Mandarin Chinese has the reputation to be the most difficult language to learn in the world. As someone who has been learning the language for a long time now, my opinion is different. Although I am far from fluency, I want to show you that Mandarin Chinese is not as hard as people think, and that you can effectively learn it too, just like I do. 

What is Mandarin Chinese? What is the difference between Mandarin and Chinese?

Firstly, what is Mandarin Chinese? There are often confusions about the meaning of the word. Mandarin Chinese, also known as Putonghua 普通话, literally common language, is the official language of China, Taiwan, and Singapore. It’s the most widely spoken language in the world, with over a billion speakers. 

Chinese, however, is a language family that includes many other languages and dialects, including mandarin. 

When you decide to “learn Chinese”, it is most likely Putonghua, unless you specifically learn other languages within the family such as Cantonese. Since it’s the most spoken language in the world, learning it is an opportunity to connect with a huge part of the world and opens a lot of doors. 

What are the hardest parts of learning Mandarin? 

Learning any language requires effort, but Mandarin Chinese does not have to be a daunting task. While it does have some unique challenges, such as the tonal system and characters, the language also has simple grammar compared to other languages. In fact, with dedication and practice, Mandarin Chinese can be a fun and rewarding language to learn. So what are those unique challenges about learning mandarin?

Tones and pronunciation

Mandarin Chinese is a tonal language, which means that the pitch or intonation of a word changes its meaning. If your first language is a European language, it is difficult to comprehend this concept and then apply it to every word you say. 

For me it’s without a doubt one of the biggest obstacles to learning mandarin. However, I also teach two latin languages, French and Portuguese, and I know pronunciation is one of the toughest things for my students to improve, which shows that regardless of what language you are learning, pronunciation will be a difficult step. 







Without a surprise, writing Chinese characters is extremely difficult. Young children in China spend their primary school years learning the writing system. But the good news is, as a learner, you rarely have to write characters. 

Although I love Chinese writing, and think of it as a relaxing activity, on a practical level, most of my written communication is done through the phone by typing, which is extremely simple, as all you need to know is the phonetic system pinyin. 

When you first start learning, it is not necessary to learn to write, especially if your main goal is to speak. However, at a more advanced level, at HSK4 and beyond, understanding the stroke order and general writing system can be extremely helpful for character memorisation. 

Plus, calligraphy is a major aspect of traditional Chinese culture, which makes it a part of learning the language as well. At a beginner level though, it is not a necessity. 

Does Mandarin Chinese have an alphabet?

No, Mandarin Chinese does not have an alphabet. Instead, the writing system is based on characters, with each character representing a different word or concept. While this may seem daunting at first, it’s important to remember that characters are simply a different form of writing, and with practice, they can be learned.

For me personally, that is one of the most interesting aspects of the language, and it is so logical that it hurts. Let’s take a funny example. 

拉屎 lā shǐ means to poop

拉尿 lā niào means to pee

5th grade joke I know but hear me out! Although 拉 means pull, the interesting part comes afterwards. 屎 is composed of two characters: 尸meaning body or person and 米 meaning rice. 屎 has the same 尸 body character above 水 which means water.
Body + rice = poop
Body + water = pee
You get it? 😉

Is Mandarin Chinese hard? 

While Mandarin Chinese may have a reputation for being difficult to learn, this is not necessarily the case. 

The Easiest Grammar out there. 

Compared to other languages, Mandarin Chinese grammar is relatively simple. The language lacks verb conjugations, tense agreements, and gender distinctions, making it easier for learners to focus on vocabulary and pronunciation. You read that correctly! NO conjugations, NO tenses, NO gender! What a dream.

Portuguese and French both have complex grammar, with more than 50 variations and conjugations for each verb. Mandarin, on the other hand, doesn’t. 

So to the question: “Is Chinese grammar hard?” The answer is 100% NO. You can start forming grammatically correct sentences from your first class. 

Let’s take an example to compare French and Portuguese to Chinese. 

I drink water. 

Je bois de l’eau.

In French, knowing the words for I je, to drink boire, and water eau, are not enough to form this sentence. You need to first learn the present tense, and add the preposition de as well as the article l’. 

(eu) Bebo água.

In Portuguese, although a bit easier as you don’t need to add an article in this particular sentence, you still need to learn the present tense first before forming this sentence.

In Mandarin, however, you just need to know the words 我 wǒ 喝 hē 水 shuǐ and the sentence is formed and correct. 

I drink water. 

Goodbye conjugations, laborious tenses, and inexplicable gender, Chinese is one of the most straight-forward languages out there in terms of grammar. 

Need help with French and Portuguese grammar? Check my Crash courses! (it’s free)  




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Difficulty is objective. 

The reason why Mandarin is portrayed as so difficult, it’s because it is viewed from an European perspective. Just like an East-Asian language will seem extremely difficult for an English-native, learning English will be just as arduous for a Mandarin Chinese native. 

Difficulty is subjective and varies from person to person. To me learning Mandarin is much easier than learning German, but that doesn’t mean one is truly harder than the other, it’s just about my personal abilities.

Additionally, many people who find Mandarin Chinese challenging may not have had the right resources, approach, or mindset when learning the language. 

Best translation tools for language learning: What to use instead of Google Translate?

To conclude, why should you learn mandarin?  

    • It is the most spoken language in the world 

    • Learning 汉字 (chinese characters) will help you with other languages in the future such as Japanese

    • The grammar is one of the easiest in the world, and you can start forming sentences in no time 

    • It is extremely fun and requires you to think the way you communicate in a different way, especially if you don’t know other East-Asian languages. 

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