“I think Chinese is difficult but not that difficult to learn,” said a French user of Zhihu, the Chinese version of Quora. This answer to the Zhihu question: “Is Chinese a hard language for foreigners to learn?” was agreed by 7,275 users, perhaps many of whom are foreign learners.
Though admitting that Chinese is “not that difficult” to learn, PetitFancy, whose Zhihu profile indicates that he is a wine industry insider from France, said his handwriting is terrible even now.
The biggest challenge for him is that Chinese belongs to a totally different language system, and the language and thinking habits of Chinese speakers differ from that of Europeans.
Pronunciation is hard for foreigners, PetitFancy said, recalling how a class of 30 shrunk to only one student (himself) in one semester, even though the teacher was a sinologist and sometimes used English, German, and French to teach them.
“We felt greetings and numbers were not hard to learn and were confident to move on with the rest of the study. But when it came to the four tones, some of us quit, wondering what kind of intelligent brain was needed to learn and use these complex tones.”
The French man said he was the only one in his class to make it to the end of the semester, and the “bonus” for his perseverance was to get to go to the teacher’s place to learn.
PetitFancy said the environment to speak Chinese should be improved, because except from his teacher, nobody would talk to him in Chinese, even when he was in China.
Chinese textbooks are also expensive. A book priced at 38 yuan (€4.9) in China is sold for €40 in Europe, putting more pressure on him to learn the foreign language well.
PetitFancy said he finds pleasure in learning Chinese. The grammar is really easy, he said, but admitted that there are lots of idioms that are ill-formed sentences and take time to master.
He said Chinese people are always ready to help, even though he speaks broken Chinese sentences, and they praise and encourage him, while a lot of people in Western Europe take it for granted that Asians can speak their languages.
PetitFancy agreed that the more efforts you put into Chinese study, the more progress you will make. For instance, he once read phases of Jing Ye Si (Thoughts on A Quiet Night) by famous poet Li Bai (701-762) for several thousand times before he was finally able to recite the poem.
A Finnish girl said there are countless Chinese characters, making memorization difficult. For beginners, they could easily find that instead of writing, they are drawing Chinese characters.
She suggests that when learning a Chinese character to begin with its shape, pronunciation, and meaning. She said that even native Chinese sometimes forget how to write a character if it hasn’t been written on paper for a very long time.