home home home about home curriculum home events home language

Learning Chinese

Difficulties in Learning Chinese:

  • Chinese shares very little vocabulary with European languages, so speakers of these languages have to work harder than if they were learning another European language. And even though Chinese shares vocabulary with several Asian languages (especially Korean, Japanese, and Vietnamese), this shared vocabulary is often difficult to recognize.
  • The writing system is definitely hard to learn, though there is nothing conceptually difficult about it; there is just a lot to memorize.
  • Chinese is a tonal language--that is, different pitch patterns do not just add emotional color, as in English; they actually distinguish one word from another. How much of a problem this is depends a lot on the individual student: students with a good ear do not necessarily find this a difficulty.

Easy things about Learning Chinese:

  • Unlike many European languages, Chinese has no irregular verbs or noun plurals to learn, because words have only a single form, with no suffixes for tense, number, case, etc. (There are some particles which work somewhat like tense endings, but they always take the same form, no matter what they are added to.)
  • Chinese speakers are usually tolerant of a foreigner's mistakes--perhaps because so many Chinese themselves speak standard Mandarin Chinese as a second language.

And here are some actual numbers »



Learning Chinese

Language Study at the University of Michigan

Degree Programs



9.18: 4:30pm | Power Center | James Kynge

Please join us on at the Power Center as James Kynge discusses China Shakes the World. Reception and book signing to follow.

China Now