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:

心有余而力不足.
Xīnyǒuyúérlìbùzú.
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,

那要等到明天.
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,

明天我们要去看电影.
Míngtiān wǒmén yào qù kàn diànyǐng.
Tomorrow we are going to the movies.

Or you could say,

我们明天要去看电影.
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.

这个问题把我难到了.
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.

她心里很难过.
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?

Time flies in Chinese

手表 (shǒubiǎo) Wrist Watch

手表 (shǒubiǎo) Wrist Watch


后天是大年初一.
Hòutiān shì dàniánchūyī.
It will be the lunar New Year’s Day the day after tomorrow.

春节快要到了.
Chūnjié kuài yào dào le.
Soon it will be the Spring Festival.

Another lunar year has slipped away. Time flies. It zips by like an arrow – 光阴似箭 (guāngyīnsìjiàn).

Following are the lyrics from a cute children’s song (author unknown) that uses the movement of the pointers on a traditional clock face to remind people how time passes relentlessly and why we must not waste time. On a clock, 时针 (shízhēn) is the hour hand (long hand), 分针 (fēnzhēn) is the minute hand (short hand), and 秒针 (miǎozhēn) is the second hand.

时针慢走, 秒针急.
Shízhēn màn zǒu, miǎozhēn jí.
The hour hand moves slowly, the second hand rushes on.

滴答, 滴答, 滴.
Dīda, dīda, dī.
Ticktock, ticktock, tick.

分针跟着走下去.
Fēnzhēn gēnzhe zǒu xiàqu.
The minute hand follows along.

滴答, 滴答, 滴.
Dīda, dīda, dī.
Ticktock, ticktock, tick.

一时一刻不停留,
Yīshíyīkè bù tíngliú.
Not stopping for a single moment,

整天整夜走下去.
zhěngtiān zhěngyè zǒu xiàqu.
all day, all night, they continue on.

若不及时多努力,
Ruò bù jíshí duō nǔlì,
If you don’t work hard now,

后悔来不及.
hǒuhuǐ láibují.
it will be too late to regret later on.

On the first line, (màn slowly) serves as an adverb that modifies the verb (zǒu). When these two words are combined together, the phrase takes on a few different extended meanings, depending on the context. 慢走 (màn zǒu) means “Don’t go yet.” or “Wait a minute.” On the other hand, when you see a guest off after a party and say 慢走 (màn zǒu), you are saying, “Take care.”, “Walk slowly (safely).”, or “Good-bye.”.

(jí) means anxious or anxiously.

及时 (jíshí) means in time (not missing the deadline).

停留 (tíngliú) is to stay. On this line, 不停留 (bù tíngliú) is the combination of (bù not) and 停留 (tíngliú stay). The context tells us not to read it as 不停 (bù tíng without stopping, continue to) and (liú stay), which makes no sense.

Some people use 成天成夜 (chéngtiān chéngyè all day all night) instead of 整天整夜 (zhěngtiān zhěngyè). These adverbs pertain to duration or frequency of doing something. Read Chapter 18 of “Learn Chinese through Songs and Rhymes” to learn more words in this category.

努力 (nǔlì) means to exert effort or to try hard. (nú) means slaves. (lì) means strength, power or making every effort. You can see how much effort is embedded in the word 努力 (nǔlì).

来不及 (láibují) can mean too late, or it can mean not having enough time to do something.

快点儿, 要来不及了.
Kuài diǎnr, yào láibují le.
Hurry up, or we’ll not be able to make it.

By the way, if you’ve not been able to keep the resolution you made for the new calendar year, there is an opportunity to renew it for the Chinese New Year, which is what matters to most Chinese people anyway.

恭贺新禧!
Gōnghèxīnxǐ!
Happy New Year!

English-Chinese Homophones (2)

Today we will look at a few more one-syllable English words that sound like Chinese. For each of these English words, there are many additional Chinese homophones that are not included here. Also, if you utter the English word using a different “tone”, then it will correspond to a different list of Chinese homophones. In any case, I hope that this list will help you remember a few Chinese words by phonic association.

Fun (fàn cooked rice, meal) (fàn peddler, resell)

我每天吃饭.
Wǒ měitiān chīfàn.
I have rice every day.
(Mnemonic: I have fun everyday.)

那儿有个卖面的摊贩.
Nàr yǒu gè màimiàn de tānfàn.
Over there there’s a noodle peddler.

Go (gòu sufficient, enough) (gòu purchase)

这样够了.
Zhèyàng gòu le.
This is sufficient. (This is plenty.)

那一个购物中心.
Nà shì yī gè gòuwùzhōngxīn.
That is a shopping center.

Goo (gù old, incident, cause) (gù solid, firm) (gù look, look after)

我喜欢听故事.
Wǒ xǐhuān tīng gùshi.
I like to listen to stories (literally, past events).

他很顽固.
Tā hěn wángù.
He is very stubborn.

我们应该照顾年老的父母.
Wǒmen yīnggāi zhàogu niánlǎo de fùmǔ.
We should look after our elderly parents.

Hoe (hòu time, season, to wait) (hòu behind, after)

他什么时候来?
Tā shénme shíhòu lái?
What time is he coming?

他后天来.
Tā hòutiān lái.
He is coming the day after tomorrow.

In (yīn overcase, obscure) (yīn sound, tone, news)

今天是阴天.
Jīntiān shì yīntiān.
It’s a cloudy day today.

你喜欢听哪一种音乐?
Nǐ xǐhuān tīng nǎ yī zhǒng yīnyuè?
What type of music do you enjoy listening to?

Joe (jiù rescue) (jiù mother’s brother)

救命呀!
Jiùmìng ya!
Save my life! (Help!)

他是我的舅舅.
Tā shì wǒ de jiùjiù.
He is my uncle.

Knee (nì contrary,to go against) (nì to drown,to be addicted to)

忠言逆耳.
Zhōng yán nì ěr.
Earnest advice grate on the ear. (Chinese adage.)

不要溺爱子女.
Bùyào nì’ài zǐnǚ.
Don’t spoil the children.

Lay (lèi tired) (lèi tears)

我累了.
Wǒ lèi le.
I’m tired.

她流了不少眼泪.
Tā liú le bùshǎo yǎnlèi.
She shed a lot of tears.

Lee? (lí pears) (lí to leave)

你喜欢吃梨子吗?
Nǐ xǐhuān chī lízi ma?
Do you like to eat pears?

分离是痛苦的事.
Parting is a painful event.

Low (lòu to leak, to leave out) (lòu plain, ugly)

屋顶漏水了.
Wūdǐng lòu shuǐ le.
The roof is leaking.

这房屋很简陋.
Zhè fángwū hěn jiǎnlòu.
This house is crudely built.

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