Ever thought of taking a Chinese language class? Often regarded as one of the world’s most difficult languages, Haike Bruneel of the Hutong School elaborates on five reasons why she believes that the language does not live up to its challenging reputation:
1. Characters can be written phonetically
2. Tones can be challenging, but their use is often understandable through context and the grammatical position of the word within the sentence
3. Grammar is very simplified
4. Vocabulary features combinations that often make sense
5. Most characters are phonetic, making it easier to read once the phonetics are understood
As an example, Bruneel writes with respect to tones:
“Because the Chinese language has so few different syllables, tones are being used. In Mandarin, the official standard language, there are 4 different tones, as well as a neutral tone, which is however only used very rarely. The 4 tones allow pronouncing the syllables in different ways, so that different meanings can be conveyed.
Learning to hear and pronounce these tones correctly is a challenge for anybody who’s never learned a tonal language before. Yet, its importance should not be overstated either. Usually, up to an intermediate level, it will be perfectly clear which meaning is intended, even if you pronounce or hear a tone incorrectly.”
In addition to determining the context and grammatical position of each word, she mentions the disyllabic nature of most Chinese words as another key factor in distinguishing between varying tones. This reduces the chances that words with the same spelling will be confused with one another.
If you are currently studying or teaching Chinese with GLN, do you agree with the Bruneel’s reasons? Do you have any tips that might make the language easier for others to learn?