the four tones used, check out this Youtube. The four different words here are all different tones of the homophone “ma.” In Pinyin they are written: “mā,” “má,” “mǎ,” and “mà,” which mean mother, hemp, horse, and scold respectively.

That is absolutely confusing! Mother and hemp are nowhere near the same words. All are pronounced so similarly, the only difference being the tone of voice used. In conclusion, something to remember, Mandarin Chinese is a difficult language to learn, but not impossible.

So, do you think you have what it takes to learn Mandarin? Try LingoHut’s online Mandarin classes!

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