Chinese is the most widely spoken language in the world. Around a billion people speak Mandarin throughout the globe! That is 16% of the world population! However according to China’s Education Ministry, over 400 million Chinese natives cannot speak Mandarin. These 400 million will generally speak a different dialect of Chinese like Cantonese or Min Nan. This variety of language has even caused the Chinese government to force businesses to use Mandarin instead of other dialects.
So what makes Mandarin so difficult?
It is generally said that Mandarin is the most difficult language to learn, but if so many people speak it, how could it be all that difficult?
While there is no definitive or scientific answer to why it is so difficult, I think it is fair to say that its tonal differences are what makes the language so difficult, as Mandarin is a tone language. If you are a native English speaker, tone languages are a bit confusing, as our words to not change with the tone of voice. Our attitude and feeling behind our words can change, but the definition is generally exactly the same.
For example, when I say the word “bye” with a high-pitch and cheery sound, it is used as a way to depart with a group or individual. If I say the word “bye” with a short and low-pitch sound, it is also used as a way to depart with a group or individual (even if it has a different attitude behind it). This is not the case for Mandarin Chinese.
In Mandarin Chinese, there are four different tones used: high level (first tone), rising (second tone), falling-rising (third tone), and falling (fourth tone). For an example of the four tones used, check out this Youtube . The four different words here are all different tones of the homophone “ma”. In Pinyin they are written: “mā”, “má”, “mǎ”, and “mà”, which mean mother, hemp, horse, and scold respectively.
That is absolutely confusing! Mother and hemp are nowhere near the same words, but they are pronounced so similarly, the only difference being the tone of voice used.
So, do you think you have what it takes to learn Mandarin? Try LingoHut’s online Mandarin classes!