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?

The sun radical

As the Chinese saying goes,

The whole year’s planning hinges on a good beginning in spring.

This adage is particularly applicable to farmers and gardeners. You must first sow before you can reap. If you expect to harvest fresh vine-ripened tomatoes in late August, 八月 (bā yuè), or early September, 九月 (jiǔ yuè), then this is a good time to get a few tomato starts going. Tomatoes are called 番茄 (fānqié) in Chinese.

You’ll notice that there is a sun in the character (chūn). Let’s talk about the sun radical, (rì), in hopes of coaxing the sun out of its hiding.

The word (rì) can mean the sun, the day, daytime, or daily, while 太阳 (tàiyáng) specifically refers to the sun or sunshine. Solar energy is called 太阳能 (tàiyáng néng), while luorescent lamps are called 日光灯 (rìguāngdēng sunlight lamp).

(zǎo) and 早晨 (zǎochén) mean early morning.
(xiǎo) is day-break. It also means to know, as in 晓得 (xiǎodé).

Wǒ xiǎodé le.
Got it. (I see.)

时间 (shíjiān) is the time, a duration of time, or a point in time.

(wǎn) means evening, night, late, or junior. (xīng) refers to stars or heavenly bodies.

Wǎnshàng xīngxīng liàngjīngjīng.
At night the stars shine brilliantly.

(chāng) means flourishing. No wonder this character is found in the names of many places and localities. The word 昌盛 (chāngshèng) means prosperous.

(wàng) also means flourishing, but more vigorously than (chāng). You can use the word 旺盛 (wàngshèng) to describe a booming business or the vigor of an athlet.

(yì) has multiple meanings. 容易 (róngyìì) means easy. 交易 (jiāoyì) is a business transaction. 平易 (píngyì) means easy-going or amiable. In classical Chinese, (yì) also means to change or to exchange. 易经 (yìjīng) is The Book of Changes

(nuǎn) and 温暖 (wēnnuǎn) both mean warm.

(zhào) is to shine or to illuminate.

Yángguāng zhào zài wǒ liǎn shàng.
Sunlight is shining on my face.

照相 (zhàoxiàng) is to take a photograph. (xiàng) has multiple meanings. Here, it refers to one’s looks.

晴天 (qíngtiān) is fine, clear, sunny day. Too much of a good thing is not necessarily beneficial. Too much sunshine will result in 旱地 (hàndì dry land).

Try to make sentences using some of the above Chinese words. You have truly learned a word when you are able to incorporate it in a dialog or in your writing.

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