On lists that rank languages by their complexity and difficulty to learn for foreigners, Chinese is the one that consistently comes out on top. Most languages have alphabets composed of letters that can be combined in many ways to form words and sentences, or syllabaries where each written character represents one syllable; the Chinese language, however, is comprised of over 50,000 characters
that may represent a singular syllable or an entire word
. The characters themselves are complex visually, and could be representative of pronunciations, abstract concepts, or physical objects
(For example, the Chinese symbol for mountain is 山, which is visually similar to a mountain). There are a total of 6 kinds of Chinese characters
. In order to be considered truly fluent in Chinese, you need to know around 8,000 of these characters
In addition to an extensive dictionary, there are several subdivisions of written Chinese which can appear quite different from one another: simplified, traditional, and pinyin
. Simplified Chinese uses less strokes for each character; this form is used primarily in Singapore and mainland China. In order to preserve the original written language, the traditional style is still used predominantly in some areas such as Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Macau. Someone who wants to learn to read Chinese would have to choose between these two forms; although they can be very similar, some characters may vary greatly (for example, 压 and 壓 both represent the same syllable, but are visually very different). Pinyin is a style of writing that uses Roman letters; the words are spelled based on their pronunciation in Chinese.
Perhaps the most difficult aspect of the Chinese language is the presence of hundreds of different dialects. Mandarin is the most widely spoken and recognized dialect, but every single one has its own pronunciations, vocabulary, colloquialisms and slang; many native Chinese speakers cannot even understand dialects that are not from their own region
Lastly, Chinese has four distinctive tones that can give one syllable completely different meanings depending on how it is said. Using the wrong tones may make it difficult to communicate with others in Chinese; most non-native speakers never completely get the hang of it
. This factor, as well as the ones previously mentioned, make Chinese the most difficult language to learn.