Category: Why Mandarin Chinese is Easy

Dec 31 2009

No Verb Tenses at All ?

Mandarin Chinese must be one of the easiest languages when it comes to verb tenses.  I have already posted the various ways in which to simply convey past and future tense but I wanted to write a post that essentially shows Chinese as a “tenseless” language.

This is because in Chinese so much is conveyed already through context.  For example there are no plurals in Mandarin.  We have “1 book” and we have “2 book”.  In English we must add an “s” (most of the time, there are exceptions of course eg mouse/mice) however in Mandarin this is not an issue.  In fact it’s completely logical.  The adding of “s” in English is really unnecessary.  If I say how many books I have, 1 or 2, I already know if it’s a plural or not.

Verbs can also work in the same way.  If we are talking about tomorrow and then go on to discuss what we will do, there is no need to change the tense of every verb like we have to do in English.  We have already established we are talking about the future, so we can continue talking in the present tense without being grammatically incorrect.

The same applies for the past, once we have established we are talking about yesterday or last year or whenever, the listener knows we are talking about the past and therefore it isn’t necessary to change the tense of every verb.  The past is implied through context.

This type of simplicity and logic is found throughout the entire language, making it incredibly easy to learn in my opinion.

Dec 29 2009

Easy Past Tense Verbs

In Mandarin Chinese expressing verbs in the past tense is extremely easy.  In order to demonstrate this simply without teaching you any Chinese first let’s take a look at how incredibly difficult English is.

I am -> I was

I go -> I went

I eat -> I ate

I want -> I wanted

The first 3 verbs are irregular verbs, the English language has TONS of these annoying verbs.  The last verb is a regular verb meaning we can just add “ed” to the end of the verb to make it past tense.

So think for a second how difficult a language English is to learn.  A foreign speaker must simply memorize the past tenses of all those irregular verbs.   Imagine for a second, however, that the “ed” applied to every single verb in the English language.  In this hypothetical world the verbs above would be rendered :

I am -> I amed

I go -> I goed

I eat -> I eated

I want -> I wanted

To a native speaker of English the above renderings sound ridiculous, but to someone learning English they likely have sleepless nights wondering why they can’t just speak in the manner above.   It’s completely logical, but of course incorrect.

Now in Mandarin Chinese our hypothetical world comes true.  This is because they also have a similar “ed” rule in order to make their verbs past tense.  However, this rule has absolutely no exceptions.  There are no irregular verbs to memorize, just one simple rule that applies to the whole language.  Isn’t that easy ?

The figurative “ed” is actually “le”.  Just say “le” after any verb in Mandarin and you have the past tense.  To illustrate using our 4 examples above you simply say :

I am -> I am le

I go -> I go le

I eat -> I eat le

I want -> I want le

There’s no need to go into the actual Chinese for the verbs above as I am simply demonstrating one of the many ways in which Chinese is easy and logical.   (I do have to say though that the Chinese would rarely ever, perhaps never, put “le” after the verb “to be”.  So my example “I am le” isn’t entirely accurate as with this verb the context of the sentence would indicate whether we are talking about the past.  I think that one verb is the only exception.)

Now let’s talk a little bit about the Present Perfect tense.  Above was just simple past tense.  If you aren’t familiar with grammar and what Present Perfect means here are some examples :

I have eaten apples

I have heard that before

I have been to China

So we have situations where we “did” something and sometimes we say we “have done” something.  The most obvious difference I can see is that simple past tense is normally used to describe something we did in the recent past  (perhaps yesterday or last week) whereas present perfect is describing something we have done in the more distant past  or when we want to express that we have had the experience of doing something at least once.  For example when someone asks the question “Have you ever … ?” In order to answer that we would say “Yes I have …..” or “No I haven’t ever …..” using present perfect tense.  Using the verbs mentioned at the outset let’s look at their present perfect renderings :

I am -> I was -> I have been

I go -> I went -> I have gone

I eat -> I ate -> I have eaten

I want -> I wanted -> I have wanted

Here again we see no rule that applies to all the verbs making it that much more difficult to learn.  Mandarin Chinese however does have another rule to convey this type of verb tense.  You simply add “guo” to any verb.  So you would have :

I am -> I am le -> I am guo

I go -> I go le  -> I go guo

I eat -> I eat le -> I eat guo

I want -> I want le-> I want guo

Again with the first verb “to be” Chinese would never use “guo”, but I am just illustrating the simplicity of this rule.  The verb “to be” would be the only exception.

So there you have it.  Just learn “le” and “guo” and you have all the past tense versions of every single verb in the Mandarin language.  Can you say the same for English, French or Spanish ?  This is just one of many reasons why I think this is a very easy language to learn to speak.  I admit that the reading and writing is perhaps the most difficult, but you don’t need to know how to read or write in order to communicate and isn’t communication the purpose of language ?

I personally haven’t learned to write, nor do I think I ever will as I don’t need to.  I have learned how to read most of what I see but that was only out of interest and to continue challenging myself.  If you are thinking of learning Chinese or already are put reading and writing on the back burner, focus on your speaking and listening skills.  That’s just my personal recommendation.  You will have your hands full enough with just speaking and listening, no need to put your brain into overload.

Feel free to leave your comments and/or feedback

Dec 18 2009

Mandarin Chinese Pronouns are Easy

In this article I want to demonstrate how simple Mandarin Chinese is when learning the pronouns and related vocabulary.   In English we have the following basic pronouns:


We don’t have a plural pronoun for “You” i.e. when addressing a crowd.   We simply say “you” or “all of you”.   French however does have a word for this i.e. “vous” and Chinese also has a word to convey “you” in the plural.   However Mandarin Chinese is very easy when it comes to learning pronouns.   Let’s pretend for example we could just add an “s” to make the pronouns plural like so :

I = I
We = Is
You = You
All of you = Yous
He = He
They = Hes

Can you imagine how much easier English would be to learn if we could apply a rule like this ? Instead someone learning English must learn each individual pronoun.   However, in Mandarin Chinese this is exactly what they do.   There are only 3 basic spoken pronouns as follows (Pinyin Romanized Chinese) :

I = Wo
You = Ni
He/She/It = Ta

So already you can see that in order to learn 5 English words in Mandarin you only need to learn 3 – Wo, Ni & Ta.   In spoken Mandarin Chinese they don’t verbally differentiate between “he” “she” and “it”.   These are all the same spoken word (however they are written differently).  Therefore when speaking about someone and referring to them as “Ta” we don’t know if we are talking about a boy or girl.   This may sound a bit strange but when you think about it it’s quite logical.   Through the context of the conversation we know whether we are talking about a male or female or thing.

If I am talking about my wife I have no need to explain that she is female as the context already explains that.   Therefore when referring to her in Chinese in the 3rd person “Ta” is sufficient. Of course there are times where I do have to ask the person I am speaking with if they are talking about a male or female, but this isn’t that often.   Due to this reason, many Chinese learners of English often mix up the 3rd person pronouns referring to their husband as “she” and to their girl friend as “he” etc.   This is one of the biggest basic problems for native Mandarin Speakers as they are un accustomed to having different spoken 3rd person pronouns and therefore constantly make this mistake.

Now let me demonstrate how easy it is to learn how to say “We”, “You – plural” and “They”.   In Mandarin Chinese you don’t need to learn 3 new words,  you simply add another word to convey the idea of plural.   That word is “men”.

We = Wo men (i.e “I” + plural “men”)
You plural = Ni men (i.e “You” + plural “men”)
They = Ta men (i.e “He/She/It” + plural “men”)

Here we have another example of “Buy 1 get 2 free” or “learn 1 get 2 free”.   Simply by learning 1 word, “men”,  we learn how to convey 3 new words in Mandarin Chinese.   Therefore by knowing how to pronounce these 4 words :  Wo, Ni, Ta & Men we can say 8 equivalent English pronouns :  I, We, You, You plural, He, She, It & They.

However,  not only that but there are more free words that you gain by knowing how to say simply Wo,  Ni,  Ta & Men.

Look at these English sentences :

She gave the ball to her
He gave the ball to him
He gave the ball to me
They gave the ball to them
They gave the ball to us

Notice we can’t say :

She gave the ball to she
He gave the ball to he
He gave the ball to I
They gave the ball to they
They gave the ball to we

No,  but a learner of English must learn 5 more words to be able to speak correctly.   If someone said “she gave the ball to she” of course we would understand the meaning of the foreigner,  but it’s still incorrect grammar.   In Mandarin Chinese this problem doesn’t exist because that’s exactly how they speak.   Let me replace the pronouns above with their Mandarin Chinese pinyin versions to illustrate

“Ta” gave the ball to “ta”
“Ta” gave the ball to “ta”
“Ta” gave the ball to “wo”
“Ta men” gave the ball to “ta men”
“Ta men” gave the ball to “wo men”

The above sentences are grammatically correct in Mandarin.   So you have just gained another 5 more words for free. By knowing how to say just Wo,  Ni,  Ta & Men (4 words) you can say the following 12 English words :  I,  Me,  We,  Us, You, You plural, He, Him, She, Her, It, They, Them.

Isn’t that easy ?

Dec 10 2009

Chinese Lego Language – Learn X Words Get Y Free

In my other posts I have discussed how easy Mandarin Chinese is to learn because of its amazingly simple verb conjugations and also how easy it is to express all of their verbs in the past tense and future tense

Now I want to demonstrate how easy Mandarin Chinese is when it comes to learning new vocabulary and why it can be called “The Lego Language”.

How many stores have you been to where they have the sign “Buy 2 get 1 free”? We all love to get a bargain and discounts.   Well, when it comes to learning Mandarin Chinese I kind of think us language learners are getting a HUGE bargain when it comes to “brainspace” and challenges to our memory.

Let me illustrate.   Imagine someone learning English.   Here are 3 words that a foreigner would have to learn:


Those 3 words are entirely different and have no relation to one another.   Someone learning English would have to learn all 3 words by memorization.   But in Mandarin Chinese you only need to learn 2 and you get the 3rd one free! Because of this building block characteristic I often call it the “Lego Language” and I also have found others coining the same phrase too.

Do you remember those Lego sets ?  There were only so many “types” of blocks right ?  Big ones, small ones, flat ones.  I’m not sure how many different types of blocks there were, but there weren’t 100s of them.  Those finite number of blocks could be used to build almost anything.  Just by changing the order in which they were stacked up on top of each other could build you a car, plane, train or house all with the same Lego set.

Chinese Mandarin is just like that!  You just need to learn the basic words of the language and then you combine those words you already know in order to make new words.   So in the above example you only need to learn :


And your “free” word “volcano” is simply expressed by saying “fire mountain”

This phenomenon is something you see very regularly in Mandarin Chinese. Here are some more examples :


Good eat = delicious



Look at / See

Difficult Look at = Ugly


Light (as in weight, ie not heavy)
Years light = young


Hand machine = mobile phone


Electric / Electricity
Word (Spoken)
Look at
Electric word (spoken) = telephone
Electric look at = television
Electric image = movie/film
Electric stairs = elevator
Electric Brain = Computer


With the example above involving “electric” it’s actually a learn 6 and get 5 free! Therefore, in my opinion, this is an easy language to learn ALSO because you don’t need to learn every single individual word in the language.   You can just learn the basic words and get more complex words for free by just remembering how to combine the basic words to form new complex logical meanings.   The combinations of these words are not strange at all as you can see above, they are very logical and therefore very easy to remember.   I think this is just yet another reason why Mandarin Chinese is one of the easiest languages to learn to speak (I’m not at all referring to reading or writing in these series of articles).

Dec 04 2009

Easy Future Tense Verbs

In my earlier articles I discussed how easy Mandarin Chinese is to learn because of its amazingly simple verb conjugations and also how easy it is to express all of their verbs in the past tense.

Now I want to demonstrate how easy Mandarin Chinese is when it comes to expressing verbs in their future tense.

In fact in English it is also quite easy to express verbs in the future tense by simply putting “will” in front of the verb. For example :

I eat

I will eat

Chinese is exactly the same. All one needs to do is put the word “hui” in front of any verb and you have the future tense eg :

I eat

I “hui” eat

In order to keep things simple I have used the English words of course. I think it’s easier this way instead of teaching you the words for “I” and “eat”.   It’s not necessary to demonstrate the simple grammar Mandarin Chinese has.   Now you may think this is nothing because English is just as easy when it comes to this tense.   But when you compare Mandarin Chinese to French, this is a HUGE difference.   French changes their verbs when expressing future tense.   For example the same verb “to eat” which in French the infinitive is “manger”

Je mange (I eat)

Je mangerai (I will eat)

So although Chinese is just as easy as English when it comes to expressing future tense,  one must not forget that many languages are very complex when it comes to expressing verbs in a future tense.   I again use French to compare because I spent many years learning French at school only to be able to barely survive while on holiday in France once,  whereas after 2 years of learning Mandarin Chinese as a hobby I was already having basic conversations with native speakers (much to my own surprise!)

In my next article I will demonstrate how easy Mandarin Chinese is when it comes to learning new words and vocabulary.

Dec 03 2009

Easy Verb Conjugations

Taking English as an example I will demonstrate how easy Mandarin Chinese is.  English (and many other languages) have multiple verb conjugations depending on the pronoun used.  For example the verb “to be”

Infinitive = to be



He/She/It IS

Notice that “to be” becomes “am”, “are” and “is” depending on the pronoun used.

Now, how think about how easy would English be if we spoke like this instead? :

Infinitive = to be



He/She/It TO BE

Notice in my hypothetical example above the infinitive “to be” never actually changes when using “I” “You” or “He/She/It”.   If you know any French then you will know the infinitive of the verb “to be” is “etre” but when using pronouns French renders it “Je suis” “Tu as” “Il/Elle est”.   Here again French also changes the verb for each pronoun the same as English.   French also takes it one step further in complication.   In English we say “We ARE” which is the same conjunction as “You” i.e. “You ARE” but French have yet ANOTHER conjugation for “WE” making their language just that much more difficult!

Now let’s get back to Chinese.   Chinese does exactly what I have illustrated above.   The infinitive of their verbs NEVER EVER change!!! When I learned this I was so happy! One of my most hated things about French was the endless verb tables we had to learn.   There were regular verbs and irregular verbs,  so hard to remember all the rules and then the exceptions to the rules!!!

With Mandarin Chinese,  none of that is a problem.   In Mandarin Chinese the verb “to be” is “shi4” (pinyin spelling with tone #).   So when saying:  I am, You are, He/She/It is – in Mandarin Chinese you say “shi4” each and every time regardless of the pronoun.   Isn’t that really easy?

So when learning English, a foreign speaker must remember:  “to be”, “am”, “are”, & “is”,  but when learning Mandarin Chinese we only need to remember 1 word “shi4”.   This rule is repeated for EVERY SINGLE verb in the language without exception! Therefore you have just cut your language learning workload down by 75% if you choose to learn Mandarin.

In my next article I will show you how incredibly easy Mandarin Chinese is to express Past tense verbs. Yet another challenge for me when I was learning French.

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