Why Chinese Language is Considered One of the Hardest Languages to Learn

Chee Loh
2 min readMar 24, 2023
Photo by Jerry Wang on Unsplash

Chinese language is considered one of the most difficult languages to learn for non-native speakers. With its complex writing system, tonal pronunciation, and vast vocabulary, Chinese presents unique challenges that can be daunting to even the most dedicated language learners.

The Writing System

Perhaps the most significant challenge when learning Chinese is the writing system. Unlike most languages that use an alphabet, Chinese uses a logographic system in which each character represents a word or concept. There are over 50,000 characters in the Chinese language, though only about 20,000 are commonly used. To read a newspaper, you need to know at least 2,000–3,000 characters, and to read a book, you need to know even more.

Learning to write Chinese characters requires not only memorization but also a deep understanding of the stroke order and the structure of each character. It can take years of practice to master even the basics of Chinese writing.

Tonal Pronunciation

Another unique feature of Chinese language is its tonal pronunciation. Chinese has four tones, which can change the meaning of a word depending on how it is pronounced. For example, the word “ma” can mean “mother” in one tone and “horse” in another. This makes it crucial for learners to master the correct tone for each word, as mispronunciation can lead to misunderstandings or confusion.

For non-native speakers, it can be challenging to distinguish between the different tones, especially when the differences are subtle. It takes practice and a good ear to develop a sense of tone in Chinese.


Chinese vocabulary can also present challenges for language learners. While the grammar of Chinese is relatively simple, with few verb conjugations or tenses, the language has a vast vocabulary. There are many homophones (words with the same pronunciation but different meanings) in Chinese, which can lead to confusion for beginners. Furthermore, Chinese uses idiomatic expressions that can be difficult to understand for non-native speakers.

Cultural Differences

Learning Chinese is not just about mastering the language itself but also understanding the culture and traditions that underlie it. Chinese culture is rich and complex, with deep roots in history and tradition. To truly understand Chinese language, learners must also be familiar with Chinese customs, beliefs, and values.

Learning Chinese is a challenging but rewarding experience. The writing system, tonal pronunciation, vast vocabulary, and cultural differences all contribute to making Chinese language one of the hardest to learn for non-native speakers. However, with dedication, practice, and a willingness to embrace Chinese culture, anyone can master this fascinating language.