More than 1.3 billion people speak Mandarin Chinese, making it the most spoken language in the world. However, the fact remains that non-native speakers represent only a small percentage of this huge group. Why is that so?
Well, it seems like most people consider Chinese to be extremely difficult to learn. While this widespread opinion may be valid to some extent, it is clear that the vast majority of people don’t know anything about Chinese.
In this post, we will present you 10 of the biggest misconceptions about the Chinese language. Let’s take a look!
1. It’s called Chinese
First of all, the language is not called Chinese at all. Mandarin is the official language in China. They teach Mandarin in schools and use it for administrative purposes. Besides that, there are other dialects: Wu Chinese with 90 million speakers, as well as Min and Cantonese with almost 150 million speakers combined.
2. Chinese is the most difficult to learn
This is the second most obvious misconception. While it is true that Chinese is everything but simple, you might ask yourself – what language is easy to learn? What makes it so much harder than Hindi, Russian, Arabic, or even French? All languages require a lot of time and dedication, and so does Chinese.
3. Chinese characters are actually words
Chinese characters are not words. While some words indeed consist of only one character, most of them really demand a combination of two or more characters. Therefore, Mandarin characters are not equivalents to words.
4. Mandarin has no grammar
A lot of Mandarin experts believe this is the most disturbing Chinese-related misconception. Although Mandarin doesn’t have the same grammar structure as Indo-European languages or rules such as declension or conjugation, there is still plenty of grammar rules to understand before you can really begin speaking Mandarin.
5. Learning it takes forever
We are not saying that learning Chinese is a matter of weeks, but it definitely doesn’t take too much to figure it out. You can even give it a super-quick try and see how to learn Chinese in 4 weeks only – it should be enough to cover the language basics.
If you want to improve the beginner-level knowledge even further, it will probably take you approximately 1,000 class hours. This equals to about 90 days of eight-hour learning, which is more or less the same amount it takes to learn any other language.
6. Textbook language is the same as everyday Mandarin
Another common misconception is that Chinese people speak textbook Mandarin. This probably happens because of the previous misunderstandings like “no grammar” and “characters represent words.” In reality, Chinese is just like any other language – there is the literary version, but people use the ordinary style in everyday speech.
7. It sounds awful
Now, this is the one statement we cannot argue on a rational basis. Mandarin is a tonal language, so it largely depends on intonation and the way you pronounce words. In the eyes (or should we say ears) of an average American or European, this sounds strange and awful. However, it’s a matter of personal taste and cultural differences, so you only need to learn to accept it.
8. The official language is the same everywhere
Although Mandarin is the official language in China, Taiwan, Singapore, and Hong Kong, not all of them use the same version. Namely, some regions developed a simplified version of Chinese language and started using it in the mid-20th century. Today, most of the online sources rely on Simplified Chinese, while public administration, art, and culture still use Traditional Chinese.
9. Speakers of different dialects don’t understand each other
Regional differences are not to be neglected, but keep in mind that Mandarin remains the official language in China. It means that the vast majority of people speaks and understands it, regardless of the local dialect.
10. English is enough
The last misconception is not strictly related to Chinese, but it encourages a lot of potential learners to quit Mandarin studies. If you have Chinese business partners, they probably speak at least a little bit of English. However, learning their language is important to strengthen the bonds with your associates. Besides that, it’s a sign of respect and good will, which is another way to improve your business efforts in China.
If you ask people about the hardest language in the world, most of them would probably name Chinese as the most difficult to learn. However, this opinion is based mostly on widespread misunderstandings.
In this post, we showed you 10 of the biggest misconceptions about the Chinese language. Keep them in mind and don’t let them stop you from learning Mandarin. It’s a beautiful language – you just need to be patient and make it through the first few classes!
Want to learn more about the Chinese language? Read our articles on 5 Ways to Prevent Yourself From Feeling Overwhelmed While Learning Chinese and Facts about Chinese Hanzi
Thinking of studying Chinese? Why not come to Hutong School in China? Contact one of our consultants for more information here!