- Chinese vs Mandarin
Probably the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Chinese is the characters. These aren’t actually as bad as it seems, and there are ways to learn these with time. But it has to be said that it does pose a challenge.
The good news is that Mandarin; the spoken form of the language, is actually far simpler! If you make it your focus to learn to speak Mandarin instead of learning to read Chinese, then you have a straightforward language, with so many of the advantages I’m about to list. In Language Hacking Mandarin, we use pinyin, the romanization system used to represent the sounds, to learn new words as you go, just like you would with any European language.
Learning the characters can wait until later; for now, focus on speaking!
- Very simple grammar
When you compare Chinese to European languages, you suddenly realise that you are spared so much work! There are no noun genders, no verb conjugations (personal changes or tense changes), no grammatical declensions, no definite/indefinite articles, no separable verbs, no adjective agreements; pretty much every complex aspect of grammar that you have to deal with in European languages, is absent!
- Vocabulary is much easier!
When learning French, and trying to guess the way to say “bottle opener”, you could take a stab at it, but you are unlikely to naturally come to the right word by guessing. And if you suddenly see the word “décapsuleur”, without generous context, you may scratch your head until you finally know what it means. In Chinese, the translation is very simply “Kāi píng qì” or “open-bottle-tool”, 3 unique words that you are likely to learn very early on in your vocabulary acquisition.
The entire language works like this, with very logical ways of forming complex concepts, in easy-to-remember ways, once you have a baseline of vocabulary.
- Tones aren’t that bad
Another reason people get intimidated by Chinese/Mandarin is because of the tones. These are indeed very important to learn, since different tones imply completely different meanings to words. But the good news is that you can mimic these tones much easier than you may imagine. We have equivalents of the Mandarin tones in English that we already use naturally when we express surprise, ask a question, show shock, and a few other ways in which we use tones to express meaning.
If you can tell the difference between “You’re here?!” and “You’re here!” and “You’re here.” then you can, with practise get a grasp of how similar tones apply in Mandarin.
- So many opportunities!
Unlike when you learn a European language, taking on Chinese opens you up to the most populous country on earth with a rich and beautiful culture.
I’ve taken these concepts and used them throughout my new Language Hacking Mandarin course, which I developed with Professor Li-Cheng Gu from Northwestern University. Each of the ten units in the course includes a speaking mission for you to share with your teacher, tutor, best friend, your cat or this amazing #LanguageHacking community.
I do hope you enjoy it and check it out!
And if you enjoy learning languages by speaking from day one, you can check out the other languages in my series and practice your missions here with the italki community.