Learning to Chinese can be a challenge for English speakers, but the rewards of conversing in another language can be immensely gratifying. But how hard is it really to learn Chinese? Some individuals find Chinese especially challenging because of the highly specific intonation necessary to speak the language correctly. But as China's economy continues to boom, it is increasingly becoming a popular language. Many linguists and teachers view it as the "language of the future"—a language we will all have to become more familiar with if we wish to bridge the cultural gaps between East and West.
But why is it so difficult for so many people to learn Chinese? Linguists point to two major attributes of the Chinese language. One reason that Chinese is such a difficult language to tackle for Westerners has to do with Chinese script. The Chinese language has no alphabet. Instead, it uses a set of roughly 60,000 characters. Obviously, it can be difficult to memorize a few hundred characters, much less thousands. There are so many characters, in fact, that no one has been able to determine the definitive number. The second reason that Chinese poses a challenge for Westerners has to do with the tonal system of Chinese. Chinese uses four and a half tones. This means that each word can have several meanings, depending on the tone that is used by the speaker. Compounding this confusion, how tones are used can vary widely depending on the region.
However, despite these challenges, Westerners do have a bit of an advantage in some respects. For instance, to learn Chinese you don't have to worry about complicated grammar regulations. Many European languages have complicated grammar rules, but when you learn Chinese you don't have to worry about verb tenses, singular, plural, or relative causes. Despite the challenges associated with the language, it is well worth the effort to learn Chinese.