So here I am in Beijing, trying to understand the language that I started to learn one year ago a little bit more. I have made huge progress already, and Ican actually make myself understood in a lot of basic situations, obviously having to use hand and feet (and every object available).
What makes learning Chinese so fascinating is that every day, when I go to bed, I have a different feeling about the language and where all this is going. I mean, there are obvious difficulties, like the tones and the characters, but you know about these from the first day of learning the language. The most fascinating part is that sometimes, this language seems completely logical, like having Lego bricks just waiting to be assembled. So you have about 2000 to 5000 characters, depending on the level of literacy to achieve, each having usually one pronunciation and a field of meaning. Often, two of them make one word. (Don’t let yourself get distracted by the diacritics in the following examples, they indicate the tones, if you don’t know what they are, just ignore them, I just include them for precision)
电 （diàn) is the character used for electric stuff. 电脑 （diànnǎo) “electric brain” is a computer, 电视 (diànshì) “electronic look” is a TV, etc. 数学 （shùxué) literally means “number study” and refers to mathematics. 动物 （dòngwù) “moving thing” is an animal!
Let’s give some example which illustrates nicely how “logical” this language can be: 欧 (ōu) is the character usually used for Europe, 亚 （yà) for Asia, 美 （měi） for America. 欧洲 (ōuzhōu) is the European continent, 亚洲 (yàzhōu) is Asia and 美洲 (měizhōu) the American continent. 美国 (měiguó) refers to the USA whereas 美元 （měiyuán) means US Dollar and 欧元 (ōuyuán) is the Euro. While it might not be politically correct to just identify the US with the continent, these names are certainly easy to remember once you know the underlying characters or syllables.
It is possible to find many similar examples. The reason this really amazes me is that there are only a few thousand characters to learn, as elaborated above. Certainly, not an easy task, but manageable. This, and then understanding how theses characters are used to make words, would be more or less all that is required? I actually don’t know whether that is true. Maybe it is just wishful thinking.
But, then, every other day, I will encounter another phrase of which I think: OK, I know all the components of this. But it seems just like randomly stuck together, having no meaning at all. Yesterday, it was this phrase:
这是我们经理给您的信。(Zhè shì wǒmen jīnglǐ gěi nín de xìn.)
This is our manager give you de letter.
的 （de） is a grammatical particle indicating a kind of possession. You can see it working like the English “of” or French “de” （funny is that they are even pronounced the same way), only that the word order is inverted and is much more general in usage. When I first saw this sentence, I was completely unable to figure out what it means, until I understood that “our manager give you” is the description of the letter, giving the sender and the recipient at the same time and having nothing to do with the manager giving the message directly. So the translation is “Here is a letter for you from our manager”. The funny thing is, now, this sounds completely logical to me, but I know that I am very soon going to encounter the next sentence like this. The question is, is this going to end?
There seems to be a large number of grammatical constructs, (and generally the language can be used very freely), on the other hand, once you have learned them, you can use them. You do not have to learn thousands of new verb forms or declinations, usually just one or two characters and sounds. At least, this makes it interesting to learn. You have a new surprise every day.