There has probably never been a better time in history to learn to read and speak Chinese than right now. The country is easily the next great global superpower, so you might find yourself in a business meeting with someone from China in the very near future.
Even just knowing this, however, might not be enough to encourage you to learn the language. After all, Chinese can seem far too complicated to a native Western speaker—and the same is true of many Eastern languages.
For example, English and [Mandarin] Chinese actually share many similarities in their Robotel.com grammar. A simple Chinese sentence, for example, consists of a subject, predicate, and object—just like English.
But you might be surprised by how simple the Chinese language can be, at least, in theory. The phrase “I wash my hands,” for example, consists of a subject I (我 Wo), followed by the predicate (洗 xi), followed by the object (手 shou): in order “I wash [my] hands”
LETTERS, WORDS, and CHARACTERS
Since we are on the topic of words and characters, lets look at the way the Chinese write their words and form their sentences. While the traditional Chinese alphabet appears to be different because it does not use Gothic-type letters, the way the Chinese put characters together to construct a sentence might seem familiar.
Take, for example, the Chinese character “ren”, or人, which is just a single person. Put two of these together and you get “cong” or 从, which, basically, means “to follow” (suggested by one “ren” or person following another). If you put three 人 together you get众, which a crowd or group. In addition, this is the symbol for a single tree:木. Two 木 symbols together gives us “woods” and three (森) gives us a forest.
Learning the basic components of the Chinese language may be a bit of a stretch for Western speakers but the basic structures of language are the same in application.
What is, easily, the most surprisingly easy aspect of learning Chinese for any Westerner is pronunciation. Chinese pronunciation uses similar resonance and tongue and lip formation to form sound. What is particularly difficult, though, is understanding that Chinese words are not just spoken by forming sounds with the mouth, they also rely on tonal shifts. There are four basic tones:
- Tone 1: high and level
- Tone 2: moderate with only slight rise in pitch
- Tone 3: moderate with a slight fall and then a rise again
- Tone 4: high with a dramatic drop
There is also a “neutral tone”.