December 21, 2005

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According to an article in the Sydney Morning Herald speaking Mandarin requires more brain power than speaking English:

Mandarin speakers use more areas of their brains than people who speak English, scientists said, in a finding that provides new insight into how the brain processes language.

Unlike English speakers, who use one side of their brain to understand the language, scientists at the Wellcome Trust research charity in Britain discovered that, in Mandarin, both sides of the brain are used to interpret variations in sounds.

Interestingly enough, I have mixed thoughts on this topic. Many Chinese believe that it's difficult for foreigners to write Chinese characters while I've found the written language much easier to conquer than the spoken language.

I've also spoken to many Chinese students in the US who believe mastering the English language is the hardest thing they've ever done, but I suppose that depends on the individual because there are many people who are able to pick up foreign languages without a great deal of effort. Still, some say it is impossible to decide which is the most difficult language to learn.

posted by Gordon on 12.21.05 at 12:48 PM in the China category.


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Hmm... I found Chinese to be probably the easiest thing I've ever done... But I already spoke English natively, and have a pretty good command of Japanese too. So I could just look at the written characters and pick up their meaning due to kanji from Japanese, and then apply English grammar to the sentence and pretty much understand it. Speaking and listening of course took more work, but it wasn't really all that hard. Granted I have no where come close to mastering Chinese as I only took two years of it in college (an American taking Chinese at a Japanese University was quite a site for the Chinese teacher who was teaching in Japanese) so maybe Chinese is one of those languages that's east at first and gets hard the further you go.

posted by: Darin ten Bruggencate on 12.21.05 at 02:06 PM [permalink]

Hombre, that news is really, really old. At least 2003-old.

posted by: chinochano on 12.21.05 at 09:41 PM [permalink]

ChinoChano, that little detail slipped right by me. However, it just showed up in my news reader the other day.

posted by: Gordon on 12.22.05 at 12:34 AM [permalink]

The way I explain it to Chinese who are frustrated that their English fluency doesn't match my Chinese fluency is:
There is threshold ability (the ability to get the point across), and mastery. English is such a fluid language that it is much easier to get to the point where you can make yourself understood, but that same fluidity makes it nearly impossible to use with complete accuracy. Whereas Chinese (with its multiple tones, excessive homonyms, and writing system that has only tangential connections to pronunciation) has a much higher threshold...but once you achieve that threshold, mastery/fluency is not much harder to achieve.

posted by: Nathan on 12.22.05 at 08:57 AM [permalink]

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