If you’ve been learning Mandarin or plan to start soon, you might wonder: How long does it take to learn Chinese?
Learners of Chinese often ask this question, which can be tricky to answer.
Your curiosity is bound to be piqued when you figure out when you’ll get there, right? So this is a genuine question!
How can we begin the long and demanding journey without knowing how long it will take to learn Chinese fluently?
There are many factors to consider, so the answer is complex. Thus, the short answer is “it depends,” which is not what anyone wants to hear.
The Mandarin language learning time depends on many factors.
The answer depends on your mother tongue, technique, learning style, goal, and the time you devote. It also has to do with the difficulty of the Chinese language itself.
You can find everything you need to know in this ultimate guide. So now, let’s get started!
TABLE OF CONTENTS
- Learning a new language is often challenging
- 4 top factors affecting the time to learn Chinese
- Tools & Tips to Help you speed up learning process
- Final Words: Time to learn Chinese
Learning a new language is often challenging
There is nothing more exciting and delightful than learning a new language. Yet, the decision also requires commitment, time, and hard work. Thus, taking shortcuts is not a choice.
Having a complex language makes the learning curve steeper and more problematic. Languages such as Arabic, Korean, Mandarin, Cantonese, and Japanese are examples.
A meaningful level in the target language needs learners to pay attention to the timeframe. And it often takes more time than they expect.
Creating a practical study plan demands realistic expectations about what you can do and how long it will take.
Years of dedication, a willingness to learn, and passion can help achieve that purpose. So, all aspects should be considered.
Let’s say you have good reasons to learn Chinese. Then, it will motivate you to overcome obstacles and remain persistent.
You may only go forward if there are solid reasons. In the same way, if you have a plan and passion for reviewing pending lessons, you can find the time.
You will also likely lose interest within a few months and quit without solid motives. In any case, you won’t learn much Chinese. As a result, most people only advance up to a beginner’s level.
Do you still need convincing?
Just look at how many people are learning Chinese. Then, check the number of people who speak Mandarin fluently and do jobs related to the Chinese language.
For example, teaching ESL in China would involve interacting with locals. The number of people to reach will be less than 1%.
Having a language goal and striving toward it should always be your inspiration. So let’s discuss this in more detail.
4 top factors affecting the time to learn Chinese
Several factors decide how long it takes to learn a new language, like Chinese.
Among these factors are your enthusiasm, language difficulty, your mother tongue, and the Mandarin level you would like to achieve. Of course, how you study plays a significant role as well!
So let’s take a closer look at this!
1. Your native language
Mother tongues play a vital part. It is easier to learn a new language if your first language is similar to the one you are studying. It is due to their ability to transfer knowledge from one language to another.
Learning a language faster depends on how close it is to your native tongue.
A Chinese student, for example, will probably take much longer to learn Spanish than someone from France, Italy, or Portugal.
The same is true for those who speak Japanese or Korean, who can learn Chinese more rapidly than those who speak other European languages.
Many words, syntax, and writing systems are like these East Asian languages. This is also due to geographical proximity and historical roots.
Remember, Chinese differs from Japanese, Korean, and other East Asian languages. Also, no known language or family of languages is linked to it. Thus, speaking any language only helps a little when studying Chinese.
Knowledge of one language of the far east will be beneficial to you. But don’t consider them substantial.
Learning and getting a higher level of Mandarin will take a long time. You will have to put in all the effort and steps.
It is possible to carry over knowledge from the first language into the second language and make mistakes or interferences. This is especially true if there is enough diversity of languages.
2. Chinese is a complex language
There is a degree of difficulty in learning every language. Despite this, not all are equally challenging. Some are more difficult than others.
Mandarin Chinese is ranked as one of the most challenging languages for English native speakers by the US Department of State studies.
It differs from English structurally and is unique as an outcome. Plus, Chinese varies dramatically from other languages, such as English, in structure and sound.
The Chinese character, Hanzi, makes it longer to memorize. Besides, China is home to hundreds of languages and Chinese dialects. As a result, it makes learning Chinese an arduous task.
Grammar and particles in Chinese are easy to understand. Yet, the most challenging part is verb conjugation, which needs more practice.
As a result, FSI classified Chinese as a “Super-hard language.” Also, Chinese is one of the most difficult languages for English speakers.
It takes 88 weeks or 2200 hours to reach fluency in Chinese. It is roughly equal to C1 on CEFR charts and HSK level V on HSK charts.
Adding 1:1 self-study and classroom study. If your goal is advanced, the total time will increase to 4,400 hours.
The study time for HSK6, a near-native language, is assessed to take between 3000 and 5600 hours. So, those without prior knowledge and English-speaking students are advised to take a long-term course.
3. Immersion and your surrounding
Do you genuinely want to study a second language? If so, immersing yourself in a community that speaks that language exclusively can inspire you to learn it quickly.
A perfect way to learn is through immersion, which helps you learn faster and more authentically. Also, living where the language is spoken is very helpful.
You would benefit from engaging in conversations and actively practicing enhancing your language skills with native speakers. So, find like-minded learners, take advantage of the ever-connected world, and be proactive.
Although I understand that not everyone can find a way to live in China.
The process of doing so is more complex than it seems for many people who come to China intending to do so.
It would be ideal if the opportunity to live in China arose. But there are other ways to learn Mandarin.
First, converse in English with many people. As a result, you may need help to comprehend complex discussions, which can be frustrating.
Since you have a compelling reason to learn, you will be more motivated to reach your goal quickly. You will also be able to improve your skills much faster when you are around people who speak Chinese daily.
Chaos resulted from the pandemic. Yet, people have adapted to these new platforms to conduct online meetings, schooling, jobs, and other activities.
A language exchange session could be held online. For example, you can live in something other than China to learn Mandarin.
A video or voice call with your language partner can significantly benefit you when practicing your language.
This kind of skill can be found in many Chinese learning apps. A few examples are HelloTalk, Tandem, and one-to-one tutoring on Italki, Verbly, and Preply, to name a few.
4. Your learning resources
Textbooks are the first thing any Mandarin learner searches for. A wide range of new and ideal materials is available to Chinese students.
Online resources are available at any time, regardless of when you study. From e-books to podcasts and audio lessons, the options are endless.
You also must decide how to learn the language and what sources or methods to use.
Among them are the amount of listening practice you get, the level of exposure, and the books you use. Also, it would help if you were exposed to the language as it is.
These factors influence the time to learn a language. The more involved and informed you are, the more you will study swiftly. Also, tons of help is available online and offline for Chinese, a popular language.
Tools & Tips to Help you speed up learning process
It is possible to learn any language, including Chinese, in various ways. Plus, you will understand quicker and better if you choose the method that works best for you.
There are many language training centers and institutes where you can register. They would teach you all aspects of the subject as part of their organized schedules. So it starts from basics to advanced.
Alternatively, you can study online language courses offered by websites that offer lessons taught by native speakers or language professors.
Learning Chinese using apps or software developed for this purpose is possible. The mobile app’s game-like interface will make your experience fun and engaging, helping you keep information.
There is also the possibility of finding a friend fluent in Chinese or a native Mandarin speaker. It can also help you learn the nuances of a language often overlooked by traditional methods.
Native speakers often improvise and add their own spin while speaking, especially in Chinese. So catching up on those little details can be helpful if you have a Chinese friend.
Learning the Chinese script and language is vital for many people. The Chinese use long and complex writing systems to convey their language on paper.
Aside from traditional methods, some extra steps can help you progress more quickly.
(i) Learning Chinese writing characters
People must realize how important it is to learn the script of the Chinese language. Learn the characters first, and your journey will be easier!
The Chinese use the Hanza writing system to convey their language on paper. It comprises thousands of symbols.
When exploring language learning material, this will serve as a starting point. Further, it will give you a definite edge in learning Mandarin more quickly and effectively.
The number of characters used in the past was phenomenal, but most are no longer in use. For example, Hanja comprises 5000 Chinese characters with distinct meanings and pronunciations.
The Hanja script is pictographic. Instead of representing sounds, each sign means a notion. Thus, these symbols can be read or pronounced.
Learning how to write and interpret Hanja characters with the help of Hanja workbooks is possible. So even if it’s just 20 minutes a day, get a workbook and practice daily.
(ii) Making use of Chinese entertainment
You could watch TV shows, flicks, or anime to learn the language more efficiently. Yet, taking care and precision will ensure that the process is productive and that some learning occurs, rather than passively watching.
You can also learn Chinese through films, C-drama, C-pop, and music.
While watching TV or movies, change the subtitles from English to Chinese as your language improves. Of course, it will take time for your spoken Chinese to enhance, but you must still work on your reading skills.
You can also listen to Chinese podcasts or radio shows. As you get a lot of listening practice, you’ll learn the language in a daily context. All can help you improve your pronunciation and communication.
The Chinese characters in movies and TV series for Chinese learners with native subtitles can be linked to many spoken words.
You are switching back and forth between Mandarin and your native tongue. For instance, English subtitles, if you find it difficult at first.
Initially, focus on mastering everyday words that you would use in China. Once you grasp the basics well, your learning will be faster and more valuable.
To learn a language, you must keep a constant source of listening. For example, podcasts could be audiobooks, music playlists, or radio shows.
It will speed up your progress if you combine this with reading the transcripts of the shows. Yet, with all this in mind, you will progress a little if you rely only on one learning method and one source.
The learning process should be incorporated into your daily life besides textbook learning.
(iii) Learning Chinese grammar rules
It may take some time to become accustomed to Chinese grammar. Languages such as English, for instance, follow the Subject/Verb/Object (SVO) pattern.
On the other hand, Chinese follows the Subject/Object/Verb system. This is also the SOV pattern in most Indian languages, which would help you learn Chinese.
European languages often emphasize syllables in their speech patterns. On the contrary, The Chinese focus on the rising or falling pitch differently.
Chinese culture and language also emphasize formal and informal speech patterns. It is because honorifics play such an important role.
Using formal conversation is required when speaking with a stranger or someone older. Yet, you can use casual tones when talking with friends or juniors.
After getting past these hurdles, learning Chinese becomes comparatively fast with active participation and focused studying methods. Also, goals like Chinese language jobs will boost your advancement.
Final Words: Time to learn Chinese
An English speaker will find learning Chinese difficult. It is also complex and time-consuming.
Consider how children become accustomed to learning a new language. As they interact constantly, they absorb information.
Children don’t seem to care about language hardships as long as they can access them. The problem is they are only aware of this once they become semi-fluent, like HSK levels 4 or 5.
It is undoubtedly true that learning a language takes time, but that is also the way you master it. All you need is consistency and time! After that, you can’t reason with logic!
Language learning can only be generalized to a certain extent. The specifics will vary depending on your strategy, speed, and availability.
You can achieve the same results with persistence, motivation, and a suitable method. Getting this right doesn’t require a rocket scientist!
Maintaining your commitment to learning Chinese is more important than practicing for hours daily. But, of course, having the right approach and guidance makes all the difference!
How many hours a day should you study Chinese?
There is no universal answer to this question. It depends on how dedicated you are, your schedule, and what purpose you have.
15 to 20 minutes should be fine if you are learning as a hobby. Then, 5 to 6 months later, you can quickly hold a few minutes of discussions and comprehend many texts.
What if you need a level 5 HSK score for higher education in China? A year of study is sufficient, then.
Your timeline also differs based on how regularly you study. For example, you will need to learn 30 minutes daily for three to five years to achieve an upper-intermediate level.
You must study more if you cannot wait that long. A weekly study time of 10 to 20 hours, for example. You can achieve level TOCFL level 5 or HSK 5 in two years.
It will help if you keep going rather than give up midway. Eventually, you will reach your goal. Your efforts and following the proper steps will ensure that you become a successful learner sooner rather than later.
How long does it take to learn Chinese fluently?
The ability to speak Chinese fluently and measures your fluency.
Being a fluent speaker doesn’t mean being perfect and eloquent, like a native speaker. Instead, speaking confidently and relaxed, even with a few mistakes, is what it is.
A language as old as Chinese is vast, and no one, not even Chinese experts, can fully comprehend it. Yet, despite this, they have the language skills to accomplish all the tasks.
Many Chinese teachers, specialists, and learners I’ve spoken with believe it takes a long time to learn Mandarin fluently.
There may be some variation in the time it takes to learn Chinese. Your method, your time, and your goal will determine your level. You may take longer to make progress if you study on your own.
It usually takes three to five years to reach fluency or an advanced level. You can then get jobs that require this language. It includes a career as a Chinese translator, a higher-level teaching position, or an interpreter.
The process of learning a second language takes a lifetime. No matter how well we know our native language, we don’t know everything about it either.
The learning process will be shorter if you plan to communicate in Chinese every day. So a few months to go!
Don’t just focus on quantity but also quality for maximum learning outcomes. We can benefit from the Pareto principle, where 80% of outputs (results) come from 20% of inputs (causes).
You don’t need to worry! You can learn any language with the right study plan, motivation, and enough interest. And the same is true for the Chinese!
Thanks for taking the time to read this article. Comment below if you have questions or want to share your views.