Mandarin is a difficult language to learn. It does not have an alphabet. Each word or character is an individual pictogram.
But it has what is called radicals which give you a sense of what a word or character means.
For example, the food radical " 饣”(shi). Therefore "饭”(fan) means cooked rice. “饿" (e) means hungry. “饿”is made up of the food radical "饣" and the word or character for I “我" (wo). Bravo, food and I means hungry!
However, it is the tonal nature of the language that is likely to cause problems.
If you pronounce a Chinese word or character using the wrong tone, you could get into trouble.
Mandarin has four basic tones, the high, low, rising and falling tones .
For example, if you say "May I ask you?" in Mandarin as "我可以问你吗?" (wo ke yi wen ni ma?) with the "wen" in falling tone, you are all right. But if you say "wen" using the low tone "我可以吻你吗?), you are likely to invite a slap on the face rather than an answer! "Wen" (吻) in the low tone means kiss. "Wen" (问) in the falling tone means ask. So, there you are!
However difficult it may be to learn, Mandarin is fast becoming an important language with China a rising economic giant.
In fact, many people including matsallehs (kwailos) are learning or trying to learn Mandarin all over the world.
What about we Malaysians? Though the emphasis here is Malay, I am glad to note that an increasing number of Malay and Indian parents are sending their children to Chinese schools. The best time to learn a language is when one is young, especially with a difficult language like Mandarin.
I have spoken to a few Malay children who attend Chinese schools and I am impressed with their fluency in speaking the language.
The more languages one masters the better off one is.
Catch Them Young