Which one is more difficult to learn, English or Chinese?

Of course, they are two of the greatest languages in the world. One exerts the most powerful synchronic influence over the face of the Planet. The other, on the contrary, is the strongest diachronic language. It’s been weaving together the history of a single largest country in population and later its much smaller neighbors since its first emperor froze the writing system of the language for the first time when the country proper came into being in A.D. 221.

Which one is more difficult for a foreign learner to learn to speak and write? I believe it is Chinese. Someone has jokingly commented that one needs three months to learn good English, three years to master French and at least thirty years to be proficient in German. As I see it, he has to double his efforts he has put in tackling German to speak and write good Chinese, and those foreigners who manage to speak and write good Chinese must be geniuses.

Does this sound a little too exaggerated? I believe not.

For one thing, most native Chinese speakers (e.g. me) find it hard to word things in decent Chinese because they have long been isolated from the traditionally accepted and correct way of expressing themselves in writing and do not know what rules to follow in their doing so. When it comes to foreigners learning Chinese, they have to first find decently and elegantly worded Chinese texts and use them as models. In everyday life in China, they may find that good Chinese writings are in short supply. It seems to me that the correct, smooth and natural tradition of wording Chinese texts was broken somewhere (during the Great Cultural Revolution?) so that its modern speakers are at a loss to know how to write their language.

For example, earlier dated writings, more often than not, sound too old-fashioned, especially those written before 1949, and even before 1978. You can easily come across badly written news reports, government documents, corporate files, etc. Experts, or rather those of at least writing good Chinese, are hard to come by these days, I have to say.

For another, as far as I know, no complete and generally agreed-upon Chinese grammar system has been established out of the language and the current system, if it is one, is believed to be a poor relation of its Western counterparts.

4 thoughts on “Which one is more difficult to learn, English or Chinese?”

  1. I think chinese grammar in some ways reflects the essence & form of chinese culture … it is … as what you said … no exact rules to follow … but depends greatly on inspirations … look at the tradional chinese paintings or chinese cuisine … seldom does anybody uses a cookbook as instructor (ha sounds mysterious ^^ ) ..and it is really a task to well master it … !! … but as long as one has interest … and with efforts … he will make it !!!

  2. Actually ,as we are chinese ,we know the difficulties in writing good chinese while we may lack the real sense of how hard to write an English text beleived to be excellent even brilliant .The standard is different between the natives and foreigners ,and to know the standard of good English is the first thing for foreing learners .

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