Why Chinese Is So Hard

There is truth in this linguistic yarn; Chinese does deserve its reputation for heartbreaking difficulty. Those who undertake to study the language for any other reason than the sheer joy of it will always be frustrated by the abysmal ratio of effort to effect. Those who are actually attracted to the language precisely because of its daunting complexity and difficulty will never be disappointed. Whatever the reason they started, every single person who has undertaken to study Chinese sooner or later asks themselves "Why in the world am I doing this?" Those who can still remember their original goals will wisely abandon the attempt then and there, since nothing could be worth all that tedious struggle. Those who merely say "I've come this far — I can't stop now" will have some chance of succeeding, since they have the kind of mindless doggedness and lack of sensible overall perspective that it takes.
这些可不完全是在说笑话,中文那令人心痛的难度是名副其实的。所有那些试图学习这门语言的人们,除了纯粹以此为乐的,都会对学习中极低的投入产出比感到沮丧。那些实际上正是被这门语言吓人的复杂和难度吸引的家伙,则绝不会失望。不管原因为何,所有中文学习者早晚都会问自己这个问题“我到底为啥在干这个?”还能记着自己初衷的人会明智的选择立刻放弃,因为没有什么值得付出如此多的痛苦挣扎。而对自己回答说“事已至此,无路可退”的人呢,则有机会成功,因为他们拥有学习中文必需的素质——不见黄河不死心的死钻牛角尖精神。

The first question any thoughtful person might ask when reading the title of this essay is, "Hard for whom?" A reasonable question. After all, Chinese people seem to learn it just fine. When little Chinese kids go through the "terrible twos", it's Chinese they use to drive their parents crazy, and in a few years the same kids are actually using those impossibly complicated Chinese characters to scribble love notes and shopping lists. So what do I mean by "hard"? Since I know at the outset that the whole tone of this document is going to involve a lot of whining and complaining, I may as well come right out and say exactly what I mean. I mean hard for me, a native English speaker trying to learn Chinese as an adult, going through the whole process with the textbooks, the tapes, the conversation partners, etc., the whole torturous rigmarole. I mean hard for me — and, of course, for the many other Westerners who have spent years of their lives bashing their heads against the Great Wall of Chinese.
看到这篇文章的标题,任何有头脑的人第一个问题都会是“难,是对谁而言?”问的有理。说到底,中国人看起来学的还挺顺当的。当中国小孩儿经历那“狗都嫌的两岁”时,他们用的是中文来把父母们逼疯。几年之后,同样这些孩子就已经在用复杂得不可思议的汉字来歪歪斜斜地写情书和购物清单了。所以我说的“难”到底是什么意思?既然我早就知道本文的语调将充满牢骚和抱怨,那我最好还是说清楚自己到底是什么意思。我的意思是,对我来说很难,一个以英语为母语,试图学习中文的成年人。他会经历教科书、磁带、语伴等等这一整套折磨人的繁琐过程。我的“难”是说的对我自己,呃——当然还对很多其他西方人,那些花费了经年累月,在中文的长城上撞到头大的人们(译者:原文“Chinese”同时表示“中文”和“中国的”)。

If this were as far as I went, my statement would be a pretty empty one. Of course Chinese is hard for me. After all, any foreign language is hard for a non-native, right? Well, sort of. Not all foreign languages are equally difficult for any learner. It depends on which language you're coming from. A French person can usually learn Italian faster than an American, and an average American could probably master German a lot faster than an average Japanese, and so on. So part of what I'm contending is that Chinese is hard compared to … well, compared to almost any other language you might care to tackle. What I mean is that Chinese is not only hard for us (English speakers), but it's also hard in absolute terms. Which means that Chinese is also hard for them, for Chinese people.
如果我要说的只有这些,那这些话相当空洞。中文对我来说当然难喽。毕竟,任何外语对非母语人士都很难,对不对?这个嘛,差不多是这样。不过不是所有的外语对任何学生的难度都是一样的。它取决于你自己的母语。一个法国人学意大利语往往比美国人快,而一个普通美国人掌握德语则多半比一个普通日本人快得多,如此而已。所以我所谈论的部分观点是指中文很难,相对于……反正相对于你有可能想学的几乎其他任何语言。我的意思是中文不但对我们(英语人士)来说难,它在绝对意义上也是难的。这意味着对于中国人来说,中文也很难。

Everyone's heard the supposed fact that if you take the English idiom "It's Greek to me" and search for equivalent idioms in all the world's languages to arrive at a consensus as to which language is the hardest, the results of such a linguistic survey is that Chinese easily wins as the canonical incomprehensible language. (For example, the French have the expression "C'est du chinois", "It's Chinese", i.e., "It's incomprehensible". Other languages have similar sayings.) So then the question arises: What do the Chinese themselves consider to be an impossibly hard language? You then look for the corresponding phrase in Chinese, and you find Gēn tiānshū yíyàng 跟天书一样 meaning "It's like heavenly script."
大家都听过这个公认的说法,那就是如果你考虑英语中的“It's Greek to me”(译者注:原意是“这对我就像希腊文”,引申为“难以理解”。),然后在全世界的语言中寻找一个与之相对应的习语,从而得到一个关于哪个语言最难的共识。那这样一个语言调查的结果将是中文轻松获得最难解语言的称号。(比如,法语就有这种表达“C'est du chinois”,意为“这是中文”,亦即“这是神马我不懂”。其他语言有类似说法。)那么问题来了,中国人自己认为什么才是最不可能学会的困难语言呢?你在中文中寻找类似的习语,然后你找到了——“跟天书一样”

Okay, having explained a bit of what I mean by the word, I return to my original question: Why is Chinese so damn hard?
OK,解释了一下我的措辞含义之后,让我回到最初的问题:为什么中文这么TM难?

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