Learning Chinese as a Polyglot: A Rewarding Challenge

Chinese as a polyglot - a challenge that often requires a different approach

Learning Chinese as a polyglot presents a unique and rewarding challenge. While native English speakers often learn Spanish, with an estimated 23 million learners, Chinese is not as common, with only around 400,000 learners. 

However, many Europeans are multilingual; residents of Luxembourg frequently speak French and German alongside their native Luxembourgish, and the Dutch often master multiple European languages.

Though it’s relatively easy for a German speaker to learn Swedish or Dutch and for a French speaker to pick up Italian, Portuguese, or Spanish, learning Chinese is a different ballgame. For a polyglot already fluent in a European language, mastering Chinese typically takes 3 to 4 times the effort compared to learning another European language. 

The writing system, with its thousands of characters, is especially complicated, leading some polyglots to focus on speaking and understanding first.

Although the Chinese language proficiency tests, such as HSK5, are slightly easier compared to European language tests—HSK5 being more akin to the European B2 level rather than C1—learning Chinese has become increasingly accessible due to the proliferation of apps, schools, learning methods, and online resources like YouTube.

Consistent practice is crucial, which can be easily achieved in Greater China, Singapore, and Malaysia, or even in larger European and North American cities. While polyglots master other languages often on the go, they might focus a lot more to get started in Chinese and even immerse themselves completely in a Chinese speaking environment for 6 to 12 months.

The benefits of learning Chinese are numerous: it challenges polyglots to rethink their learning strategies, eliminates confusion between European languages, and allows communication with over 1.5 billion people worldwide. The journey may be demanding, but the rewards are truly exceptional.