Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Chinese (not just for linguists!)

I will be returning to the Chinese media again shortly, but first a rather warming interview that Ken Carrol at Chinesepod conducted with Professor Cyndy Ning.

I agree wholeheartedly with many of sentiments expressed. Since I started learning Mandarin I have been surprised by the general impression (often not explicitly stated) that it is somewhat different to other languages. Not a language that is for Westerners that are mere mortals, but rather for those who can elevate themselves to a higher plane of existence.

I happen to think that Chinese is just another language that can be learned just like many other languages. My main obstacle as a European simply being that I have not built up any background exposure already at the time I start to learn.

I happen to believe that a late thirty something Western guy with a full-time job and family can (if committed) adopt learning Chinese as his main hobby for a while and learn to understand, speak, read and write reasonable everyday Mandarin in far less time that a University student will finish his/her course in Chinese language. Without the Internet it would be a different story, but with it you don't even need to attend Chinese classes.

I happen to think that I don't really need to study any complicated linguistics or learn any complicated grammar terms to do so.

I keep happening upon many people who happen to think that I am sadly mistaken.

If you happen to agree with me then listen to the interview it will make you feel better. If you don't agree with me then listen anyway it could be one of those things that help you wake up and smell the coffee (it might happen).

Disclaimer: if you are a linguist or a grammar fanatic then I wish you well, but please don't add to the impression that an average guy can't learn Chinese just because they want to.


Mashhood said...


Keyu said...

I do not know whether it is correct. However, i support you.

Brendan said...

I'll absolutely buy it! There's a lot of mystique and hype built up around the supposed difficulty of Chinese, and to be frank, I think it's almost wholly untrue. The main challenge that I've found when learning Chinese was in getting rid of my preconceptions from other languages -- and once that's done, I'll argue strongly that Chinese is easier to learn than most any other language out there.

Timeframes very from person to person, but after 7 years of studying Chinese -- about 3 of those years pretty half-assed, to be honest -- I'm now at the point where I write a weekly newspaper column in Chinese. I suppose I could probably do it after a few years Spanish or Italian as well, but I'm pretty sure I wouldn't have as much fun doing it...