Let's be honest - Chinese is easy and French is hard

I’m tired of people who say Chinese is hard because of the tones and differences from English.

After 3 months I could speak quite fluently and clearly in Cantonese (for which is harder than Mandarin)! I have zero troubles communicating on any subject but random poetry or history.

Why is it after years of studying French on LingQ, endless nights watching TV5monde and thousands of hours of reading that I still can’t string a sentence together without hesitation or doubt that I’m saying things wrong?

I have no idea how people say they can learn French in 200 hours. Nonsense and rubbish - unless I’m retarded I can’t believe it.

When I speak in Chinese people assume I either lived in Hong Kong for 10+ years, but when I speak French I sound like I am a raw beginner. I probably know 10x more words in French than Cantonese, but the words aren’t coming out automatically, smoothly or accurately.

Anyway - I have concluded that as a native English speaker, French is ridiculously hard and Chinese is simply easy. Because I can’t read/write Chinese, I can talk it out automatically without thinking. While in French, I’m writing out what I want to say in my head and reading it back while talking.

People like Luca and Richard don’t motivate you, they only make me feel like I’m seriously retarded.

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I think French is quite tricky and deceptive. In my experience, it’s easy to lose track of what’s happening in a dialogue (particularly with films) because the way French sounds is very unfamiliar to English speakers. I think this also makes it difficult to speak French well without a lot of practice, as our mouths find the sounds very usual. My own personal observation, although somewhat subjective, is that speaking attempts with randomly met French people are not very encouraging because they usual won’t speak (much) French with you unless you speak well.

@milanmaras Is English your only native language? Did you have exposure to any other in the family?

What will you benefit from Chinese language in order that you are going to learning it? It is not important at all? For me, however, I don’t like even the thought of learning it

@Acooperator I like the idea of learning Chinese, even though I don’t believe, that it could be a beneficial one for business, like so many do now.

@eugrus - Croatian. Though English is naturally my numero uno.


I cannot really speak to your language learning experience. What I can say is that as a German native I find Chinese much harder than any of the other languages I have learned before (Norwegian, Spanish, French and English). For me the main challenges were:

  • Large number of homophones or near homophones
  • Tones
  • Compacted and concise nature of Chinese
  • Rich inventory of idioms
  • Vocabulary unrelated to reference languages I know
  • Chinese Script

I believe I saw a Youtube video of yours a year back or so in which you spoke reasonably well French. Saying that you cannot string together a sentence sounds a bit like fishing for compliments. With the level of your written English you should find it not too difficult to make good progress in French.

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I find Mandarin much easier to learn than French. But then it is all because of my language background.

I don’t think I myself am retarded, only that for some reason, French is a harder language to me than, say, Spanish. But I puzzle a lot over the years why French seems so easy to a lot of people:

  1. I hear a lot of people complaining English is hard, and they have to learn it because of work or something. Then for French, most people learn it as a hobby, and nobody seems to complain it is difficult.

  2. Most polyglots list French as one of their most fluent languages. Some even seem to tag it along as a “low-hanging fruit” in their long list of languages.

  3. I heard several real life testimonies that people learned French in 9 months or a year.

  4. There are relatively less language learners talk about learning French. It seems like there is nothing to talk about. If someone comes up with a mission of “fluent in French in 3 months”, I believe not many people will pay attention to it.

But what puzzles me more is that, despite so many people seem to ‘know’ French, I don’t hear them using it! Look at the almost deserted French forum here, for example. It is also true over the Internet. I don’t see a lot of non-French native speakers write their blogs in French.

I think I know where Milan is coming from, French can feel very frustrating without being in a situation where you can use it at a lot. I don’t think Milan will be able to “think” in French without having spent time there (or having studied for many more years). I’m pretty sure Chinese is harder no matter how you look at it, but I suspect French is probably the hardest of the “easy” languages, if that makes sense :slight_smile:

@Friedemann - no, I quit French a year ago out of frustration for the amount of effort I put in for small returns. Only just started to pick it up this week because I have a baby coming and wanted to have him speak French well enough to get into French International School of Hong Kong.

For Cantonese Chinese,

Tones - I found tones to be easy to fix with repetitive listening and assigning a number marker on each word while memorising it.
Homophones - Well, somehow I never had issues with it. Learning in context helps.
Compactness - The beauty of it, don’t have to say as much to get your meaning across.
Idioms - I was lucky to have a father-in-law who loved to teach them as to show he was educated.
Script - Gave up after 1 year because it wasn’t needed in Hong Kong. Every sign had both English and Chinese.

I’ll give German a go as my next challenge.

Well, I respect all subjective views, though I would tend to the concept which says: try to be efficient in the languages whose recognition is international.

milanmaras, Maybe you are learning French in a way different from the way you learned Chinese? From what you say that sounds possible. How did you learn Cantonese? How are you learning French?

@edwin - I share some your sentiments regarding French. Yes, it seems like a lot of people in the English speaking world claim to speak French, but you don’t see many actually speaking/using it. The one thing I’ve always disliked about learning French is the way English speaking people tend to perceive speaking French as being some kind of marker of social status (plus all the stupid cliches about the hat, and the bread stick etc. hehe). It also annoys me when (some) authors use French words when writing in English, when there is a perfectly valid English word for what they are trying to say.

"3) I heard several real life testimonies that people learned French in 9 months or a year.

  1. There are relatively less language learners talk about learning French. It seems like there is nothing to talk about. If someone comes up with a mission of “fluent in French in 3 months”, I believe not many people will pay attention to it."

One comforting fact for me is that I’ve not met anyone here in Australia who speaks French better than I do and has never spent time in France, unless they’ve studied it for much longer than I have. However, I have met people who have spent just a year or two in France, and they do speak better than I do. So my conclusion is that French (much like most languages, I guess) requires a lot of practice to get good at it. I also think that to be able to participate in an all French native speaker (group) conversation/discussion, you have to be able to speak “well”. With Spanish, I felt comfortable enough to participate in such conversations even when I had a lower level.


Cantonese - Lots of repetitive listening + lots of trash talk with the wife + self talk
French - LingQ. Lots of repetitive reading + listening but no talking

The issue with French, I have a fear that the listener will laugh at me for sounding like a retard or uneducated dim-wit. I used to use LIngQ tutor function, but I still fear that Marieanne and co would look down on me. Whether they do or not prevents me from engaging.

milanmara, ah, I see. You don’t have to deal w/ that fear, learning Cantonese. Either your wife adores you and thinks everything you do is marvelous, or you’re like me and your wife already think’s your a dim-wit and you long ago have learned to live with it. Just kidding. But it sounds like fear of making mistakes is much stronger w/ French, for you.

@Milan: Marianne, Serge and co are all good tutors and, in my experience, they won’t judge you for not being able to speak as well as you’d like. Everyone has to start somewhere (or recommence, as the case may be). Plus the great thing about speaking with these tutors is that they know it’s not easy to speak in a foreign language because they are learning one (or several) themselves.

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@IMY - don’t take that incomplete sentence out of context, though. :slight_smile: