Readers’ Blog

So You Want to Learn Mandarin Chinese?

Popularity 9Viewed 4920 times 2015-11-9 11:35 |System category:Life| Chinese

Hello again China Daily Blog! So much has happened since my last post here when I was a language student in Shanghai. After I returned back home to Canada after a semester of study, I went abroad to Brazil, finished my undergraduate degree and had another chance to study in Beijing this summer! Recently, I had been thinking of blogging again and have created a new blog under Blogger. This blogging platform is not accessible in China as it runs under Google. So I will post all my China related material in this blog in hopes of meeting new online users and re-establishing that fun experience I had nearly two years ago. Here is a recentlpost I wrote on learning Chinese. (edit, many of the sources I used in this post are not accessible in China, please message me directly if you are interested in obtaining the urls)

According to this info graph from Business Insider's article The Easiest And Most Difficult Languages for English Speakers to Learn, Chinese is one of the most difficult languages for native English speakers to learn. The reason to why it is so difficult is due to the tonal characteristics of the language; the meaning of a word changes with different tones. In addition, there is an overwhelming number of characters to learn, According to BBC, there are over 50,000 Chinese characters, with a comprehensive modern dictionary rarely listing over 20,000 in use. An educated Chinese person would know roughly 8,000 characters, but one would only need a comprehensive knowledge of 2-3,000 characters to be able to read a newspaper. However, I find that not to be the case, as characters can be used together to form a new word with a new meaning. Despite the difficulty of learning this language, many people nowadays are becoming increasingly interested in taking up Chinese. There are many reasons for this trend, and depending on your geographical location, your interests and your career, you may understand why this is the case.

Source: Business Insider

Chinese is the #1 most spoken language in the world

According statistics, there are about 1.2 billion Chinese speakers in the world (including various Chinese dialects), with English trailing at position three with 3.4 million speakers.  Although the majority of the speakers are concentrated in one country, there is a high chance that there would be other Chinese speakers, weather they be tourists or locals wherever you go. 

China’s booming economy

The news that China has surpassed the US as the largest world economy has made headlines late 2014, causing quite a stir in economic and business circles. Although quite controversial, the powerful presence of China in today’s economy is not new news. According to Business Insider, the GDP of China is expected to surpass the US by 2026. Consequently, the rising presence of China’s economic power has lead to an interest by many businessmen likewise, in learning the country’s official language. 

Source: Business Insider

The widespread use of Chinese as an alternative language

Popular Chinese travel destinations, retail stores, supermarkets and airports now display signs written in Chinese as an alternative language. Airports such as JFK in New York, SEA in Seattle, YVR in Vancouver receive a high traffic of Chinese visitors and display signs with Chinese translations. Places in Thailand welcome Chinese tourists, with Patong Beach in Phuket, Thailand offering special discounts for souvenirs, restaurants, hotels and travel packages solely for Chinese tourists. Bangkok store owners call out Chinese phrases to promote their businesses. In Korea, some sales associates would speak to me in Mandarin. In my hometown of Victoria, Canada, a Tommy Hilfiger retail store displayed signs in English and Chinese.

The increasing number Chinese business people investing and establishing business around the world. 

The recent opening of China's economy has seen the country creating business ties with various countries. Cities such as Vancouver, Toronto, Canada, and Melbourne, Australia, New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco, U.S, have been experiencing a large increase of Chinese immigrants, businesses and investors within the past few decades.According to CBC news, China has overtaken Canada as U.S largest's trading partner. With news relating to my hometown, the Times Colonist recently reported Viking Air in partnering with a Chinese company in manufacturing as many as 200 Twin Otter airplanes within the next two decades. 

The alluring lifestyle as a language student/ working expat in Shanghai or Beijing

Glamorous nightclubs, cheap ethnic food, shopping paradises, towering skyscrapers, rowdy foreigner bars, scenic field trips and adventurous travels. The lavish pictures of the life of a Chinese language student or working expat posted on social media can make anyone turn green with envy.

Beijing- Houhai

Shanghai- Bar Rouge

Xi-an- rou jia mo (Chinese hamburger)


Shanghai- late night street food

Beijing Great Wall- Music Festival

However, the journey in learning Chinese isn’t by far the easiest path to take. It is definitely not like learning French, Spanish, Portuguese or any Latin based languages. According to the Business Insider info graph mentioned at the beginning of this post, it takes 2,200 class hours, 1.69 years or 88 weeks to achieve language proficiency. However, I believe that number is a bit too enthusiastic and is probably based on someone who is practicing on a daily basis on reading, writing, speaking and listening. Or, they are already immersed in the language, working or studying in China. Even as an overseas born ethnic Chinese who speaks primarily Cantonese at home, I still struggle with learning Mandarin Chinese. Stayed tuned, as in the next post I will touch base on the struggles of learning Chinese and what resources a Chinese language learner can use to facilitate and accelerate their learning. 

(Opinions of the writer in this blog don't represent those of China Daily.)




Shake hands


Friends who just made a statement (4 Person)

Like 0 Share


Comment Comment (9 comments)

Currently, only the comments that relate to your operation are displayedClick here to view all the comments
Reply Report teamkrejados 2015-11-15 09:19
China is a huge country, full of things to see and do! It's unfair to only mention life in Beijing and Shanghai    
Otherwise, great post!

facelist doodle Doodle board

You need to login to comment Login | register


Jessica is a Chinese language student and has been staying in Shanghai since February 2014.


Recent comments

  • So You Want to Learn Mandarin Chinese? 2015-11-15 09:19

    China is a huge country, full of things to see and do! It's unfair to only mention life in Beijing and Shanghai    
    Otherwise, great post!

  • So You Want to Learn Mandarin Chinese? 2015-11-11 16:43

    jsylam: Hi kkkkkiko,

    Thanks for the comment! I have encountered many people who tell me that they learned English by watching English movies and TV shows. It ...
    thank you

Star blogger










Most commented

Egg, pork and mask



Contact us:Tel: (86)010-84883548, Email:
Blog announcement:| We reserve the right, and you authorize us, to use content, including words, photos and videos, which you provide to our blog
platform, for non-profit purposes on China Daily media, comprising newspaper, website, iPad and other social media accounts.