In most cases: Chinese! Thai only if you have good personal reasons for it!
Choosing between learning Thai or Chinese largely depends on your personal interests, goals, and connections to the countries where these languages are spoken. In this article, we will discuss the difficulties and practicalities of learning each language, the regions where they are spoken, and the benefits of learning each language.
What is more difficult: Thai or Chinese?
When comparing the difficulty of learning Thai and Chinese, several factors should be considered, including tonality, writing systems, and the number of speakers worldwide.
Both Thai and Chinese are tonal languages, with Thai having five tones and Chinese (Mandarin) having four. While both languages require practice to master the tones, Chinese tones might be considered slightly more straightforward due to having fewer tones to learn.
In terms of writing systems, Thai uses its own script, while Chinese uses characters. Learning to read and write Chinese is generally considered more challenging due to the thousands of characters that need to be memorized. The US State Department classifies Chinese as a Category 4 language (the most difficult), whereas Thai is classified as a Category 3 language.
Regarding the number of speakers, Chinese is the most spoken language in the world, with over 1.3 billion speakers. Thai, on the other hand, has around 60 million speakers.
Where is Chinese spoken?
Chinese is predominantly spoken in China, Taiwan, and increasingly in Hong Kong. It is also spoken by many people in Thailand, Cambodia, Malaysia, Singapore, Myanmar, and Indonesia, as well as Chinese communities worldwide.
Where is Thai spoken?
Basically in Thailand and even there, several areas with strong dialects exist. There are less than 500,000 Thai speakers in Europe which makes it a large community, but much smaller compared to Chinese speakers. Germany alone accounts for more than 100,000 Thai speakers, but there are few in Latin America and North America.
Challenges and benefits of learning each language
The most difficult aspect of learning Chinese is mastering the characters. However, if your focus is on speaking, Chinese might be easier than Thai. Conversely, writing and reading will be more challenging in Chinese due to the complex character system.
Chinese is becoming more standardized around the world. Thai, on the other hand, has many regional dialects within Thailand itself. While there are also many Chinese dialects, most speakers also speak Standard Chinese, known as Putonghua, GuoYu, or HuaYu. These terms have similar meanings but are used in different regions and carry different political connotations.
Find more on the difficulties of learning Thai and Chinese on this youtube channel.
In summary, the decision to learn Thai or Chinese largely depends on your personal interests and connections to the regions where these languages are spoken. If you have a strong connection to Thailand, learning Thai may be more beneficial for you. However, if you’re looking for a language with more global reach and influence, learning Chinese may be the better choice. Regardless of your decision, both languages offer unique challenges and rewards.