Is it difficult to learn Chinese?

With respect to reading and writing Chinese, the answer is yes. Written Chinese is not based on an alphabet. Even though the Chinese characters could be broken down to around 220 radicals, there is not a simple rule to “spell” them in terms of the word radicals.

On the other hand, if you would just like to pick up a few words to make small talks, that should be as easy as learning to speak any other foreign language. You could even try to write down the words by using the Romanized pinyin system.

(kùnnan) and 困难 (kùnnan) mean difficult or difficulties, whereas (yì) and 容易 (róngyì) mean easy, easily or apt to.

Traditionally, the Chinese have adopted the view of 知易行难 (zhī yì xíng nán), viz. it is easy to know about something but often difficult to follow up with action.

On the night of his betrayal, 耶穌 (Yēsū Jesus) said to his disciples, “The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” This is akin to the Chinese idiom:

The heart is more than willing, but there is not enough strength or ability to do it.

We know how detrimental tobacco and alcohol can be to our heath, but many try and fail to quit. We may know all the words and material that need to go into a book, but it is not so easy to put everything together to make a finished book.

One could just as well argue for the other case – 知难行易 (zhī nán xíng yì). After you have learned a difficult skill or branch of knowledge, then it is easy to put it to use and complete a task. For example, once you know the commonly used chord progressions and understand the logic behind the harmonization of the scale tones and the chords, you are apt to be able to play a song by ear and improvise the harmony.

Similarly, you are more likely to be able to make meaningful statements in a language when you know the underlying grammar and the conventional syntax. The article at this link provides an interesting example.

As a noun, 今天 (jīntiān today), 昨天 (zuótiān yesterday), 明天 (míngtiān tomorrow) and 后天 (hòutiān the day after tomorrow) can be placed at the end of a sentence. For example,

Nà yào děngdào míngtiān.
That will need to wait until tomorrow.

However, when using these words as adverbs, do not place them at the end of a sentence. You could say,

Míngtiān wǒmén yào qù kàn diànyǐng.
Tomorrow we are going to the movies.

Or you could say,

Wǒmén míngtiān yào qù kàn diànyǐng.
Tomorrow we are going to the movies.

In English, you rarely hear: “We, tomorrow, are going to the movies.” Therefore, when translating Chinese into English, or English into Chinese, you will want to employ the conventional word order rather than doing it verbatim. Please consult Chapter 17 of “Learn Chinese through Songs Rhymes” for the correct placement of adverbs and adverbial phrases in a sentence.

难度 (nándù) means the degree of difficulty. 难倒 (nándiǎo) is to baffle or deter someone.

Zhègè wèntí bǎ wǒ nándiǎo le.
This problem (or issue) has me baffled.

难关 (nánguān) a crisis or a difficult critical juncture. 度过难关 (dùguò nánguān) means to have passed through a difficult juncture.

难过 (nánguò) means to have a hard time or feel bad.

Tā xīnli hěn nánguò.
She felt very bad.

When pronounced in the fourth tone, (nàn) means calamity or disaster. 灾难 (zāinàn) means calamity, catastophe or suffering due to a disaster. Therefore, refugees are referred to as 难民 (nànmín), and a refuge is called 避难所 (bìnánsuǒ).

轻易 (qīngyì) means easily or rashly.

易燃物 (yìránwù) are combustible or inflammable materials.

好不容易 (hǎo bù róngyì) means with great difficulty or effort. Often the (bù) is omitted, and you will just hear 好容易 (hǎoróngyì). One may get confused if one simply takes this phrase at face value.

我好容易来到这儿, 她却不肯见我.
Wǒ hǎoróngyì láidào zhèr, tā què bù kěn jiàn wǒ.
I took all the trouble to come here, but she refused to see me.

(yì) also means exchange or change.

贸易 (màoyì) means trade. Therefore, 自由贸易 (zìyóumàoyì) is free trade, and 国际贸易 (guójìmàoyì) is international trade.

If you have not heard of 易经 (Yìjīng The Book of Changes) before, you can read about it at this link.

What are the things you find most difficult while learning to speak, read and/or write Chinese?

Virtues valued by the traditional Chinese

The virtues most valued by the traditional Chinese people have been grouped into the so-called Four Principles and Eight Virtues. We have already touched upon a number of these virtues in the previously posted articles.

The four principles are regarded as the bonds that hold the fabric of society together.

(lǐ) refers to having good manners and following the protocol.

(yì) means righteousness and proper behavior and deeds.

(lián) means having moral integrity and not accepting bribes. (chǐ) means having a sense of shame. These two words usually go together as 廉耻 (liánchǐ integrity and sense of honor).

不知廉耻 (bùzhī liánchǐ) is a serious accusation that means “shameless”. If it will help you remember this phrase, you could associate it with “not knowing one’s face, (liǎn), and teeth 齿 (chǐ)”. In fact, the familiar way of saying “shameless” or “brazen” is 不要脸 (bùyào liǎn not caring about one’s face or honor).

The Eight Virtues are actually four virtues made up of eight characters.

忠孝 (zhōng xiào) refers to loyalty and filial piety, which strengthen the foundation of a country and a family, respectively.

仁爱 (rénài) is kindheartedness, the good will that connect people to one another.

信义 (xìnyì) is good faith and trustworthiness that keeps things going in a predictable way.

和平 (hépíng) means peace.

If you’ve been to Taiwan, you most likely have passed by streets named after the above four virtues. At school, students are reminded of the importance of these virtues through ethics classes and posters displayed in classrooms and doorways. In fact, many public schools have the classes named with these eight characters as well as the characters representing the following often-cited virtues.

(gōng) stands for 公正 (gōngzhèng being just or impartial) or 公平 (gōngpīng fair or equitable).

Zhè bù gōngpīng.
This is not fair.

(chéng) means being sincere and honest. 诚心 (chéngxīn) and 诚意 (chéngyì) both mean sincere or sincerity.

Wǒ chéngxīn chéngyì yāo tā qù kàn diànyǐng, dàn tā bù lǐngqíng.
I sincerely invited her to a movie, but she did not appreciate it. (She refused.)

诚实 (chéngshí) means being honest.

(qín) is being diligent and hardworking. It often appears in the form 勤劳 (qínláo).

Tā shìgè qínláo de niánqīngrén.
He is a hardworking young man.

(yì) is being determined or resolute. 毅力 (yìlì) is a person’s willpower or stamina.

Wǒmén yào yǒu jiānqiáng de yìlì.
We must have a strong will and perseverance.

(wēn) refers to a temperate personality.

Tā de nǚpéngyou hěn wēnróu.
His girl friend is warm and gentle.

(liáng) means being a good and kind person, as in 善良的人 (shànliáng de rén).

(gōng) meanes respectful and reverent. When you say 恭喜 (gōngxǐ), you are offering your congratulation respectfully.

(jiǎn), or 节俭 (jiéjiǎn), means being thrifty and not squandering money on luxuries.

(ràng let) is to yield a privilege to another person, such as when you say, “After you”.

Zài gōng chē shàng yào ràngwèi gě lǎoniánrén.
When riding a bus, one should offer one’s seat to the elderly.

Which virtues do you value the most? Do you know the corresponding Chinese words?

Some things are meant to be in Chinese

The Chinese often talk about a predestined relationship, which they call (yuán). This character looks somewhat similar to 绿 (lǜ green). Make sure you do not confuse these two characters.

Notice the “silk” radical on the left side of (yuán)? People come and go in your life. Perhaps there is an invisible silk thread that ties you to those who stay around most of the time, such as your family members, your friends, your classmates, your colleagues, and so on.

In the same sense, many things that happen are linked to a reason or a cause, i.e. 缘故 (yuángù) or 缘由 (yuányóu).

不知什么缘故, 我就是迷恋他.
Bùzhī shénme yuángù, wǒ jiùshì míliàn tā.
Not sure why, but I’m simply infatuated with him.

Tā wúyuánwúgù kū le qǐlái.
For no reason, she started to cry.

(yuán) also menas the edge, the brink, or to move along such a boundary, or 边缘 (biānyuán).

缘木求鱼 (yuánmùqiúyú) means to climb a tree to catch fish, or to take a useless approach.

缘分 (yuánfèn) is the element of destiny that associates a person with other people or things.

结缘 (jiéyuán) means to form a tie with or become associated with someone or something. On the other hand, 绝缘 (juéyuán) means to sever tie with someone. This word also means insulation or to insulate. 无缘 (wúyuán) means having no chance for, or no possibility of, connecting with someone or something.

Wǒ hé zhèngzhì wúyuán.
I’m not into politics.

By substituting 金钱 (jīnqián money) for 政治 (zhèngzhì) in the above sentence, you’ll have a more interesting way of saying, “I’m never going to get rich.”

In “The Butterfly Lovers”, reference is made to the popular Chinese saying:

Yǒuyuán qiānlǐ lái xiàng huì,
If predestined, people will come from afar to meet each other;

Wúyuán duìmiàn bù xiāngshí.
If not meant to be, they won’t get acquainted even when placed together face to face.

注定 (zhùdìng) means destined.

Yǒuxiē shì shì tiān zhùdìng de.
Some things are meant to be.
(Some things are predetermined by the heavens.)

The fate that brings lovers together into a marriage is called 姻缘 (yīnyuán). It is pronounced the same as 因缘 (yīnyuán), which is the cause or reason that predetermines a certain outcome.

血缘 (xuèyuán) is blood relationship.

Tā hé wǒ méiyǒu xuèyuán guānxi.
He and I are not related by blood.

A sociable person attracts other people like a magnet. He or she is said to have 人缘 (rényuán), i.e. the ability to connect with other people.

Lùlù de rényuán hěn hǎo.
Lulu is very sociable (popular).

If you would like to meet someone, will you wait for fate to make the connection, or will you take a step forward yourself? A date is called 约会 (yuēhui) in Chinese.

Wǒ yuē le tā zhōumò yītóng qù kàn diànyǐng.
I asked her out to watch a movie with me this weekend.

The fact that you are learning Chinese probably indicates that you have some 缘分 (yuánfèn) with the Chinese language. However, it was you who made up your mind to study Chinese, and it is your own determination that will drive you through the process to achieve your goal step by step.

More Chinese expressions involving the hand

If you haven’t already found out, hand shadows are called 手影 (shǒu yǐng) in Chinese.
(yǐng) is a shadow, a reflection or an image. Nowadays, it is used in such words as 摄影 (shèyǐng photography) and 电影 (diànyǐng movies).

This may be a good time to take inventory of how many words, expressions or idioms you already know that contain the (shǒu) character. Here are a few more to add to your collection.

手背 (shǒubèi) is the back of the hand, while 手掌 (shǒuzhǎng) is the palm. The center of the palm is called 手心 (shǒuxīn) or 掌心 (zhǎngxīn).

We already know that 拍手 (pāishǒu) means to clap one’s hands. 鼓掌 (gǔzhǎng) has the same meaning but is a more formal word.

手下留情 (shǒuxiàliúqíng) means to show mercy or be lenient. In times past, when a Chinese house slave was about to be whipped, he might use this phrase to plead for mercy. Nowadays, this expression is used figuratively.

The expression 手下 (shǒuxià) also means under the leadership of someone.

Tā shǒuxià yǒu sān wèi nénggàn de jīnglǐ.
He has under him three capable managers.

经理 (jīnglǐ) are managers, while 助手 (zhùshǒu) are assistants.

歌手 (gēshǒu) are singers. They probably prefer to be referred to as 歌星 (gē xīng music stars, pop stars).

高手 (gāoshǒu) is an expert or champion. Therefore, 武林高手 (wǔ lín gāoshǒu) is a kung-fu master. 数学高手 (shùxué gāoshǒu) is someone who is great at mathematics. You can easily form other terms by inserting the subject of your choice.

手机 (shǒujī) are mobile phones, 手表 (shǒubiǎo) are wrist watches, and 手电筒 (shǒudiàntǒng) are flashlights.

手枪 (shǒuqiāng) are pistols, while 枪手 (qiāngshǒu) are gunners.

We have learned before that 运气 (yùnqi) means one’s fortune or luck. Well, 手气 (shǒuqì) is one’s luck in a game of cards or gambling.

Tā jīntiān shǒuqì bùhǎo.
He has poor hands today.

亲手 (qīnshǒu) means making something personally.

Zhè jiàn qúnzi shì wǒ mǔqin qīnshǒu zuò gěi wǒ de.
My mother made this skirt for me herself.

The Chinese don’t stick their noses in other people’s business. Nay. They go in with their hands. 插手 (chāshǒu) means to have a hand in someone else’s business.

Zhè jiàn shì nǐ zuìhào bùyào chāshǒu.
It would be best if you don’t get involved with this matter.

(huò) means merchandise or goods. What would 二手货 (èrshǒuhuò) mean?

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