How hard is Chinese?

Courtesy of Professor William Baxter

Some things about Chinese are hard, some are easy.

Hard things:

Easy things:


And here are some actual numbers...

The Defense Language Institute in Monterey, California, divides the languages they teach into four groups, from easiest to most difficult, as measured by the number of hours of instruction required to bring students to a certain level of proficiency. Here are their figures (from 1973; I doubt if they have changed much ):

Languages included
(Languages regularly offered at the University of Michigan are in capital letters; this is NOT a complete list)

Hours of instruction required for a student with average language aptitude to reach level-2 speaking proficiency

Speaking proficiency level expected of a student with superior language aptitude, after 720 hours of instruction
GROUP I Afrikaans, Danish, DUTCH, FRENCH, Haitian Creole, ITALIAN, Norwegian, PORTUGUESE, Romanian, SPANISH, Swahili, SWEDISH 480 3
GROUP II Bulgarian, Dari, FARSI (PERSIAN), GERMAN, (Modern) Greek, HINDI-URDU, INDONESIAN, Malay 720 2+ / 3
GROUP III Amharic, Bengali, Burmese, CZECH, Finnish, (MODERN) HEBREW, Hungarian, Khmer (Cambodian), Lao, Nepali, PILIPINO (TAGALOG), POLISH, RUSSIAN, SERBO-CROATIAN, Sinhala, THAI, TAMIL, TURKISH, VIETNAMESE 720 2 / 2+
GROUP IV ARABIC, CHINESE, JAPANESE, KOREAN 1320 1+

This page was updated on August 25, 2012.