According to Foreign Service Institute (FSI), Chinese (Mandarin) is one of the hardest languages to learn for English speakers based on the learning duration. It is a Category V language that takes at least 88 weeks to achieve fluency. Though the statistic points out the level of effort required for learning Chinese, you have to go through the same struggle while studying other languages. Mastering a new language is always challenging for learners. So, learning Chinese is no exception.
Differences between Chinese, Cantonese, and Mandarin
If you conduct some research, you will hear the name of Mandarin and Cantonese along with Chinese. Instead of helping, these names can confuse learners if they have no idea about Asian languages. In short, any language spoken in China is called Chinese. But, Chinese has many varieties and dialects.
Mandarin is now the official language of China spoken in most regions of the country. It is also called the standard Chinese which originated from the Beijing dialect. The old form of Mandarin has come from the old Chinese and Middle Chinese. On the other hand, Cantonese is a form of Chinese mostly spoken in Hong Kong, Guangzhou, and its surrounding areas. It originated from Sino-Tibetan, an ancient Chinese branch.
For expressing the accurate meaning, Mandarin speakers generally use five unique tones. However, Cantonese speakers use nine different tones. Cantonese speakers also use more finals than Mandarin speakers.
The writing system of both languages has come from ancient Chinese. But, in the modern writing system, Chinese characters have been simplified. So, you will notice simplified characters in written Mandarin. In contrast, traditional Chinese characters are still used in written Cantonese.
Cantonese and Mandarin have noticeable differences in case of vocabulary and idioms usage. For instance, a car is called 车 (Chē) in Mandarin, and 汽車 (hei3 ce1) in Cantonese.
Moreover, they have many grammatical differences. For example, the structure of a common Mandarin sentence is; subject + verb + indirect object + direct object. But, in Cantonese, the structure will look like this; subject + verb + direct object + indirect object.
Now the question is – can Mandarin and Cantonese speakers talk to and understand each other? The truth is they rarely do despite having many similarities between both languages.
How long does it take to learn Chinese?
Unfortunately, this question has no direct answer because learning a new language differs from person to person. But, we can only talk about the average learning time.
A study from Foreign Service Institute (FSI) says it requires 2200 hours of active learning to achieve proficiency in Chinese (Mandarin). The duration can increase or decrease depending on the relevance of Chinese to your mother language.
Your Chinese fluency can be measured by a Chinese Proficiency Test called Hanyu Shuiping Kaoshi (HSK). This exam has six different levels from HSK1 to HSK6. According to HSK experts, a student has to study 40 hours on average at least to pass level HSK6 which is advanced Chinese proficiency.
How long does it take to get proficiency in Spanish?
Spanish is a Romance language that has many similarities with Germanic languages like English. The alphabets, even many words of Spanish and English are the same because resources of both languages are obtained from Latin. So, English speakers don’t have to struggle a lot to learn Spanish. An FSI study says, English speakers usually take 600 hours to have fluency in Spanish.
How long does it take to get proficiency in Mandarin (standard Chinese)?
Learning Chinese is difficult for English speakers and others who follow the Latin writing system. The ancient root of the Chinese language is Proto-Sino-Tibetan which has no relevance to Germanic languages. That’s why Chinese has entirely different alphabets, vocabulary, and pronunciation which are difficult for English speakers. A study of FSI says, an English speaker usually takes 2200 hours to gain Chinese proficiency.
Mandarin (standard Chinese) is the second most spoken language based on the number of native and non-native speakers. Though it is the hardest language to learn, it is an important language from an economical perspective. You can learn any language effortlessly when you have high-quality resources and a great tutor.
For learning Chinese as an English speaker, you need a tutor who is an expert in both languages. A native Chinese tutor can truly help you learn and practice this language. On AmazingTalker, you will find native Chinese tutors with excellent teaching skills. They will assist you in learning Chinese from basic and improve your reading, writing, and speaking skills gradually.