A Chinese child growing up probably has a pretty easy time learning Chinese since everyone around them is speaking it, too.
But for native English speakers? This tonal language full of subtleties and ancient phrases is consistently ranked by native English speakers as the most difficult language in the world to learn.
In fact, the U.S. Foreign Service Institute, which ranks the difficulty of learning other languages, has judged Mandarin Chinese among the most difficult (along with Arabic, Japanese and Korean). You can expect to spend at least 2,200 classroom hours before you’re capable of speaking this language well enough to navigate a solo walkabout along the Great Wall of China.
In case you thought you’d be able to scoot by as a cultured worldwide traveler without learning Mandarin Chinese, consider this: with well over a billion speakers (or nearly 20 percent of the entire world), it’s the most widely spoken language in the world.
Asia is a big place with lots of people, after all — something people who tend to stick to traveling around the Western world often forget.