9 Surprising Reasons That Learning Mandarin Isn’t Nearly As Hard As You Think

How Hard is it to Learn Mandarin? Not Hard At All! Here’s 9 Reasons Why…

“OMG, Chinese is so hard!”

“Reading Chinese looks impossible!”

“Wow, you’re learning Chinese? You must be so smart!”

Sound familiar?

Chinese has developed quite the reputation for being one of, if not the hardest language in the world.

This isn’t entirely unjustified- at first glance, the characters can seem mind-boggling and the tonal speech entirely unfamiliar.

⚠️ Not to mention, the US government ranks Mandarin Chinese as a “super-hard language” for native English speakers to learn.

But it’s not all doom and gloom!

In fact, in terms of grammar, sentence structure and vocabulary, Mandarin is extremely straightforward.

So here’s 9 reasons why learning Mandarin Chinese isn’t as hard as you think!

How Hard is it to Learn Mandarin? || Pinyin

How Hard is it to Learn Mandarin? || Similar Sentence Structure

How Hard is it to Learn Mandarin? || No Verb Conjugation

How Hard is it to Learn Mandarin? || Nouns Never Change

How Hard is it to Learn Mandarin? || Systematic Characters

How Hard is it to Learn Mandarin? || Word Formation

How Hard is it to Learn Mandarin? || Language Learning Curve

How Hard is it to Learn Mandarin? || Loan Words

How Hard is it to Learn Mandarin? || Fun-Filled Community

How Hard is it to Learn Mandarin? || FAQs

Here’s our student Austin talking about learning Chinese – in Chinese!

How Hard is it to Learn Mandarin? || Pinyin

A lot of students want to learn Mandarin so they can chat with their Chinese friends, watch Chinese movies, discuss work with colleagues or even just get through daily tasks like ordering a sandwich at Subway.

What’s one thing these tasks all have in common? 

They all rely on speaking and listening.

Chinese characters are a significant reason that the language is considered so difficult. To simply read a newspaper it’s estimated you’ll need 2,000-3,000 characters.

With so many characters to learn, not to mention radicals and stroke order, many students end up pouring hours and hours into learning to read and write.

Whilst these skills are certainly important, there is a shortcut.

Introducing: pinyin.

👉 Pinyin, or 拼音 (pīn yīn) is a system that uses the Roman alphabet to represent the sounds of Mandarin Chinese, aiding pronunciation and language learning for non-native speakers.

For example, the pinyin for the characters 你好 (hello) is: nǐ hǎo.

You might notice it’s not the exact same as English characters, the squiggly lines above the i and a show the tones of the word.

However, once you’ve learned the tones (there’s only 4!) you’ll be able to learn Mandarin at top speed using only English letters.

Nowadays, Chinese children all learn this system in school when they begin learning characters, so if you need to write down a word in China, you could probably get away with writing down the pinyin version.

Most textbooks (certainly at the beginner level) incorporate pinyin and graded readers now offer both character and pinyin options, meaning your study material options are pretty vast.

For students who want to focus purely on spoken Chinese, pinyin offers a fantastic shortcut.

Want to get a head start on reading pinyin? Watch this video!

How Hard is it to Learn Mandarin? || Similar Sentence Structure

When learning a new language, you might not only have to learn new words and pronunciation, you may also have to totally overwrite the way you build sentences in your mind.

English uses the SVO structure (subject-verb-object), which you can see in this sentence:

He (subject) eats (verb) bread (object).

However, learners of languages like Japanese and Korean will have to adapt to a whole new sentence structure that uses SOV (subject-object-verb). For example:


Kare wa pan o tabemasu

Or, in grammatical terms:

彼は (he; subject) パンを (bread; object) 食べます (eats; verb)

Bit of a tough one to get your head around right?

Luckily, you don’t need to worry about sentence structure in Chinese at all!

Just like English, Chinese follows a SVO pattern.

Let’s take a look at some examples:

他吃面包 Tā chī miànbāo

(he; subject) (eats; verb) 面包 (bread; object)

我买一本书 Wǒ mǎi yī běn shū

(I; subject) (buy; verb) 一本书 (a book; object)

妈妈去公园 Māmā qù gōngyuán

妈妈 (Mom; subject) (goes to; verb) 公园 (the park; object)

This means that when you’re learning Mandarin Chinese, you’ll have one less thing to juggle in your mind!

Countries That Speak Chinese // + The Best Place to Study Thumbnail

Countries That Speak Chinese // + The Best Place to Study

Chinese is the language with the most native speakers in the world with over 1.3 billion native speakers. Check out all the countries that speak Chinese!

How Hard is it to Learn Mandarin? || No Verb Conjugation

“European languages are so much easier than Chinese!”

We’ve heard this time and time again and in counter-argument we just have two words: verb conjugation.

In Spanish, there’s 16 ways to conjugate a verb and in French there’s a whopping 21 verb tenses to wrap your head around.

And in Chinese? There is no verb conjugation.

For example:

I eat 我chī

She eats 她chī

You speak 你shuō

He speaks 他shuō

Even for the verb ‘to be’, you simply would use 是

I am 我shì

You are 你shì

She is 她shì

👉 This means you only have to learn a verb once before you can start applying it in lots of sentences with changing subjects.

There are some ways of talking about the past and future, however this includes the addition of extra words and the verb itself does not change, for example:

I eat 我chī

I will eat 我会 wǒ huì chī

I ate 我了 wǒ chī le

I have eaten 我过 wǒ chī guò

Is Chinese (Really) Becoming The Language of the Future? Thumbnail

Is Chinese (Really) Becoming The Language of the Future?

Language is a wonderful thing. It opens new doors to friends, cultures and food. But what really is the language of the future? We reveal all.

How Hard is it to Learn Mandarin? || Nouns Never Change

Masculine and feminine? Singular and plural? In Chinese, you won’t have to deal with any of these.

Welcome to the world of noun simplicity!

In Mandarin, nouns aren’t altered with the gender or number.

For example, in German, a male friend is Freund and a female friend is Freundin.

In Chinese, a male friend is 朋友 (péngyǒu) and a female friend is also 朋友 (péngyǒu).

In English, the singular for man’s best friend is dog and the plural is dogs, in Chinese, ‘dog’ is 狗 and ‘dogs’ is also 狗.

You will have to learn measure words, which are similar to ‘a slice of bread’ or ‘a cup of coffee’ in English, but are much more extensive in Mandarin.

However, the nouns themselves remain the same. 

So, no matter how many of something you have, the noun won’t change.

How Hard is it to Learn Mandarin? || Systematic Characters

Chinese characters can seem very intimidating. 

For one thing, there’s a whole lot more than the 26 letters that comprise the English alphabet. There’s actually over 100,000 characters.

However, most native Chinese speakers no nowhere near this number and most high school leavers can recognize about 4,500 characters.

The important thing to know about characters is that they’re not just a bunch of squiggly lines on a page: they’re actually very systematically constructed using a series of radicals.

👉 Radicals are element used as building blocks to create more complex characters and are often found in the character’s left, right, or top positions.

Radicals provide clues about the character’s meaning or pronunciation.

Here’s another example of the ‘hand’ radical!

For example, the radical 氵represents water and can be found in characters such as:

河 hé (n. river)

海, hǎi (n. sea)

流 liú (v. to flow).

Understanding radicals can assist in deciphering characters and learning their meanings.

Many characters include a phonetic radical, meaning that even though you may not have seen a character before, you may be able to hazard a guess to its pronunciation based on the radicals used to make up the word.

For instance, the radical 青 qīng appears on the right side of each of the following characters and indicates the pronunciation:

情 qíng (n. feeling)

清 qīng (adj. clear)

请 qǐng (v. to request)

Once you have learned the basic radicals and their meanings and pronunciation, you’ll really be able to make leaps and bounds in your Mandarin progress.

How Hard is it to Learn Mandarin? || Word Formation

So now that you know that characters are written in a very systematic way, it may be no surprise to learn that words are also formed using similar building-block logic.

Here’s 6 examples of Chinese words made up of two or more characters that make total sense:


电话 (diànhuà)

电 (diàn) – electricity  

话 (huà) – speech, talk


餐厅 (cāntīng)

餐 (cān) – meal  

厅 (tīng) – hall


自行车 (zìxíngchē) 

自 (zì) – self  

行 (xíng) – move, go  

车 (chē) – vehicle


火车 (huǒchē)

火 (huǒ) – fire  

车 (chē) – vehicle


早餐 (zǎocān) – “breakfast”  

早 (zǎo) – morning  

餐 (cān) – meal


大学 (dàxué) – “university”  

大 (dà) – big  

学 (xué) – learn

These are just a few examples, and the Chinese language has many more compound words formed by combining characters to convey specific meanings.

The more you learn, the easier it is to learn, as you’ll have all of these memorized components you just slot together. 

Which leads us on to our next point…

How Hard is it to Learn Mandarin? || Language Learning Curve

The language learning curve refers to how easy a language is to learn over time.

Essentially, this refers to how with some languages are easier in the beginning and harder in the later stages and vice versa.

Let’s take a look at how this compares between Chinese and Japanese in terms of grammar and pronunciation. 

First up, here’s how pronunciation compares:

Image Credits

With Chinese, pronunciation poses a huge initial challenge. There’s the difficult distinction between similar sounds such as x/sh and j/zh, and of course, the tones. 

In Chinese, if you have poor pronunciation and poor grasp of the tones, it’s possible to absolutely butcher a three syllable sentence.

However, you’ll notice after the initial challenge, Chinese gets far easier. Essentially, once you’ve got it, you’ve got it. 

This is the opposite in Japanese, where the initial pronunciation poses no real challenge for English speakers, however grasping native sounding intonation at the advanced level is notoriously difficult. 

Now, let’s take a look at the learning curve for grammar:

Image Credits

For grammar, Chinese is far easier initially than Japanese.

Whilst it’s not entirely true, there’s a reason many people say Chinese simply ‘has no grammar’.

👉 Although, as you’ll see in our Chinese Grammar Bank, there certainly are some grammatical structures you’ll have to understand to reach proficiency.

Of course, if you progress to studying classical Chinese or Chinese literature, you’re going to find some serious grammatical challenges. However, the arts aside, grammar rarely poses a challenge to Chinese language learners.

The initial challenges of Chinese, such as the pronunciation and characters, are often enough to put people off learning the language all together. However, once these difficulties are overcome, it’s smooth sailing!

Moral of the story? As long as you persevere with Chinese beyond the ‘scary stage’ you’ll find the language becomes easier and easier. 

Some insider tips to help you speed that learning up even more!

How Hard is it to Learn Mandarin? || Loan Words

So you might be tempted to learn a European language because the words share a lot of similar vocabulary and you’ll get a head start, right?

You might be surprised to learn that Chinese has several English loan words and vice versa.

You may actually know more Chinese than you realize. Let’s look at some English words that originate from Mandarin:

Typhoon: 台风 táifēng

Tai Chi: 太极 tàijí 

Kung fu: 功夫 gōngfu 

There’s also a whole lot of Mandarin words that originate from English:

咖啡 (kāfēi): coffee

沙发 (shāfā): sofa

巧克力 (qiǎokèlì): chocolate

This is particularly noticeable in brand names.

See if you can guess the brand before you reveal the answer!

可口可乐 (Kě kǒu kě lè)


阿迪达斯 (Ā dí dá sī)


星巴克 (Xīng bā kè)


耐克 (Nài kè)


麦当劳 (Mài dāng láo)


How Hard is it to Learn Mandarin? || Fun-Filled Community

Last, but certainly not least, is the language learning experience- and more specifically, the community around you.

The easiest language in the world can seem impossible if your learning environment and methods are uninspiring.

Luckily for Chinese learners, there’s lots of fun ways you can get involved in learner communities.

Joining a Chinese language learner discord server or taking online Mandarin classes is a great way to stay motivated and find other learners to share learning tips and support with.

There’s also now more apps than ever that can help you learn Chinese from home, such as DuoLingo, Tandem, Language Reactor and more. 

If you’re already in China, joining classes at an LTL school means plenty of social activities and a ready-made Mandarin learning community that will be there to give you advice and encouragement along the way.

Here’s LTL Marketing Manager Max to tell you all about a must-use tool for learning Mandarin!

So hopefully by now, you’ll see that whilst Mandarin Chinese can indeed (like any language) be challenging, there’s also plenty of reasons that show it’s not so hard after all. 

Enthusiasm, good learning materials and perseverance are all you need to succeed!

How Hard is it to Learn Mandarin? || FAQ’s

Can I still learn Chinese effectively online?

Absolutely yes. Although we believe nothing replicates coming to China to learn the language, there is still no doubt learning Chinese online can be done with a solid schedule and motivation to succeed.

You can learn Chinese Online with us 24/7 on our Flexi Classes platform

Is Chinese the hardest language in the world to learn?

As with any good question, there’s no straightforward answer to this! Many factors can impact whether or not you think Mandarin is difficult, including your mother tongue and whether or not you’ve learned other languages before.

Whilst Chinese is usually considered very difficult for native English speakers, in many ways, Mandarin can be very simple, particularly in its grammar. Words and characters are also logically constructed and become easier and easier to learn once you’ve grasped the fundamentals.

Can I learn Chinese on YouTube?

Absolutely, YouTube is a wonderful platform to learn Chinese. You could subscribe to a number of channels and try to absorb as much Chinese as you can.

Can I learn Chinese by watching TV?

Yes, watching TV is a brilliant way to learn any language. We have some great recommendations of Chinese Dramas and Chinese Movies you can watch.

Where should I start if I want to learn Mandarin?

The best place to start learning Chinese is with learning pinyin and pronunciation.

To see the fastest progression in your Mandarin ability, there’s no better option than an immersive Chinese program in China!

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