爱in simplified Chinese.
For example, the word love 爱. It's the 4th tone of the pronounciation ai 4.
The first tone of ai may be a word like 挨(ai 1 骂 ma 4), meaning getting a scolding.
The second tone of ai may be a word like 癌 (ai 2), meaning cancer.
The third tone of ai may be a word like 矮 (ai 3), meaning short.
[BBC has produced a mini tone guide which I found interesting. Check it out!]
So, it is most important to get them right! :-)
I do speak Putonghua/Mandarin and also 3 other Chinese dialects. It comes naturally to me. Having learned Indonesian Language at a young age, it helps in learning Mandarin. I also speak some Japanese. I do find that within these 3 languages, Chinese, Indonesian and Japanese (possibly Spanish too), the pronounciation is similar. Hence, it is easier for those who know these few languages to learn spoken Chinese (may not be so easy to learn the written form though).
In order to learn Chinese Language well, you need lots of time, at least 10 years of exposure. Some may learn to speak in less but to write beautifully, it may actually take a lifetime! Calligraphy is also a trained art which I'm fond of. Generally though, I think the world is at a stage where by Chinese Language will be a major language in the near future (about 5 to 10 years down the road). As it is, about 1/3 of the world population speaks this language! I've read in recent times that some parents in New York City are hiring nannies who speak Chinese to their children from a young age so as to prepare them well in advance where learning Mandarin is concerned.
From my own personal experience, it pays to pick up whatever languages you'd like to learn from a young age. It's extremely difficult to learn a new language once you reached adulthood. From observing Chinese Singaporeans trying to learn Mandarin, I'd say that's quite the case. I did learn English only from the age of 10, so, it's not too late for many. All in all, the earlier the better :-)
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Spoken Chinese is distinguished by its high level of internal diversity, although all spoken varieties of Chinese are tonal and analytic. There are between seven and thirteen main regional groups of Chinese (depending on classification scheme), of which the most spoken, by far, is Mandarin (about 850 million), followed by Wu (90 million), Cantonese (Yue) (70 million) and Min (70 ...