Hey! It’s Lauren here, the Language Mindset UK-based blogger and fellow language lover. Hope you enjoy the post!
Chinese is often named as one of the hardest languages for English speakers to learn. It makes sense, given the fact it couldn’t look more alien to most of us. But would you believe the language is actually surprisingly simple?
That’s right. Straightforward grammar and a very logical structure make it far easier to learn than most people think. And for young language learners, it can actually be a lot of fun.
Don’t believe me?
Then read on, because in this blog post, I’m explaining why Mandarin Chinese is simpler than it looks and why your kiddo can absolutely learn it.
Chinese has no verb conjugations
Yep, none. Unlike many other languages, Mandarin Chinese verbs remain the same regardless of the subject or tense. The language uses time phrases or grammatical particles to indicate when the action takes place. Let’s look at an example using the verb ‘to go’ (去(qù)).
I am going to school 我去学校。 (Wǒ qù xuéxiào.)
I went to school yesterday 我昨天去学校。 (Wǒ zuótiān qù xuéxiào.)
I will go to school tomorrow
我明天去学校。 (Wǒ míngtiān qù xuéxiào.)
See how the verb stays exactly the same in all three sentences? It takes a bit of practice to get used to this new grammatical structure, but once you’ve learnt a few time phrases, it’s as easy as that.
There are no plural forms
The plural noun forms of Romance languages often confuse and frustrate learners. Mandarin doesn’t have these. No matter whether you’re referring to a singular or plural object, the nouns remain the same.
Singular: 我有一只猫。 (Wǒ yǒu yī zhī māo) I have a cat.
Plural: 我有两只猫。 (Wǒ yǒu liǎng zhī māo) I have two cats.
Compare that to languages like French, Spanish and Italian, and you can see why this is so exciting - for language nerds like us, at least!
It follows a super logical grammar structure
As well as having no plural forms or complex conjugations, Mandarin also follows a similar subject-verb-object (SVO) structure to English. This makes it much easier for English speakers to understand and form new sentences.
"我" (wǒ) is the subject, which means "I" or "me."
"喜欢" (xǐhuān) is the verb, which means "like."
吃 (chī) is another verb, which means "eat"
"苹果" (píngguǒ) is the object, which means "apples."
And the whole sentence?
我喜欢吃苹果。 (Wǒ xǐhuān chī píngguǒ.) I like to eat apples.
The vocabulary is also logical
Most Chinese words are formed of two or more characters, which combine to create a specific meaning. This is often really logical - far more logical than any other language I’ve learnt.
Take the character 火 (huǒ), for example. Alone, this means ‘fire’, but it’s found in other characters with related meanings, like:
火车 (huǒchē) - Train 火柴 (huǒchái) - Match 火山 (huǒshān) - Volcano
The advantage of this is that once children learn a few characters, they can soon start to decipher the meaning of new ones based on what they already know.
The language provides contextual clues
Besides reading characters, the hardest part of Mandarin is arguably mastering pronunciation. Mandarin has four main tones and a neutral tone. Each of these can change the meaning of a word, making them important in spoken communication.
But they shouldn’t be enough to scare you off learning. While many people claim that learners should master tones before anything else, the truth is that Mandarin is a highly contextual language, and people will understand meaning simply from word order and context. Here’s an example.
The verbs ‘to buy’ and ‘to sell’ look and sound very similar. All that differentiates them aurally is the tone:
"卖" (mài) to sell
"买" (mǎi) to buy
To ask to buy apples, you would say ‘我要买苹果。’ (Wǒ yào mǎi píngguǒ.).
Of course, you could easily mix that up with the verb to sell ‘我要买苹果。’ (Wǒ yào mǎi píngguǒ). But it’s unlikely the fruit shop vendor would get their wallet out because the context makes it clear that they are selling and you are buying the apples.
The same applies in many other situations. So as long as you grasp the basic sounds of the language, you should be able to express yourself and be understood.
It uses Romanized letters to teach characters
Finally, if you’re wondering how on earth your kiddo will learn Chinese characters, we left some clues earlier on in the article. You may have noticed that each pictographic symbol was followed by Romanized letters. This is the phonetic system for teaching the pronunciation of Chinese characters, known as Pinyin.
Pinyin helps learners associate sounds with characters more easily and search for new vocabulary. It’s even used across China to teach Chinese school kids the written language.
Pinyin is gradually phased out in the early years of primary school, but it’s still widely used in dictionaries, on road signs and on the public transport system, so tourists can pronounce metro stops and addresses.
The conclusion? Mandarin is not as difficult as it looks.
Its grammatical simplicity, logical structure, and contextual nature make Mandarin an accessible and rewarding language to learn. So, if you're considering introducing your kiddo to the language, rest assured that you won’t be setting them up for failure.
Did you hear the news? Our StoryDraw course is now available in Mandarin, and it’s the perfect way for young learners to explore the language in a fun, interactive way. Read more about the course here or get in touch to learn more.
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