How hard is Mandarin to learn for an English speaker? - Mothering Forums

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#1 of 25 Old 09-03-2010, 12:51 AM - Thread Starter
 
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Hi all - I'm really good at languages...Romance languages (French, Spanish, Italian, etc.), and even a few unrelated ones (Japanese)...I live in an area with a very high mainland CHinese immigrant rate, and most of the kids speak Mandarin (and moms). I was wondering if anyone studied Mandarin as an adult, and how hard it is. I took Cantonese and had difficulty with the tones and some pronounciations.

Is it doable?
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#2 of 25 Old 09-03-2010, 01:24 AM
 
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I just heard this person interviewed on the radio yesterday and it was one of those stories I sat in my car to hear the end of even though I was home. :-)

http://www.amazon.com/Dreaming-Chine.../dp/0802779131

7yo: "Mom,I know which man is on a quarter and which on is on a nickel. They both have ponytails, but one man has a collar and the other man is naked. The naked man was our first president."
 
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#3 of 25 Old 09-03-2010, 02:08 AM
 
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I'm trying to learn mandarin with my kids. It seems pretty easy to pick up on for them. And definitely understanding it is easier than matching the tones when speaking. I am not sure I'll ever attempt to read and write the language.

Bri helpmeet to Chaise mama to K(2/07)  M(3/09) & A(2/11)

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#4 of 25 Old 09-03-2010, 02:40 AM
 
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I think it's doable, at least to get to a point where you can say basic things. I studied Mandarin for 2 months in China, then for a year in college. This was over 20 years ago. I've tried to pick it back up this past year and I felt like I made progress. Unlike my husband who prefers to go with a single source, I like using a lot of different things. So I used Fluenz software, some Pimsleur CDs I bought a number of years ago, and Teach Yourself Chinese book which I bought around the same time. Plus I looked over some of the stuff I used 23 years ago, but that doesn't seem as useful now because a lot of it was taught in the classroom.

I know a lot of people like Chinese Pod, and I signed up on the website, but I find it a bit confusing. Supposedly all the beginning lessons are free and you have to pay for the more advanced lessons, but I can't find but a few free lessons. I think you can pay by the month if you want to try it out. I downloaded the iPhone app and got a few free lessons that way.

My library has something called Instant Immersion for several languages, including Mandarin, available as an audio download, so you might want to see what you can find at your library.
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#5 of 25 Old 09-03-2010, 08:18 PM
 
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Yes, it's doable!

But it's very hard.

I have been studying Mandarin for years now, ever since living in Taiwan for 2 and half years. I've got a year left before I finish a dual degree in Chinese and Spanish. I have also studied French and Portuguese so, like you, I LOVE languages. Not surprisingly, though (because English is so much more closely related to those Romance languages than to Chinese), Chinese has proven MUCH more difficult to master than Spanish has been (not that I have mastered any of them!).

Especially if you learn to read and write--because it's that much more time and effort learning what is basically a separate skill from speaking. However, I highly recommend learning to read and write because I think it's soooo rewarding and does, in fact, really enhance your understanding of and appreciation for the language.

Whenever people marvel at how hard it must be to study Chinese, I say it's like anything else: if you stick with it and study hard--of course it can be done! Sometimes I feel really discouraged, like I'll never ever get to the level that I want to be at. And other times, sitting in a class where the teacher is speaking in nothing but Mandarin and having whole conversations in Mandarin, or reading books in Chinese...and remember how I started learning as an adult with ZERO knowledge of the language...I am amazed and inspired and motivated to keep plugging away at it.

Good luck, and I hope you love it! Chinese is the first language that I really fell in love with.

Mama to a beautiful girl since May 2007 and a beautiful boy since August 2010! :
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#6 of 25 Old 09-03-2010, 08:20 PM
 
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Ah: Also wanted to note that living in Taiwan, and now studying Chinese formally at a university, I have met a LOT of Westerners (primarily native English speakers) who are totally fluent in Chinese. ALL of them started studying it as adults.

Mama to a beautiful girl since May 2007 and a beautiful boy since August 2010! :
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#7 of 25 Old 09-04-2010, 12:04 AM - Thread Starter
 
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Thank you everyone! I read all of your links and stories with great interest - it confirms what I think: doable, but extremely challenging.

Side note, I also have a special love...er...fetish..for scripts/alphabets. I self learned Arabic and Inuit, studied Sanskrit in Uni, and did a Cantonese course once and learned many characters...I hope I'm up for the challenge!
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#8 of 25 Old 09-04-2010, 10:03 PM
 
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It is very hard (particularly getting the tones correct), with reading being an exceptionally difficult challenge.

The great thing is that with a lot of native Mandarin speakers, you will never have trouble finding someone to help you practice. I live in Vancouver, BC, and when I was learning Mandarin, it was very easy to find a conversation partner. An English/Mandarin exchange is a smart idea.
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#9 of 25 Old 09-05-2010, 09:32 PM - Thread Starter
 
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Alis - I live there too...it won't be too hard to find an exchange partner. Craigslist, here I come I just looked at the local Continuing Ed calender and lots of Mandarin classes for native English speakers
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#10 of 25 Old 09-05-2010, 09:35 PM
 
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I started learning Mandarin as a pre-teen and NEVER have really gotten fluent, but I hear from adults that the speaking part is pretty easy and the reading and writing is hard. If you know some characters via Cantonese, though, that should help.
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#11 of 25 Old 09-05-2010, 09:44 PM - Thread Starter
 
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I think my goal is proficiency at a basic conversational level (salutations, weather, ordering food).

I bought my daughters some books on Japanese and Chinese characters - the way they teach them to kids is fabulous: they convert the character into a picture to help you remember both the sound and the actual pictogram. It's because of that that I still remember a bunch of them, enough to sound out a simple sign.
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#12 of 25 Old 09-05-2010, 09:54 PM
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My cousin (English speaking since birth) got his PhD in Mandarin.

"Our task is not to see the future, but to enable it."
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#13 of 25 Old 09-05-2010, 10:20 PM
 
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My step-brother tried to convince me that it was easy when we saw him this summer, but I think that he has more of a knack for languages than he realizes. He moved to Taiwan for about two years and married a Taiwanese woman. He feels that it has been harder for her to learn English (they've been back in the states for some time now) than it was for him to learn Mandarin.

His reasoning was that there is no conjugation of verbs in Chinese so going from that to English is real shift in mentality. He felt that the speaking part was a lot easier than the writing & reading part. He was pretty fluent within 6 months or so and he went there speaking just a little Chinese from the way he tells it. I imagine that immersion like that would encourage quicker fluency, though.

Like others have said, he and his wife both feel that the tones are the hardest part for native English speakers. I gather that the same sound in different tones can mean something radically different.
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#14 of 25 Old 09-06-2010, 03:40 AM
 
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Cascadian View Post
Hi all - I'm really good at languages...Romance languages (French, Spanish, Italian, etc.), and even a few unrelated ones (Japanese)...I live in an area with a very high mainland CHinese immigrant rate, and most of the kids speak Mandarin (and moms). I was wondering if anyone studied Mandarin as an adult, and how hard it is. I took Cantonese and had difficulty with the tones and some pronounciations.

Is it doable?
Yes, it's doable!

But you have to forget Cantonese for the moment, because if you study Cantonese and Mandarin at the same time, you may mixed up the Cantonese with Mandarin. Mandarin is easier to learn than Cantonese, while Mandarin is the national language of China and Cantonese is a dialect only.

I found the following book on amazon.com is very helpful to learn the Chinese characters.
Learning Chinese The Easy Way ISBN: 1419686119

;-)
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#15 of 25 Old 09-08-2010, 02:41 AM
 
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I studied Mandarin for 3 years in college & lived in Taiwan for almost a year and now live in Hong Kong. I had previously studied French and Latin in high school. In grad school I studied German for reading purposes for two semesters.

Learning spoken Mandarin is not that hard. I started to really recognize the tones in my second or third week. Even after all these years, I am reasonably conversational. For me, the hardest part was the reading and writing.

So, if you just want to learn to speak basic Mandarin, I would say it's harder for an Native English speaker than French or Spanish, but easier than German.

Less than half the tones of Cantonese (which I am still poor at and make silly and stupid tonal mistakes after all these years)!
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#16 of 25 Old 09-08-2010, 10:36 AM
 
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I studied Mandarin during and after college, including stints in mainland China and Taiwan. I also studied spanish for about 6 years and was an exchange student in South America. I think spoken Mandarin is easier than spoken Spanish, especially if you aren't a perfectionist but rather just trying to get a point across. I still have dreams in Chinese, btw . GL!
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#17 of 25 Old 09-08-2010, 11:14 AM
 
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Mandarin is considered one of the most difficult languages for English speakers to master, along with Japanese, Cantonese, Korean and Arabic. Of course it's possible, but it's tough.

I've studied it on and off using different methods. I haven't gotten terribly far, but the best resource I found are the Pimsleur CDs.
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#18 of 25 Old 09-08-2010, 05:46 PM - Thread Starter
 
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Where I live, it's pretty much Mandarin immersion...seriously!!! Thanks again gals for the experiences - VERY helpful!
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#19 of 25 Old 09-08-2010, 05:55 PM
 
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I'm hearing impaired, so it's not as easy for me to learn spoken languages. I thought learning to write the characters was quite do-able for me, though I can certainly see the advantages of the phonetic alphabet. The tones are hard for me, I have to admit. Years later, I can remember many words but not the tones, so I would have to speak very flatly or risk saying the word in the absolute wrong tone. I never gained fluency, though years later (with no practice in between) I was able to use what I knew during a trip to China for a few necessary items, like finding the exit in one place, and ordering a pizza in another place. I wasn't even conversational, but I remembered enough words and sentences to get by with "baby talk" (again, it had been years since I studied it, so I forgot most of it). If you have a flair for languages, and if I, a hearing impaired person, could study it, I'm sure you'll be fine.

Homeschooling mama to 6 year old DD.

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#20 of 25 Old 09-09-2010, 12:35 AM
 
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I used the Chinese Learn Online Podcast for a while: http://www.chineselearnonline.com/about/how-to-use/

I got up to about lesson 30, and I thought it was going all right.

You CAN download more than the initial lessons, for free, but you have to do it one at a time. (To bulk download, you need to pay.) I usually downloaded in groups of five or ten, for use in the car the next week or two.

I didn't test my skills against a native speaker, but I have also checked out a CD of Mandarin lullabies from the library, and was startled to find myself comprehending some of the words.

Unitarian Universalist Pagan
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#21 of 25 Old 09-15-2010, 04:48 PM
 
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Quote:
Originally Posted by laohaire View Post
I'm hearing impaired, so it's not as easy for me to learn spoken languages. I thought learning to write the characters was quite do-able for me, though I can certainly see the advantages of the phonetic alphabet. The tones are hard for me, I have to admit. Years later, I can remember many words but not the tones, so I would have to speak very flatly or risk saying the word in the absolute wrong tone. I never gained fluency, though years later (with no practice in between) I was able to use what I knew during a trip to China for a few necessary items, like finding the exit in one place, and ordering a pizza in another place. I wasn't even conversational, but I remembered enough words and sentences to get by with "baby talk" (again, it had been years since I studied it, so I forgot most of it). If you have a flair for languages, and if I, a hearing impaired person, could study it, I'm sure you'll be fine.
Your experience is very interesting!
You may like to read this book one day.
Learning Chinese The Easy Way ISBN: 1419686119

;-)
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#22 of 25 Old 12-18-2010, 04:06 PM
 
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That helps that you are good at learning languages.

I'm terrible at learning languages and I grew up with Asian parents whose second language was Mandarin (first language Taiwanese) and I went to Chinese school while I was in elementary school and middle school and still could not pick up on it. Granted, my parents mostly spoke English to me (or Taiwanese) while growing up. At this point, I had pretty much given up on learning another language until I went to high school and took Spanish for 4 years...so if you are immersed in an environment where you have to practice and need to practice to communicate or get by, it should be doable as an adult, good luck!


Mom to DD1 02/07, DD2 03/09 and expecting LO#3 01/12

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#23 of 25 Old 12-19-2010, 06:18 PM
 
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I'm a native English speaker and speak relatively fluent Mandarin. I studied it for  3 years in college and then for a semester in China, and I moved to China after I graduated and have been living here for 8 years. I didn't become fluent-ish probably until I'd been living in China for about 3 years. I do have a knack for languages and pick them up very quickly in general. I know lots of foreigners living in China who have very good Chinese skills, but I also know probably at least as many who have lived here for years and can barely order food or take a taxi using Chinese. I think it comes down to whether or not you have an ear for language and are willing to invest the time and energy it takes to really learn something properly.

 

People always talk about how hard Mandarin is, but spoken Mandarin is not actually that difficult (aside from the tones). The grammar is very straightforward and sentence structure is similar to English (S+V+O). There's no verb conjugation and tenses are usually formed by throwing in contextual words rather than changing verbs and such. Unlike say, Japanese, there are no formal/informal language forms. The tones can be difficult for speakers of non-tonal languages but the good news is that even if you mangle the tones, Mandarin speakers will be able to understand you because context clues are more important than tonal accuracy when you're actually having a conversation. If you're saying words in isolation then the tones can mess you up, but if you're speaking in sentences people will usually figure out what you're trying to say through context.

 

The writing system is another story, but learning how to read and recognize characters is a lot easier than remembering how to write them. I rarely need to hand-write in Chinese these days anyhow and when you type you basically just need to be able to recognize the character you need -- much easier than producing it by hand from scratch!

 

Good luck, Chinese is a great language and learning it can be a lot of fun. thumb.gif


: Mom to DS (10/29/07) and DD (12/1/09). Visit my blog in my profile to read about our lives in Beijing!
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#24 of 25 Old 12-28-2010, 06:57 AM
 
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I studied Mandarin over 20 years ago in college.  At the time, there were not a lot of resources here--and all of our books came from the PRC.

 

Having studied French, German, and Italian, the good things about Mandarin are everything is gender neutral (no le, la, der, die, das, etc.)  You really don't have to conjugate verbs, etc.  Instead you simply add a character which designates tense--although spoken, it's the same.

 

The bad thing is the tones.  Four tones in Mandarin...and there's a famous story using Shi with the various tones all about 10 lions, etc.  The tones are crucial--and to me, were difficult to get exactly right.


Mom to DS(8), DS(6), DD(4), and DS(1).  "Kids do as well as they can."

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#25 of 25 Old 02-04-2011, 01:43 PM - Thread Starter
 
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Just bumping this thread to say...youtube is a wonderful, wonderful thing!!! There are so many beginner Mandarin lessons, with umpteen different teaching styles. I'm focussing on functional convo, not characters...it's awesome! I also set up a coffee date with a Mandarin mama...let the learning begin :)

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