Most Western languages require a student with average language aptitude to study the language for 500 hours to reach speaking proficiency.
The Chinese Characters
However, Chinese language would demand student of the same language aptitude 1300 hours of instruction to reach the same speaking proficiency. It takes about three times as long to attain a given level of fluency in Chinese as in Spanish or French.
Chinese characters generally have two parts, one of which represents the meaning and the other the sound. Chinese writing system does not use alphabet and one can only learn the Chinese language by first committing to memory character-by-character. All Chinese are taught to memorize the words character-by-character since young.
Memorizing Chinese Characters
Fortunately, according to a survey conducted by the Education Ministry and Language Commission of China, one needs only to memorize less than 1,000 Chinese characters in order to read 90% of the current Chinese publication. This survey was conducted on 900 million characters used in more than 8.9 million files chosen from newspapers, magazines, internet and television. The survey observed that Chinese characters, unlike English words, are mainly to represent meaning. As a result, beyond the basic characters, millions of Chinese characters are archaic with many of them found only once in the whole history of the written Chinese language. Many characters were self-invented by parents for their children or to name the places.
Learning Basic Chinese
Today, an average Chinese university graduate may know only about 6,000 Chinese words. With most Chinese media using fewer characters, it is estimated that the number of Chinese characters needed to be memorized could be even fewer than 900 by now.
Upon memorizing the characters, Chinese becomes an easy language as Chinese grammar is much simpler compared to that of the European languages.
Languages like Spanish have a complicated grammar system such as masculine and feminine genders, verb conjugations, and many more complex grammatical rules. Whereas the Chinese language has little or no bound morphology and there are no grammatical paradigms to memorize.
Each Chinese character is pronounced in one syllable, and each word has a fixed and single form. Verbs do not take prefixes or suffixes to indicate the tense or gender of the subject. Nouns do not take prefixes or suffixes to indicate their number. Chinese grammar is mainly concerned with how words are arranged to form meaningful sentences. As a learner, just make sure you start off by practicing pronunciation, because bad pronunciation will make a chinese sentence meaningless.