Learning Chinese May Be Easier Than You Think

Learning Chinese might be easier than you think; at least, if your native tongue is English. The two languages may appear to be quite different, but you might be surprised how their Robotel commonalities make it easier to transition between them.

GRAMMAR

One of the most surprising similarities between English and Chinese (well, Mandarin, at least), is the grammar.  Simple Chinese sentence structure consists of a subject, a predicate, and an object. If you speak English, of course, this will be quite familiar.  A simple Chinese sentence, for example, is “I wash my hands,” which consists of the subject 我 Wo (I), followed by the predicate 洗 xi (wash), followed by the object 手 shou (hands).

But Chinese grammar is simply than English—and many other languages—in that it does not assign gender to nouns and there is no differentiation between singular and plural.

CHARACTERS

While the Chinese and English alphabets are different (or, rather, the Chinese language has a character alphabet as well as an adapted alphabet), the way they piece together words and phrases is also similar to the way English speakers do it.  For example, in Chinese 人 (ren) is the character for a single person.  Two of these put together is actually a new character, 从 (cong), which means “to follow” (suggested as one person followed by another person). Put three 人 together and you end up with 众, which indicates that three is, in fact, a crowd.  Similarly, a single 木 indicates a tree. Two 木 symbols “spells” woods and three 木 make 森to indicate a forest.

We can build more complex Chinese characters by learning basic components and single-structure characters step by step. It is like we learn various English words by starting from the 26 letters.

PRONUNCIATION

Students of English (at least, in Britain) find that Chinese pronunciation is really not all that difficult.  The letters and words have a similar feel in the resonators, tongue, and lips.  What most Westerners find difficult when learning Chinese is the four base tones which are more of a pitch contour that is not present in English.  There is also a “neutral tone” which some consider a fifth tone; thus the tones range from:

  • Tone 1: high and level
  • Tone 2: moderate with slight rises in pitch
  • Tone 3: moderate with slight fall and then rise
  • Tone 4: high with sharp drop
  • [Tone 5]: Neutral tone

Mastering these pitches is crucial if you want to be an effective communicator with the Chinese language.

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