I Can’t Learn Chinese, It’s Too Hard!

I Can’t Learn Chinese, It’s Too Hard!

I was talking with a Chinese friend about her son who is enjoying his Summer vacation after his first year of college. “I helped him get an interview at a pizza restaurant for a summer job, but when he was in the interview and they asked him about his English, he said ‘My teacher always said from the time I was little that my English was not good.’ He blew the interview and now he is just sitting around the house with nothing to do.” Her son has shown great proficiency in math, science, and Chinese, but he seems to have trouble with English. He can speak a little bit, but not very well.

It just so turns out that this entire conversation I had with the mother was in Chinese. In fact, the mother has been working in an English environment for five years but can speak only about 10 words or phrases in English. I asked her why she hasn’t learned English after all these years. Her reply “Oh, I’m not smart, not like other people. I can’t learn English, it’s too hard!”

I’ve heard this one before; “I can’t learn [insert foreign language of choice], it’s too hard!” I’ve heard this from a German colleague about Chinese, an American friend about Spanish, and Chinese people about English. Curious enough, I have also heard this from individuals who can speak but not read Chinese; “I can’t learn Chinese characters, it’s too hard!”


Is it really that hard? To this dear lady, I pointed out that despite not even trying, she has learned a handful of English words and phrases: no, thank you, sorry, what are you doing, etc. When I first met this person, my Chinese was limited to “ni hao, xie xie, duoshao qian”. Fast forward 4 years later, despite my Chinese being nothing close to what you might think as fluent, we’re having a full conversation in Chinese.

“Imagine how much English you would be able to speak if you had only started to learn.” What was holding her back? The exact same thing holding back her son: believing you can.

You can learn Chinese. You can learn Spanish. You can learn French, Bulgarian, Russian, Zulu, or any other language. There is no ‘secret’ to learning a language. Having faith in yourself is the very first step in accomplishing anything worthwhile. All that it requires is consistent effort in the belief that you can learn. The perfect time to start is now.


  • Adam Stout Posted July 17, 2014 11:46 pm

    Great post! Who is the author?

    – Adam

    • Jared Turner Posted July 18, 2014 12:45 am

      Me! Thanks for the comment Adam. 🙂

  • pablo Posted August 28, 2014 5:54 pm

    I’ve been in SH for 6months so far I haven’t been going well at learning chinese. A lot of people use english and sometimes is so annoying not speak chinese. Chinese people should launch “This is China, speak chinese” campaign.

  • Jake Posted April 2, 2015 5:12 pm

    Amazing, I finished this post and understood it as I am a Chinese.
    What can I say?
    Yes, very good, keep going and especially focus on the Graded Readers.

  • Kaixin Posted June 28, 2015 12:07 pm

    SO TRUE! I have been studying Chinese for fun for the last year. I put a good 1-3 hours per day effort in. I study at work when I have free time – well I’m very efficient and I almost always have time to fit a bit of study in even if it’s just flashcards between jobs and phone calls no matter how frequent they are). My colleages all see me reading and writing Chinese and attempting to pracitice with Chinese speaking patients (I work as a receptionist in a medical centre) and say “Wow that’s amazing” “Isn’t Chinese so hard?” Even an audiologist I work with whose parents are Chinese says “Wow that’s amazing! Chinese is too hard especially with the tones!”

    They all think it’s so hard that they wouldn’t even attempt to learn.

    But it’s not – maybe it would take a bit longer to learn than say, french or german, but if you put the time in it is far from impossible, it is definitely as attainable as any other language. But like with everything else, it takes PERSISTENCE. you need to put aside time regularly to practice or you will lose whateer you’ve learned. People think Chinese characters are so hard but what makes them any harder from a language that has an alphabet? You have to memorise EVERY WORD anyway because spelling often differs from the normal rules! The only differnece is that Chinese and its Hanzi are incredibly interesting to learn, and once you’re able to recognise the different radicals and see how each character fits radicals together it’s incredibly interesting, not to mention Hanzi are the most beautiful script of all languages!

    Never say anything is too hard. If you say something is impossible, then it IS impossible, but if you give it a go, you might find an incredibly satisfying and fulfilling hobby awaiting you.

  • Kaixin Posted June 28, 2015 12:18 pm

    My Chinese, especially when spoken, is incredibly broken and full of grammatical errors. TO make things worse, I’m shy and therefore often freeze up and forget a lot of vocabulary. BUT you can’t expect to be fluent from the start. It takes lots and lots of practice. When speaking, I am WAY out of my comfort zone. I have a couple of friends in Taiwan I hav emade through language exchange sites. Sometimes I just want to get off Skype right away and hide because I’m so out of my comfort zone that I feel SICK, so nervous I could vomit. But I know that I have to keep pushing on, out of my comfort zone. You don’t get good at a language by running away, and you won’t get fluent at speaking by only reading or listening. So to all of my fellow language learners, don’t give up, don’t let shyness get in your way. Even though you’re not fluent and ven though your Chinese/Englihs seems poor, keep pressing on because most people will not judge you negatively, rather most people will encourage you! Every Chinese I have ever spoken to in CHinese has been nothing but friendly, excited and encouraging. But even if they do judge you negatively, keep pressing on, because we all have to start somewhere!! To be good at anything we must be not so good at it but keep pressing on, keep learning, keep practicing, keep making mistakes and learning from them!

    Good luck my friends!

  • Alex Posted October 17, 2020 3:49 am

    Came across you on youtube…shame there is no spanish versions out.. could really do with them now….do you know of anything for spanish similar….

    • Jared Turner Posted October 20, 2020 5:49 am

      Hey Alex, this is something we are planning for the future! We have quite a bit of development to do in order to make it happen, but it will happen!

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