Deborah Fallows recently published “Dreaming in Chinese” about studying Chinese. An impressive linguist, Deborah has studied languages all her life, most recently Chinese while living in Shanghai and Beijing. I filmed the below video after we had supper in Beijing.
While Chinese is easier due to the lack of significant grammar, there is a constant risk of mixing up the homonyms if you don’t know the correct tones.
In addition to these technical issues, however, it is extremely difficult for non-Chinese to express their feelings.
For example, in Chinese being polite is the opposite of most Western languages. If you say please and thank you very much to someone with whom you are familiar, it will create a barrier.
Another example: Love is a very hard thing to define and to express in Chinese. Saying I love you is difficult technically because of the tense, while the very meaning of the words is almost nonexistent in Chinese. This can create conflicts in marriages between a Western and a Chinese person, Deborah said.
So why should you learn Chinese? Deborah gave her 20 second pitch: Getting beyond the tourism barrier of course, and simply because the fundamental differences make it fun!