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Chinese is the language Chinese people speak which includes Mandarin, Cantonese, Shanghainese, etc. Mandarin is the language MOST Chinese people speak. People from mainland China, Taiwan, Singapore all speak Mandarin. People from Hong Kong speak Cantonese.

Simplified Chinese characters are used mainly by people from mainland China and Singapore. Traditional Characters are used by people from Hong Kong and Taiwan. The majority of the Chinese-speaking community use simplified characters.

Pinyin is the Chinese phonetic system. If I throw a Chinese character at you, do you know how to pronounce it? Probably not! But with pinyin, you can. It represents every single Chinese sound out there. So if you master pinyin, you will have no problem sounding immediately like a real Chinese person. However, you need to know that even though pinyin uses the roman letters, you cannot pronounce it as if it were English. You have to learn how to associate pinyin with the unique Chinese sounds.


How important is Pinyin? Extremely important. It is the very first thing Chinese kids learn in school, and it is the number one tool for foreigners to learn the correct way of pronouncing the Chinese words. I strongly suggest you putting in enough effort and time to learn it if you are serious about learning Chinese and want to be understood by Chinese people when you speak.

The answer is “no.” You don’t have to learn Chinese characters to learn how to speak Chinese. In my opinion, trying to know all the characters, including reading and writing will seriously slow down your progress of speaking and listening. However, if you plan to eventually communicate in Chinese on an advanced level, learning Chinese characters will help.


My suggestion is that you should focus on speaking and listening with the help of pinyin first, and you can always go back to learn Chinese characters later on if you decide to do so. But at that time, you already have a foundation to build on. The worst thing that can happen is that you get so drained at the beginning by spending hours and hours on practicing Chinese characters and you become discouraged and lose interest in this language at an early stage.


I have quite a few non-Chinese students who don’t know any characters but can speak Chinese quite fluently. You can be one of them.

Chinese is difficult to learn for several reasons:


First, Chinese characters are hard to learn. If I throw an English word at you, you may not know what it means, but you know how it’s pronounced. However, If I give you a Chinese character, you know what it looks like, but you don’t know what it means and how it’s pronounced. Two out of three elements are missing. How it’s written and how it’s pronounced are not necessarily related, which is quite different from English. Associate all three elements is not an easy task. So in my opinion, it’s the reading and writing of the Chinese characters that make the language difficult. However, as I said before, you don’t have to learn Chinese characters to learn this language.


The second reason why Chinese is hard is also because there are four tones. That’s something you do not find in English. So you’ll have to get used to that.

I don’t think this question has been asked a lot because to most English speakers, learning Chinese seems like a daunting task. This is what I think, though: From my past experiences with my students, I believe It’s really the reading and writing that makes Chinese hard to learn. When it comes to spoken Chinese, contrary to common belief, it ‘s actually not that difficult to learn.

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