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Be about to learn Chinese? An Introduction of Chinese Language

January 4th, 2010 - by Huang Jason


Many people are learning Chinese nowadays. It’s believed that more than 30,000,000 outside China. And there are tons of articles like this “Learn Chinese In The Next Few Years Or It Will Be Too Late”. If you would like to start to learn Chinese, Now this article will give you some insight in every aspects of the language.

a) How do the natives learn Chinese?

Generally in China a native child can fluently speak Chinese before they go to school. However, most of them speak Chinese dialect in they family so they cannot speak too much the official Chinese language – the mandarin. Most of their parents will teach them some contents which will be learnt in the first year of their elementary school.

In the first month of school they will first learn Chinese phonetic symbols, pinyin, which is very important in pronunciation, and then Chinese characters in some simple short text, which emphasis in readings and writings. After the second year, they learn almost all common Chinese characters and words. It means they can directly read newspapers, books, except for some articles required professional knowledge, something like computer science or ancient literature.

b) Mandarin and Simplified Chinese

When we talk about Chinese or Chinese language, we usually mean the Chinese official language – mandarin Chinese (speaking) and simplified Chinese (writing). Every Chinese learn to speak mandarin and learn to read and write simplified Chinese in their elementary school. However for some historical reasons, in Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macao areas, the people use traditional Chinese, which is a more complicated writing system. There are many Chinese dialects, which sounds a great difference but shares the same writing system. Almost every Chinese can speak 1-2 Chinese dialects. One of the most important Chinese dialects is Cantonese used in Guangdong, Hong Kong and Macao areas.

c) The pronunciation system (Chinese pinyin)

Chinese pinyin is like English phonetic symbol, it’s used to help pronunciation, and not used in reading and writing except for children who are learning Chinese character. Chinese pinyin are commonly added above Chinese characters for the beginners who learn Chinese.

The pronunciation of every Chinese character is a combination of initials, finals and tone, and we use pinyin to identify and write them. There are 4 tone marks, 23 initials and 24 finals, so there are theoretically (23 initials * 24 finals) 552 pinyin, in fact about 400, and there are (400 pinyin * 4 tone marks) about 1200 different pronunciation. A small proportion of Chinese characters may have more than 1 pronunciation with different meanings. To learn Chinese pronunciation, you need to learn the 47 initials and finals practice to combine them and tell the difference of tone marks.

Initials: b p m f d t n l g k h j q x zh ch sh r z c s y w

Finals: a o e i u v ai ei ui ao ou iu ie ve er an en in un vn ang eng ing ong

Tone Mark:

Something we must mention here is that the 4 tones in Chinese is very important, which may be easily ignored by beginners. You may get difficult to communicate to the natives without these tones trainings.

d) The Chinese grammar

Chinese grammar is proved to be much simpler and less formulated than other languages, like English and Japanese. And Chinese has similar sentence structure to English: subject-verb-object (SVO).

The word structure

The most basic element of Chinese is Chinese characters. Every Chinese character has at least a meaning and every Chinese word is often composed of 2 Chinese characters (may be 1-4 characters). For example, the “car” in Chinese is composed of 2 characters: Gas-vehicle / The word car in Chinese language., and you say Car or vehicleis also OK.

The order of word

The Chinese is used to put the adv complement in the beginning of the sentence. For example, the “today” in “Today I go to school.” or “I today go to school”. If you say “I go to school today”, it is the same meaning but make some emphasis with informal order.

No complicated suffix and transformation

The “suffix” is separated in Chinese. For example, the “do” can be “does”, “did”, “done”, “doing”. In Chinese, “did” is do+before: dobefore, finish, end

Chinese classifier words/characters

Chinese classifier words is like “a cup of tea”, “a pair of”.  For example, “apple” in Chinese is “apple”apple(s), while “some apples” in Chinese is “some apple”some + apple, “3 apples” in Chinese is “3 + [a classifier character] + apple”3 + [] + apple

(The other specialties of Chinese grammar are not going to be expanded here. )

e) The Chinese writing system

There are about 1000 the most commonly used characters, and about 2500 less commonly used characters, compared to the at least 4000 basic and commonly used English words. There may be thousands of Chinese words; however, the meanings of these words can be guessed by the meanings of the characters, for examples, “vocabulary” in Chinese is composed of the characters “word” and “table”. The Chinese characters are thousands of shapes and drawings. Though they have some kind of rules, it’s not easy for handwriting. If you can pronounce and recognize the characters as reading, you can use a computer to enter characters and write articles.

How much time to learn Chinese as a second language?

Some people find Chinese is easy, while some other people find Chinese is difficult. However there are many foreigners in China who can speak standard mandarin Chinese without any previous knowledge after only 1-2 months staying in China. It’s depended on which parts of the language you want to learn. If you want to speak, read and write in your daily life like a native Chinese, it obviously need years of training.

What about you? What do you think of the Chinese language? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.

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5 Responses to “Be about to learn Chinese? An Introduction of Chinese Language”

  1. tito says:

    I want to learn Chinese but I think it’s so difficult because there is no more help

  2. Mikemyers says:

    yeah…Chinese isn’t very difficult language to learn.The hardest thing is the tones and the characters.And of course when you stsrt to learn it by yourself it’s a big problem to figure out the correct pronunciation.
    Keep reaching for that rainbow!

  3. Jason says:

    If you know the rule for pronunciation and have enough training at the beginning, it’s not a problem. And the Chinese people are tolerant to different tones, because they have dozens of dialects. If your make less than 50% mistake in tone, they can understand you.

  4. 保罗 says:

    Chinese language learning does take time and dedication to master, any 2nd language is hard to learn, but if you have a passion for it, you will enjoy every moment of the experience.
    The help of this website is also one of the reasons my learning has improved so much over the past year or so, 感谢!!

  5. Sarita says:

    No doubt that Chinese is a difficult language to learn but its grammar is simpler than many other languages. At the beginning I wanted to learn Chinese only for business purposes but now I really enjoy learning it. Chinese culture food people all attract you to learn Chinese
    as much as to have enough communication with them.It is a hard and long way but worth
    trying.

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