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Chinese Grammar is Not Difficult

Chinese Grammar is Not Difficult has been transcribed from Steve’s YouTube channel. 

Original video was published on November 22, 2018



Hi there, Steve here. Today I want to talk a little bit about Chinese because we’re introducing traditional characters to LingQ. So people who are interested in learning traditional characters, they can get on. Literally, anything that is in our library in simplified characters you can convert it to traditional and upload it in the traditional slot. We’re also going to be starting Cantonese. So for those of you who are interested, that’s good news. I did mention in a previous video that we can now import YouTube videos directly into LingQ to study using our Chrome extension or browser extensions. So a lot of material in Chinese, which has captions, is available to learn Chinese online  as lessons at LingQ.


Chinese isn’t as difficult as people say

Now, Chinese. The first thing about Chinese is that it’s not as difficult as people say. It has certain difficulties. I would say difficulty number one is the characters. It’s a lot of work, but it’s a matter of staying with it and doing it every day; finding a system that works for you. I think Chinese characters is one area where deliberate vocabulary study is helpful, especially I’ve found for the first 1000 characters. After that, you come across them in reading. You’re more familiar with the components. It’s a little bit easier to pick up the characters on the fly.


As you know, I believe in input-based learning. Input-based learning means reading. Chinese is a language where it’s really helpful to read, to read a lot, to work on your characters from day one and spend a lot of time reading. So that’s difficulty number one.



Difficulty number two of course is the tones. Here again, remember that everything that seems so strange at first in any language gradually there’s a snowball effect. It becomes more and more familiar and easier to learn. I wouldn’t put a lot of effort in trying to nail the pronunciation at the beginning. I would put a lot of effort into listening and getting used the hearing the tones. So the second difficulty then is the tones, but it’s something that you will gradually get better at. Don’t worry about it. It doesn’t inhibit or shouldn’t inhibit your ability to enjoy the language through reading and listening.


Chinese Vocabulary

The third thing is vocabulary where there are basically no common vocabulary items with other languages, except for some other Asian languages. So if we go through the parts of speech, the good news in Chinese is that the grammar is quite simple.


Nouns, there’s no plural. Well, there are a few plurals, but essentially no plural. They do have these counters. [一本书、一架车] — one car, there’s a frame of a car or a stick of a book for whatever reason. There’s no plural. There’s no feminine. There’s no gender. There’s no changing of endings. Nothing. It’s that easy. You just have to learn the nouns, what they mean. Verbs, again, no change. I go — [我去、我明天去、昨天去]. That’s yesterday, tomorrow. [昨天]They add a little ‘la’ at the end to indicate the past tense, but there is very little change in the verbs. Adjectives, again, basically quite simple. The car is very big. [] — car — [很大] — very big. Car very big. Very often adverbs and adjectives can be used interchangeably. [车很快]. The car is very fast. [我跑得很快]. I run fast — Same[]. There are a lot of situations like that.


I think the genius of Chinese is that they have simplified a lot of stuff. I don’t think it’s a sign of the language being less developed. I think it’s very helpful in fact to have simplified these things. You ask questions, they just put a [] at the end. [你去。] — you go. [你去吗?] — are you going? So the [] is like a question mark which appears in speech. Pretty straightforward. You can also ask questions like are you going? [你去不去?] — you go, not go?


So there’s a lot of very basic putting words together in a very practical way to produce meaning, which is kind of refreshing at times compared to some of the more complicated, structured grammatically difficult languages. Basically, that’s it. You have to tackle the characters upfront. Start early and keep going at it every single day.


The other thing about Chinese, don’t get caught up in any grammatical explanations, terms or whatever. It’s all a matter of patterns. There might be 50 or 100 different patterns. If you do something then I will [要是你去我也去。] Save phrases, save patterns and, if you can, get a Chinese book that focuses on patterns. That’s how you should learn the language.


I’m going to get in out of the wind here. I hope that was helpful, bye for now.

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