I follow quite a lot of language learning blogs, either people on their own missions or people who are just interested in language learning. One of these guys is Benny from Fluent in 3 Months, whom travels to various countries and immerses himself in them to learn the languages. His dedication is admirable, and I wouldn’t mind doing what he does. Pretty awesome. His next goal is conversational Hungarian in 3 months. He chose Hungarian, because it is apparently one of the hardest languages to learn.
Firstly, it absolutely discourages me that he can learn the languages in 3 months (all his previous missions). However, this is obvious in my case, ’cause I have very few exposure to Chinese and can’t immerse myself. I’m studying it at University at about 5 hours a week of class, plus about another 5-10 hours of extra homework afterwards. I’ve studied for 2 and a half years, and I’m only now reaching mild conversational fluency, but I guess my reading is a lot better, ’cause we focus on that a lot more.
You can perhaps blame my study method, however, I’m trying to console myself now, that Chinese is indeed a difficult language, if you come from English. The relative difference is immense and along with the characters, makes it double the effort. This makes sense when you look at the US Foreign Service categorizes Chinese in. It is in group four along with Arabic, Korean and Japanese. All of them share a non-roman alphabet.
In the comments posted on The Linguist , someone adds that it is impossible to learn Chinese within three months. I think so too. The difference is just too big: the characters, the tones, the pronunciation, getting to grips with amazingly simplistic grammar, most words having only two syllables and extremely homophonic nature of the language. However, I think when you get the grips of all these you can roll will Chinese and get used to it very quickly. I’m reaching that point. Although I don’t live in China, I’m starting to see signs of Mandarin progression. I’m actually getting to spontaneous speech. It’s fun!
Another factor that one should take into account, when it comes to language learning, is to consider, if you have learnt a second/foreign language before. I highlight this, because Mandarin is my first foreign language. I grew up with Afrikaans and English natively, but Mandarin is my first new language from scratch. I’ve since started looking at other languages, such as Na’vi (from the Avatar Movie), Dutch (very very similar to Afrikaans), Spanish and a bit Japanese & Korean very briefly. It came to my realization, that I would be able to learn new languages much easier, because I now understand the processes that I’ve been – and still am – going through when it comes to acquiring a new language. Thus, it gets easier with more experience. Thus, that is why Benny is having such success, having learnt 8+ languages.
However, if you had to think, given full immersion and lots of effort, how long it would take to reach fluency Chinese? Sometimes I think learning Chinese first is a blessing and a curse. If you stick through it, you can say that you’ve learned one of the hardest languages on the planet, however the curse: you need some dedication and a lot of it… and as a bonus, as is happening with me, I feel jaded in language learning.
I’m learning Chinese people. It’s probably the furthest away from English as you can get. Besides those others in category 4: Arabic, Japanese and Korean, what will I challenge myself with next? Anything else is going to be so boring. Where are my characters? What is this roman alphabet? Where are my tones? Where is the history?
Yeah, yeah, some other languages are also unique, but nothing makes me more proud now to say that I can actually speak, read, listen and write a bit of Mandarin. 加油！加油！加油！