On Learning Chinese

If you’re thinking about learning Chinese, you need to read this August 2005 article from the Washington Post:

How to Learn Chinese in 2,200 Not-So-Easy Lessons

The author of the piece, Jay Matthews, has this to say about learning Chinese:

But let me — just this once because I don’t like recalling the pain — tell you that learning Chinese is not going to be easy.

Mr. Matthews backs up what I think about the Learning Chinese Craze: For most people, it is a lot of wishful thinking.

I’ve no wish to crush anyone’s dream, but I must say that I think all of these grandiose plans to get 5% of American high school students enrolled in Chinese classes by 2015, among other pipe dreams, isn’t going to do much to increase the number of people who can speak and read Mandarin fluently. The think people keep forgetting is this:


I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again. Most people would be better off learning Spanish, French, or even Japanese. Those languages are manageable for most people.

I’d love to dissect the article mentioned above, but I’ve got to get back to work.




Filed under Language

5 responses to “On Learning Chinese

  1. Chinese isn’t so hard… I picked it up in about a month. Then again that was when I was fired from my english teaching job and had nothing to do so I worked at it myself for 12 hours a day…. Don’t stop keep learning another


  2. truettblack

    Ben, I’d like to know how you define “picked it up.”

    I think a person could learn a lot of vocabulary in a month, but I have never, in over 20 years of learning Chinese, encountered a person who could attain fluency in a month.

    Let’s not give people the wrong idea. The fact is, with Chinese, you can learn to give directions to a taxi driver, order food, and ask for the price of something in a month, but not much else.

  3. Well do you want to give people the idea that chinese is “hard”? or any language? I prefer to give people the idea that anyone no matter the age can learn to communicate in any language they choose. The human voice can make thousands of sounds but the average person who speaks only one language only uses a mere fraction of what their voice can realy achieve. Yes fluency is hard to define and is often defined differently by everyone. I have been continuing conversations with taxi drivers in chinese and continues to be one of my favorites.

  4. truettblack

    Ben, my view on learning Chinese is this:

    If you’re going to do it, go for it, but don’t think it is a simple, easy language to pick up. If you’re a native speaker of English, it is NOTHING like learning Spanish, German, or French.

    I won’t lie to people and tell them, “Sure you can pick up Chinese easily.” Anyone who thinks that is true hasn’t really studied Chinese.

  5. In my case I am way down the ‘ability’ scale, it ain’t easy learning each new half dozen characters, their pairings with other characters, practice sentences etc. Yet the written characters fascinate me. Pen paper and a little grid of imaginary quarter inch squares. Delicious!

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