Table of Contents
If you’re an English speaker, it will take around 2200 hours or 88 weeks of active learning to become fluent in Chinese, like a native speaker or someone who can speak it very well. This information comes from the FSI scale, which measures language proficiency.
However, the US Department of State says there are five levels of language proficiency. The first level, elementary proficiency, means satisfying the first travel needs.
It allows you to read the names of most of the places, shop designations, and street signs. This level allows you to travel to places like China. Now it’s up to you to learn basic Chinese or the native level.
Factors to Consider before You Start Learning Chinese
The essential factors that dictate how long it takes to learn a language are related to the native language, your approach, the language you are learning, the time you are given to learn this language, and your motivation to learn the language.
1. What’s Your Native Language?
Mother language plays a significant role. Learning a new language is easier if your native language is similar to the one you are learning because it becomes much easier to transfer knowledge from one language to another.
Many words, grammar, writing systems, and syntax are similar within east Asian languages. It is due to geographical proximity and historical roots.
The English native speakers have gathered the difficulty rankings from their perspective. The rankings have the first group closely related to English, including Spanish, French, Italian, Dutch, Danish, and Swedish.
The second group has languages similar to English and includes languages like german. The third group has linguistics and cultural linguistics from English and languages like Indonesia, Malaysia, and Swahili.
The fourth group is also similar to the third one. However, the fifth and the last group of this ranking include languages that are highly different and difficult for native English native speakers. These include Chinese, Cantonese, Korean, and Japanese.
This article is based on the assumption that your native language is English or some other romantic language entirely different from Chinese.
But if you know any Asian language like Japanese or Korean, congratulations, you have already saved yourself so much time.
This will make your learning process way faster because Asian languages share a great deal with the Chinese language in terms of vocabulary and the whole grammar.
2. Language You Are Learning
Generally, Chinese is a complex language. There is a certain level of difficulty in learning every language. Despite this, only some languages are equally challenging; some are more difficult than others.
The mandarin version is considered the most difficult among all the varieties of the Chinese languages. It has been ranked so by the US Department of State Studies.
Chinese varies dramatically from other languages like English in structure and sound. Chinese characters like Hanzi take longer to memorize due to their complexity. As a result, learning Chinese becomes an arduous task.
On the other hand, the particles and grammar of Chinese are easier to understand. The part that gives its learners a pretty hard time is verb conjugation.
There is only limited knowledge that you can get from lectures and textbooks. Your learning curve of the Chinese language will only rise if you talk to any Chinese friend or just have daily conversations with yourself in Chinese.
One thing Chinese language learners find challenging is the correct pronunciation of the phonemic tones. The first tone (ˉ), the second tone (′), the third tone (ˇ), and the fourth tone (‵); The main reason for such difficulty is that the concept of tones is non-existent in European languages, including English.
On the contrary, nouns in the Chinese language are pretty simple. The idea of making questions is also comparatively more straightforward in Chinese.
All these things greatly determine the time you take to learn Chinese. You may find some of the above-mentioned things of Chinese easier than others.
3. How You Are Learning
The method you are using to learn the language also affects the time it takes to learn a language. In the initial stages, the most common mistake one can make while learning the Chinese language is going to any random Chinese teaching website that appears at the top of Google.
Although the information available online is unlimited, if you don’t know the basics or fundamentals, you will be stuck.
The ways that will take less time to learn a language are getting a mandarin phrasebook and mentioning the small phrases on flashcards for yourself. This will make learning Chinese more more effective.
Another way is to learn everything there is to learn in Chinese and start with Chinese fundamentals, forming a sensible question and pronunciation of the letters. It may take time, but you will learn the language in the true sense.
Some people try to find an excellent Chinese teacher and enroll in their courses.
What’s better than learning the language from the native speakers themselves? You can also decide if you want to learn the Chinese characters or just focus on the spoken part of the language.
Most people prefer the spoken part because the Mandarin characters are complex.
Also, consider focusing on the four tones of the Chinese language correctly way quickly because wrong tones can alter the meanings of the whole word.
All these ways may be time-consuming for you, but once you decide which works best for you, you will be able to find the one that takes the least amount of time.
4. How Much Time Do You Have?
There is no universal answer to “how many hours should you give to learn Chinese daily?”. It all depends on your schedule, your dedication, and your purpose.
However, if you are learning Chinese as a hobby, giving 15-20 minutes is enough. This will allow you to comprehend many texts a few months later.
Moreover, the whole timeline of learning the Chinese language also varies and depends on you often you are studying.
For instance, giving half an hour daily to learning Chinese will help you achieve an upper intermediate level in 4-5 years.
But if you can’t afford to dedicate this much time to learning the language, you will have to give more than 30 minutes to learning Chinese daily. You should stretch the time to 2-3 hours with breaks.
Being a fluent Chinese speaker doesn’t mean you can speak like a native speaker. But what it means is that you can talk in a language with a few mistakes in the language.
The Chinese language is one of the oldest language, so not even the preachers of this language know the language entirely.
Yet, they have enough language skills to accomplish all the tasks in this language. If we look at the practical side of the language, it takes a few orders to reach an advanced level.
5. Your Motivation
Your motivation behind learning Chinese dramatically influences the time it takes to learn the language.
No strategy or a piece of advice will help you stay motivated if you don’t know your “why” behind learning the language.
You have to find a reason to keep going. Think about why you started it. Was it because you wanted to visit China from childhood, or was it because of the vast plethora of opportunities that China offers? If yes, then you need to keep reminding yourself about it. Knowing your “Why” will keep you going further.
Another way to stay motivated is to start using small Chinese phrases in your daily life and even on your social media while writing captions.
Start with writing simple sentences in Chinese, like following for more or sharing them with your friends. This will motivate you to learn more similar phrases eventually.
Learning Chinese does not need to be serious and boring. You should keep developing your skills passively by watching videos and podcasts in Chinese.
Set the subtitles of these movies and podcasts in English and switch them to Chinese whenever you are ready and comfortable with Chinese.
A few things to keep in mind in the process of doing so is to keep a record of the phrases you have learned. Review them and then write them with your hand.
Try making sentences with these words, and after a few days of watching and listening to the podcasts, come back to those words and review them again. This opens a gate for a lot of learning.
Ihsan Sharif is a talented writer known for his engaging articles on linguistic topics. With a keen eye for detail and a passion for language, Ihsan brings complex linguistic concepts to life, making them accessible and interesting to a wide audience.