Of those people that visit this site, most already made a decision to learn Chinese. Others still haven’t decided. If you haven’t decided yet and want to find out then keep reading. With this post I want to give you some guidance to help you make an informed decision. I want to help you to find out if you should learn Chinese.
Today I’m not here to convince anyone. In other posts I’m trying to convince people, however this one is intended to make a self-assessment. I ask the questions you need to ask yourself to find out whether Chinese is for you. Let’s go!
Do you have enough motivation for Chinese?
Let me tell you something about Chinese: It requires sooooooooooooo much energy. Really! The more distant a language is to your native language, the more energy will be required to learn it. Attention! I’m not saying that Chinese is more difficult than Spanish, because it is not, but I do say, it requires much more energy, effort, dedication and motivation. Before I started with Chinese I tried Spanish, and failed miserably. Why? Because my interest in Spain was close to zero and I therefore had very little energy to learn it.
You need to find out what is your motivation. Do you like Chinese culture, cuisine, women (or guys)? There must be something that can feed you the energy that you will burn while learning. And if you are into Sauerkraut, then Chinese is not for you.
Don’t repeat my mistakes. More than 5 years ago I felt that one foreign language is not enough for my CV. By try and error I first tried Spanish and then tried Chinese. Don’t do it this way. If you consider Chinese a nice addition to your career, then find out what interests you about China. Do you have a urge to make a holiday in China? Do you want to live over there? What do you know about China and the Chinese? I mean first hand experiences, not things you heard from a friend who heard from a friend. Is that a culture that appeals to you?
If you aren’t sure, then talk to a Chinese persons in school, in university or at your workplace. Preferably talk to several Chinese people. Read something about China and see if you can relate to that.
It takes 10 years to learn Chinese
The exact duration of your learning may be different, depending on your circumstances and goals. Full time study in China is vastly superior to evening and weekend learning while doing a regular job in your homecountry. Getting to a level where you can order food can be done within months, being able to read the newspaper takes years. Here is what the FSI (Foreign Service Institute) thinks about required learning time for a native speaker of English:
600 class hours
Dutch, French, Spanish,….
900 class hours
Malay, Indonesian, Swahili,…
1100 class hours
Russian, Serbian, Tagalog,…
2200 class hours
Chinese, Japanese, Arabic
Link: List of Language learning time estimates
I want to add, these are just times in class, you have to add homework, repetition and actual speaking, reading and writing practice.
Do you really want to learn at least 10 hours per week for the next 10 years? Once you are done with that, you only need a few hours per week to maintain your Chinese level. Do you have the time to do your daily exercises?
Choosing Chinese at school as a foreign language
Chinese classes at school are becoming more popular. If you are still going to school and you have to choose a language, you might find yourself in the situation that you can choose between a number of languages, amongst these Chinese, and you don’t know which to choose. All top 20 languages by number of native speakers in this world are definitely a valid choice as a economically valuable language. Maybe Chinese is a top 5 choice, however without enough motivation you can’t learn. So you better choose that language out of the top 20 that you think is the most interesting one for you. I can only ask you to read again what I have said. Do you have the motivation? Are you ready to spend a lot of time every day?
Should I pursue a university degree in Chinese?
Clear and simple. The problem with Chinese as a individual skill is it is not worth much. Chinese only shines in combination with other solid skills like computer science, mechanical engineering, biochemistry, economics and so on. Study a solid skill and then learn Chinese in your spare time.
There is one exception though. You can pursue a degree in Chinese at university if you win the lottery or you have rich parents or a rich spouse.
You should love to learn new words!
The difficulty distribution of Chinese grammar can be described as, easy to get started hard to master. You can easily get started, only later on it gets harder. The good thing is, there is no flexion, so don’t worry about learning different word endings for different cases. Learning vocabulary is particularly important. If a English native speaker wants to learn Spanish, he already knows more than 1000 words from the first day, but with Chinese the number of words you already is extremely low. Just a handful of loanwords, that’s it.
In other posts I like to talk how useful it is to learn Chinese. And the points I make are true on average. But your personal situation and motivation is not the average! When you want to asses your personal chances of success, then these points don’t mean very much. It’s all about your own motivation. Can you bring enough time and dedication to the table? The choice is up to you!