Taiwan News went to NTU to interview foreigners about how they learn Chinese
By: Michelle Wojtkowiak , Taiwan News, Staff Writer
TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — Many consider Chinese to be one of the hardest languages to learn for Westerner, indeed the Defense Language Institute rates Mandarin a level 4, the highest category on its language learning difficulty scale. Taiwan News went to National Taiwan University (NTU) to find out what strategies foreign students are employing to master the language.
What exactly makes Chinese difficult to learn? Chinese is an entirely different language family (Sino-Tibetan) which, unlike European languages, is based on thousands of characters instead of a simple alphabet. What makes it further difficult is instead of phonetic pronunciation the words are distinguished by four different tones. There are only 400 syllables in the language, and thus there are many homophones, leading to much confusion if a tone and second word is not included to clarify meaning.
The difficulty stems from two different factors: First, the characters themselves are abstract, having diverged greatly from their original pictographic symbols, and thousands need to be memorized for one to become literate. Second, the tonal nature of the language is a very foreign concept to speakers of non-tonal languages. [FULL STORY]