Chinese has a reputation for being a very difficult language to learn. The U.S. State Department ranks both Mandarin and Cantonese as Category IV “super-hard languages”, the most challenging for English-speaking diplomats to master. The combination of written characters and spoken tones presents a double-whammy for those of us whose native languages incorporate neither. So why should you tackle these daunting obstacles to learning Mandarin Chinese?
Learning multiple languages offers many benefits, from improved memory to expanded job opportunities. Specific advantages vary by language, and we’re here to convince you that learning Mandarin is absolutely worth the extra effort you may need to put in! Read on for the top reasons to master this challenging but rewarding language.
Being bilingual opens up job prospects, both at home and abroad. Bilingual people can grow their client base more quickly and relocate to other countries more easily than people who speak only one language.
Employer demand varies by language, and Mandarin tops many lists of the most sought-after professional languages. China is a global manufacturing hub and major trading partner for countries around the world. China’s domestic economy is growing, with an average of 9% annual GDP growth over the past several decades and 800 million people emerging from poverty. Many companies either already do business in China or hope to in the future.
To tap into this booming economy, businesses need employees who speak Chinese. Mandarin is China’s most widely-spoken dialect, but relatively few westerners speak it. This means even with a basic level of Mandarin, you will be ahead of the curve. You can start building connections and goodwill with Mandarin-speaking business partners early on, which may help your employer break into this market.
Even if you’re not quite ready to dive into the sea of international business, knowing Mandarin will come in handy if you travel to China for fun! China’s Covid travel restrictions are lifting, so now is a great time to start planning a trip.
Many international visitors to China join tour groups to mitigate the language barrier. While these can be a good way to get acquainted with a few cities or major tourist sites, tour groups have some drawbacks. Many tour guides are registered with national tour companies, stick to a government-approved script, and do not encourage contact with locals. Depending on the tour package, you may also be required to go shopping at government-owned stores.
You can avoid these issues by arranging your own transportation, hotels, meals, and sightseeing. Even a basic level of Mandarin will be sufficient: study up on useful vocabulary like understanding and giving directions, ordering at a restaurant, or even the basics of how to haggle for souvenirs. With these phrases under your belt, you’ll have the opportunity to interact with locals and experience a more authentic side of China.
Mandarin is the most widely-spoken language on earth with over 1.2 billion native speakers worldwide. Two-thirds of China’s population speaks Mandarin, and you can communicate in writing with even more people using characters, which are used in multiple dialects. But you don’t even need to go to China to start making friends with native speakers: about 60 million overseas Chinese and their descendants live outside China, in almost every corner of the globe. There’s a good chance someone who speaks Mandarin lives in your neighborhood or town.
In China, people tend to have a friendly and welcoming attitude toward international visitors. Many Chinese people are also curious and a little blunt: if a cabbie finds out you speak Mandarin, he may bombard you with questions about life in your home country, give you his own outspoken opinion, or even ask how much money you make. Many Mandarin speakers in China and abroad are also trying to improve their English or another second language, so they may be willing to help you practice Mandarin, especially if you return the favor.
China is one of the world’s oldest civilizations, with a written history dating back 3,500 years. This rich culture offers countless areas for exploration, from food to classical arts to contemporary pop culture. No matter your interests, learning Mandarin will help you learn about and appreciate China’s cultural treasures, including:
Even though the Chinese language has many challenging aspects, grammar is not one of them. Chinese grammar is fairly straightforward when compared with other languages. For example, Chinese does not specify a gender for nouns, in contrast with Romance languages like Spanish and French. Most nouns also do not have distinct plural forms, as you can see in the below example, where the word for “dog” and “dogs” is the same (狗):
I have a dog: 我有一只狗。
I have two dogs: 我有两只狗。
Like English and many Romance languages, Chinese sentence structure follows a simple Subject-Verb-Object pattern. There are no verb conjugations in Chinese: whether you’re describing an action in the past, present, or future, the verb will keep the same form. Instead of memorizing a multitude of different verb endings that vary from word to word, you’ll just need to know a few words to indicate time, plus a handful of particles and helping verbs like 了and 会. In the below examples, the English verb “to go” becomes “going” in the future tense and “went” in the past tense, whereas in Chinese it’s always just 去:
I go to the park: 我去公园。
I’m going to the park tomorrow: 我明天会去公园。
I went to the park yesterday: 我昨天去了公园。
All of this means learners can begin speaking conversational Mandarin early on, and Chinese people will be able to understand you. Even tones are not a big barrier, because Chinese people tend to pay at least as much attention to context and sentence structure as to tones.
With China’s growing prominence in global news, more people around the world are starting to learn Mandarin. This has fueled rapid growth in the number of online resources, many of which are free. Content creators across the internet post blogs, videos, and podcasts all dedicated to learning Chinese. Check out our Mandarin blog for some recommendations!
Speechling is also a great way to get feedback on your speaking and pronunciation directly from native speakers.
In addition to all the practical benefits listed above, learning Mandarin also offers some less tangible advantages. Learning any language is a life skill that can foster personal growth beyond just your career or travel aspirations. Language learning exercises your brain and helps keep your memory sharp. Some studies have found it also develops problem-solving and multi-tasking skills. Learning languages also broadens your horizons as you learn to understand people from another culture, which builds empathy.
Learning Mandarin in particular may increase some of these benefits because it is so different from western languages. Taking up calligraphy may enhance your patience and focus, as well as your appreciation for the language itself. Finally, there’s no hiding the truth: Mandarin is difficult. Knowing you can learn it and seeing your continual progress will build your self-confidence.
Whether you’ve been studying for years or are just starting out, you can feel confident that Mandarin is useful and worth the effort to learn. Mandarin language skills are relevant across industries, from manufacturing to hospitality, and will make you an attractive job candidate. You’ll feel more confident traveling to China and connecting with locals and with overseas Chinese communities. Your knowledge of Mandarin will enhance your appreciation of Chinese culture, giving you plenty of conversation topics as you make new friends. The multitude of online resources will support your studies, and you’ll have chances for personal growth along the way. So grab your dictionary and your flashcards, and keep up the good work! 加油！