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Learn Chinese

Chinese is very difficult to learn. Why?

  1. Because the writing system is ridiculous.
  2. Because the language doesn't have the common sense to use an alphabet.
  3. Because the writing system just ain't very phonetic.
  4. Because you can't cheat by using cognates.
  5. Because even looking up a word in the dictionary is complicated.
  6. Because there is simplified AND traditional Chinese
  7. Because there are too many romanization methods and they all suck.
  8. Because tonal languages are weird.
  9. Because east is east and west is west, and the twain have only recently met.

Thanks to for this great list. Visit their site to read the detailed explanation of the list above. Sinosplice also has some great graphs about the difficulty of Chinese compared to Japanese:


So how should you go about learning Chinese?

Obviously it helps when you are staying in China and hear Mandarin Chinese around you. Many foreigners come to China and study Chinese in cities such as Beijing, Shanghai and Shenzhen. Here in Shenzhen it's possible to study Chinese at the Shenzhen University. There are also lots of Chinese private teachers that are glad to help you learn Chinese. Usually you have to pay per hour, but it's also possible to find students interested in language exchange: you teach them English, French, Italian or Spanish and they teach you Chinese. It can be a great way to get in contact with others.


If you don't want to study in a classroom, or perhaps just want some extra resources for studying Chinese outside the classroom, I can recommend the following.



Learn Chinese -

Really by far the best website to learn Chinese. They offer free Chinese MP3 lessons. The lessons are categorized by level: Newbie, Elementary, Intermediate, Upper Intermediate, Advanced. The newbie level is great for people who don't know any Chinese. Besides the free section, they also offer transcriptions of the websites and other valuable tools for learning Chinese. -  Chinese characters and pinyin dictionary

This website has great character recognition software: you can 'write' the character using your mouse, and they will translate it and give you pinyin as well. This is super for learning individual characters - learn Chinese Characters

Like an online Chinese dictionary, good if your level is a bit more advanced.

BBC Learning Chinese

The BBC has some good information for beginners.


Some other great resources to help you learn Chinese:

Chinese 2.0 - How to Learn Chinese Online

ChineseSavvy - Learn Chinese, Be Savvy

Confucius Institute (



I also use a series of books called 'Learning Chinese Characters from Ms. Zhang '. I really like this series, because the origin of most characters is explained. For example for the character 'big' in Chinese (da, 大) they show a big man standing with his arms and legs wide apart. This makes it much easier to remember the character. The books are also not expensive at all, around 33Y/piece. It is printed by the 'Beijing Language And Culture University Press '.

Besides those books, I also really like my Lonely Planet Mandarin Phrase Book. The main advantage is the small size, so you can really take it everywhere you go and many useful sentences. It also contains some background information about the grammar and pronounciation. Being able to bring this little pocket book everywhere just encourages learning as well.

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Another dutchman  - learning characters   | |2009-06-24 15:53:09
When it comes to learning characters, I highly recommend the following book: Learning Chinese Characters Volume 1, ISBN 9780804838160, written by Mathews.

This book uses a very refreshing learning method that seems to be effective for westerners to learn characters.
Thijs  - Thanks for the tip     | |2009-06-24 19:39:22
I'm going to find some more information about this book. The real problem is not the lack of study material though, but lack of time (and willpower to make time)

3.26 Copyright (C) 2008 / Copyright (C) 2007 Alain Georgette / Copyright (C) 2006 Frantisek Hliva. All rights reserved."

Last Updated ( Sunday, 23 November 2008 )
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