How Long Does it Take to Learn Chinese
Hello, LingQ community and other language learners around the world! My name is Kiandro Scavella, inspired language and culture enthusiast. I’m originally from The Bahamas, the land of sun, sea, and pride. My native language is English, but I took an interest in foreign languages after realizing my terrible attempt to learning Spanish in high school. I thought what if I were actually good in one of these “language” things. At the moment I’m studying Japanese, Esperanto, Spanish and Chinese. In this article, I’ll try and answer the question, how long does it take to learn Chinese, talking about the different stages of learning and an overall time frame of acquisition.
I started studying Chinese in my final year of undergraduate college simultaneously with my Japanese studies. If you were curious about whether it’s a good idea to study both at the same time… well you’re in for a surprise.
My study schedule at the moment mainly consists of listening to anything in Chinese whenever I can. I’m also living in Japan at the moment so I also make an effort to translate the traditional characters into the simplified Chinese characters whenever possible (which is basically all the time). Overall I’d say I study Chinese for about 5-6 hours a week. Naturally, with that amount of time, I’m nowhere close to fluent but I’m working on it.
6:00 AM: Wake Up (Yeah I know it’s crazy)
6:30 AM: Coffee and some morning Chinese News streams on Youtube. Other days I’d watch Chinese poetry recitations.
7:00 AM: Read some easy articles or stories for about 30 minutes. I usually find these articles in my textbooks or on the internet.
7:30-8:00 AM: Go over my flashcard deck and add new words from the articles/stories.
I wash rinse and repeat this routine every morning with some variations. The main I thing try not to do is break the chain of productivity. I occasionally speak a bit of Chinese with the Chinese students at my university in Japan. They are very helpful and I enjoy the company a great, so if you ever get the chance to speak to a native. You won’t be scorned for speaking their language, they’re generally very appreciative of the fact that you’re learning their language.
Before we speak about the different stages of proficiency I’d just like to point out that I’m barely reaching into limited working proficiency and here’s why:
I reached elementary proficiency after two college semesters of Chinese classes – by American college standards this is about six months including additional homework and study hours. However, I would say that in terms of writing I had a bit of a head start since by that time I virtually understood every Chinese character I came across due to my previous encounters with Japanese.
There is a massive collection of vocabulary that needs to be added to the learner’s memory bank in order to achieve limited working proficiency. The vocabulary also has to be activated, meaning that you can use them at command without putting too much thought into the meaning. Aside from these aspects, there must also be a greater degree of comprehension skills to satisfy the “working” part of this stage.
I haven’t reached the Limited Proficiency Stage as yet in Chinese because I’m no longer in the immersive environment my college classroom imitated. There is a point in language learning when face to face interaction is absolutely necessary in order to jump to progress to the next stage. Limited working proficiency meets this point somewhere in the middle. However, if I were to put a time requirement on this stage I’d say anywhere between 12-24 months after having reached Elementary Proficiency.
So, how long does it take to learn Chinese
In general, I think it will take me about 3-4 years to obtain complete mastery in Chinese, maybe longer if I keep stalling on visiting the country. Chinese is known to be one of the more difficult languages to learn even if your native language has relations but it is truly worthwhile if you stick with it and find a purpose behind the learning experience.
Stages Of Proficiency Explained
The person is able to satisfy routine travel needs and minimum courtesy requirements.
Limited working proficiency
The person is able to satisfy routine social demands and limited work requirements.
Most people underestimate the large gap between elementary proficiency and limited working proficiency.
Minimum professional proficiency
The person can speak the language with sufficient structural accuracy and vocabulary to participate effectively in most formal and informal conversations on practical, social, and professional topics.
Full professional proficiency
The person uses the language fluently and accurately on all levels normally pertinent to professional needs.
Native or bilingual proficiency.
The person has speaking proficiency equivalent to that of an educated native speaker.
What are the easiest and most difficult parts?
As mentioned earlier, the easiest part about learning Chinese personally, was the characters. However, that was because of my previous experience in Japanese. I had already learned about radicals, stroke order, and all that good stuff so it didn’t take me long to adjust to the simplified version of the Chinese characters.
Many English natives say that the Grammar of Chinese is the easiest part for them, but in my case, it was a bit different. Sometimes having previous knowledge of a second language before starting a third or fourth can skew learning results. English and Chinese grammar are basically the same with very few differences, however in Japanese word order is a complete art. So every time I had to construct a sentence I ended up using Subject–Object–Verb instead of Subject–Verb–Object. It wasn’t a huge problem, but I did it more times than I can count, and I still do to this very day (it’s been 9 months since I started learning Chinese).
There are still many things I’d like to try considering I’m not fluent yet. But, the one thing I’d really change would be my approach to learning the tones. I came at l pinyin from the wrong angle, somehow I thought tones and pronunciation meant the same thing – which I guess they do if you keep it simple. But, if I had to do it all again from the beginning I would sing more Chinese songs, a lot more. If you’re just starting to learn Chinese think of Chinese tones as actual music notes you’ll have much more fun that way. Just remember if your face isn’t hurting you’re doing it wrong.
Resources I’ve used
Integrated Chinese 4th Edition Parts 1,2,3
Mulan in Chinese– Easily one of my favorites ( find a book you can make your favorite)
Reading different fairy tales in Chinese
Spaced Repetition – Anki, Memrise, LingQ lessons and articles
You’ll need to write to learn this language, there is no shortcut this time 😃.
Chinese News Streams On Youtube
Chinese Poetry On Youtube With Lyrics
Disney’s Mulan In Chinese (I’ve watched this like 17 times by now)
Speaking to Natives when the opportunity arises.
Practicing rewriting traditional Japanese characters in simplified Chinese.
Learn Chinese Faster on LingQ
Using LingQ, you can import your favorite Chinese content and start learning right away using the convenience LingQ provides. For example, instead of having to look up new characters, LingQ provides numerous dictionaries that you can simply open while reading your lesson. This keeps your flow going and helps you progress faster.
You can import content from YouTube or other sites that include Chinese content.
Here’s a video I recommend that shows you how to import YouTube content into LingQ. After a few clicks, LingQ will turn that video into an interactive lesson, using the transcript, audio, and video.
For more information about using LingQ and what you can import, check out The Complete Guide to Importing on LingQ. Good luck!
Short Writers Bio: Kiandro is an enthusiastic language learner. He holds a B.A in Asian Studies and is currently studying Japanese, Chinese and Korean. He favourite foods are ice cream and lobster tails.