Yes, I know, How could a language with over 20,000 scary looking characters in the modern dictionary, be an easy language to learn?! Well, multiple reasons.
First of all, one doesn’t need to learn all of those characters. For example, to read a Chinese newspaper, one only needs to know about 2000–3000 characters. For example, the official HSK (Hanyu Shuiping Kaoshi or the Chinese proficiency test) which tests your language level, tests around 2965 characters for the advanced level.
But there are reasons beyond that.
There are simply much less grammatical rules/formations to learn in Chinese.
- Chinese doesn’t have inflections regarding tense, aspect, voice, gender, number and cases: If you have ever learned any other language, you know how big a deal that actually is. What this basically means for you is the following:
- You don’t have to learn different forms/characters for a verb, irrespective of whether it was performed in the past, present or the future. There is only one form.
- You don’t have to learn different forms/characters for a verb, depending upon whether it is performed in 1st/2nd/3rd person(I, You, He/She/It). There is only one form.
- You don’t have to learn different forms of an adjective based on the noun it is modifying, like in the European languages. There is only one form.
- You don’t have to learn the genders for nouns, like in the European languages, since there just aren’t any.
- There is no change in the verb form based on in which “mood” it is spoken. So no need to learn separate verb forms when used in conditional, imperative, subjunctive or other moods (A big pain point in languages like Spanish).
- Many many grammatical rules that you don’t have to learn.
To summarise, you don’t have to learn massive tables for each verb (Here is an example of the conjugations of the Spanish verb estar, to show you what you are gladly avoiding). And that’s just the verbs.
The same follows for adjectives, plural formation etc. There are simply much less rules/formations to grammatically learn in Chinese. So you can pretty much master Chinese “simply” by learning the characters and their pronunciations. Other than a few rules around the sentence structure, grammatically it’s a pretty smooth ride!
- Chinese has the same word order as English: Chinese uses the same word order SVO (Subject-Verb-Object) as English. Thus for an english native or for someone who is fluent in English, it is an easier language to learn than say Korean or Japanese, since they use SOV (Subject-Object-Verb).
close door, wind blows
- Chinese is one of the most flexible languages : Chinese relies heavily on function words and word order. For example (extracted from here), when you say “Close the door, or not the wind will blow into the room”, if we use Chinese it’s “闭上门 风要吹到房里” if we shorten it to the extreme, it can be shortened to “闭门 风吹” (close door, wind blows). Now you might say, one could clearly also do that in English and understand the meaning. But in English, the sentence is grammatically incorrect, whereas in Chinese, grammatically it has nothing wrong!
火车 — ‘fire vehicle’
- Once you learn some characters, it’s easier to form words: Chinese is a modular language. One of the most common examples of that is combination of fire 火 and vehicle 车 which forms 火车 — ‘fire vehicle’ otherwise known as train.
Let everyone take care of their own affairs
- Most Chinese words are two characters long and majority of characters have a rather small pronunciation: As you can see in the following example (Translation: Let everyone take care of their own affairs), each Chinese character has a rather small pronunciation, with 2–3 English character in each. This is not the exception, rather the norm. Compare that to learning Russian where each new word feels like an essay, for e.g. здороваться is Hello!
- Chinese is compose of radicals, thus some characters look very similar: All Chinese characters are compose of 214 “radicals” or shapes. This leads to a lot of characters looking quite similar. Depending upon your memoization techniques, this can be a great thing or sometimes an awfully confusing thing! For example:
Well that’s pretty much it. While the title can feel like a bit of an exaggeration, I do believe that if you are choosing to learn a new language, Mandarin could be a great choice, especially if you don’t like learning a lot of grammar rules. In addition, learning these characters can be “fun”. If you target 7–8 characters a day, you’ll be looking at advanced level in a year’s time.
Now if I was able to encourage you to give Mandarin a try or if you learned a tidbit, as Jeb Bush once said, Please clap!