Chinese Language Blog

Studying Chinese isn’t THAT Difficult (学习汉语不太难) Posted by on Aug 4, 2010 in Uncategorized

As I’ve said before, Chinese can be quite intimidating for beginner learners.  Believe me, I’ve been there.  The tones (声调) and the characters (汉字) alone can be enough to send you running for the hills.  For yours truly, throwing in the towel often seemed like a good idea when I first started learning Chinese.  Luckily for me, I was living in China, so I really had no choice but to push on.  While the tones and the characters can easily make your head spin, I encourage you to keep working at it.  Once you have a solid understanding of the tones and the pin yin system, you can really dive into learning and speaking Chinese.

As you progress, you will come to realize that in Chinese, the 语法 (yǔ fǎ – grammar) really isn’t so difficult.  Compared to 英语 (yīng yǔ – English), Chinese grammar is a breeze.  As an English teacher in China, I have come to realize just how difficult English grammar is for Chinese students.  While native English speakers botch their tones and struggle to read characters, their Chinese counterparts have the most difficulty with the vast amount of grammar present in English.

In an attempt to show you that 学习汉语 (xué xí hàn yǔ – studying Chinese) is 不太难 (bù tài nán – not too difficult), I’m going to show you a few examples comparing Chinese grammar with English grammar.  Here we go!

When teaching my 学生 (xué shēng – students) English, I notice that they have a lot of trouble with personal pronouns, the different forms of the verb “to be”, and possessive pronouns.  Luckily, for us Chinese learners, things are much simpler in Chinese.  Let’s start with simple pronouns.

I/me              我 – wǒ
You                你 – nǐ
He/him         他 – tā
She/her         她 – tā
It                     它 – tā
We/us            我们 – wǒ men
You (plural)  你们 – nǐ men
They/them    他们 – tā men

In Chinese,  我 can be used as “I” or “me.”  Whereas with English, you have to be drilled on when to use one and when to use the other, in Chinese you always use 我.

It’s the same with he/him, she/her, and it.  For all of these words in English, you simply say “tā” in Chinese.  The pinyin and the tone remains the same, while the character changes depending on the subject (他,她,or 它).  That means, for speaking purposes, you only need to remember one syllable!

Finally, simply add 们 to any pronoun to make it plural.   Again, you don’t have to worry about nitty gritty detail like when to use “we” and when to use “us.”  No matter the situation, you will use 我们.

Next up, let’s take a look at the different uses of the verb “to be” in English and Chinese:

I am               我是 – wǒ shì
You are         你是 – nǐ shì
He is             他是 – tā shì
She is            她是 – tā shì
It is                它是 – tā shì
We are          我们是 – wǒ men shì
You are         你们是 – nǐ men shì
They are       他们是 – tā men shì

In Chinese, you simply have to know the word 是, and you’re all set.  While I constantly have to correct my Chinese students when they say, “he am” or “I is”, you won’t have to worry about this when studying Chinese.

Finally, let’s learn about possessive pronouns and how easy they are in Chinese when compared with English:

My/mine       我的 – wǒ de
Yours             你的 – nǐ de
His                 他的 – tā de
Hers               她的 – tā de
Its                   它的 – tā de
Ours               我们的 – wǒ men de
Yours (pl)      你们的 – nǐ men de
Theirs            他们的 – tā men de

As you can see, in order to make a pronoun possessive in Chinese, you simply add the particle 的.

Now that you see how simple Chinese can be, let’s check out a few examples to see this grammar in action:

我是老师 (wǒ shì lǎoshī) = I am a teacher.
她是学生 (tā shì xué shēng) = She is a student.
你们是朋友 (nǐ men shì péng yǒu) = You (pl) are friends.

As I’m sure you’ve noticed, in Chinese there is no equivalent for “a.”  There’s also no word in Chinese for “an” or “the.”  For English learners, remembering when and how to use articles can be stressful and complicated.  For Chinese learners, this problem is non-existent!

Here are some examples of sentences using possessive pronouns:

我的书 (wǒ de shū) = my book
他的自行车 (tā de zì xíng chē) = his bicycle
他们的妈妈 (tā men de mā mā) = their mother

Instead of having to learn more words as in English, you just attach 的 to a pronoun and you are all set!  What a breeze!

Before we call it a day, let’s combine everything I’ve talked about so far in this post:

你是我的老师 (nǐ shì wǒ de lǎo shī) = You are my teacher.

他是我们的朋友 (tā shì wǒ men de péng yǒu) = He is our friend.

他们是你的学生 (tā men shì nǐ de xué shēng) = They are your students.

These are only a few, simple examples of how learning Chinese can actually be somewhat easy.  Each month, I’ll do my best to give you more insight into Chinese grammar, increasing the difficulty as the months progress.  Now that you’ve got the 拼音,声调,and some basic 语法 down, moving ahead with your studies should be much easier.  努力学习 (nǔ lì xué xí – study hard)!

Keep learning Chinese with us!

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About the Author: sasha

Sasha is an English teacher, writer, photographer, and videographer from the great state of Michigan. Upon graduating from Michigan State University, he moved to China and spent 5+ years living, working, studying, and traveling there. He also studied Indonesian Language & Culture in Bali for a year. He and his wife run the travel blog Grateful Gypsies, and they're currently trying the digital nomad lifestyle across Latin America.


  1. Rusa:

    As an Chinese (not from China) who speak both Chinese and English, I agree with what you are saying. English is very difficult in grammar.

    But what makes Chinese language is hard is the term. The combination of two (or more) words to make a new term, that is the challenge.

    But yes, learning any language need efforts and it is nice to see you trying to teach Mandarin in simple way. Keep up the good work.

  2. Guus:

    Great post. In the end, any language has its easier and more difficult sides. Funnily, I’ve written a similar post recently about Chinese verbs compared to French (which is even more complicated than English in that respect) – see

  3. Peter Simon:

    I agree with Rusa that the combinations of syllables make Chinese really difficult. I’d add that the tones are still disturbing me after years (Europeans use tonal changes to show differences of emotions after all). But I don’t think English grammar is difficult. The personal pronoun system is so easy that it’s second only to Chinese. Consider inflecting languages, where each and every aspect and case has a different form for each person – often the case with Slavic, or Francophone languages with gender differences, and especially Hungarian, even without genders. And there comes another difficulty with Chinese: to understand the differences of meaning and relationships among words without forms showing them if you come from one of these above cultures. But practice makes perfect – with time and patience.

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