Trying to decide between learning Japanese or Chinese? Check out our post on the Japanese vs Chinese language learning comparison to help you make an informed choice.
From the perspective of a non-native or a foreigner, Japanese and Chinese may seem much alike. Some may even confuse one as the other, from the logo-grams to similar sounding words. A foreign language learner may have a hard time choosing between Japanese learning vs. Chinese learning. Is one much easier than the other? Which one holds the most benefits? Well to start, either of these rich, exciting, and fun-to-learn languages is worthy of your time. However, it’s important to note that there are language differences that set them apart.
Find out more about the discussion of Japanese vs Chinese language learning in this post.
Japanese vs Chinese: The Strong Influence of Both Languages
It is well-known that Japan and China of the countries that have strong international influence. According to the 2022 Most Influential Countries ranking released by USNews, China ranks 2nd next to the United States, outranking the United Kingdom, France, and Germany. Moreover, Japan ranked 7th in the International Influence Ranking followed by Italy and The United Arab Emirates.
Areas speaking the language
Aside from their home countries and the locals, these two languages play a part in the communication of their neighboring countries. Chinese is frequently heard in Hong Kong, Singapore, Macau, Tibet, and Taiwan. Whereas, there are considerable Japanese-speaking communities that can be found in the United States and Brazil. Both Chinese and Japanese are also being offered as part of an institutional curriculum in several Asian countries under the Foreign Language subject.
China is considered the world’s most populous country with the largest record population of 1.426 billion. Additionally, also considered the second-largest area mass of 9,596,960 sq. km. China has made its name internationally with its technological advancements and rapid economic growth. Japan, on the other hand, is one of the world’s most literate and technically advanced nations. It is globally known for its outstanding traditional arts and as a home to more than a dozen UNESCO World heritage sites.
The Chinese Language
The origin of the Chinese language can be traced all the way back to its roots, SIno-Tibetan, and Sinitic language families. Chinese is the core language being spoken in China but there are other various dialects being used throughout different parts of the country including Mandarin, Cantonese, Hunanese, Huizhou, Jin, Ping, Hakka, and Xiang.
The Chinese language is also recognized as the oldest written language in the world with at least a span of six thousand years of history. This long reputation of existence has proven the richness and beauty that it continues to hold despite undergoing various changes over the years. Chinese in written language uses Hanzi characters which are distinctive symbols or characters to represent each word of the vocabulary. The use of written Chinese language is a common form of communication and is a treasured part of the Chinese tradition.
The Japanese Language
The Japanese language is the official language of the Land of the Rising Sun, Japan. It is natively spoken by around 128 million Japanese native speakers. The origin of the Japanese language traces way back to the 1st millennium BC and it belongs to the Japonic or Japanese-Ryukyuan language family. The Japanese language is written using distinct and varied characters including kanji, katakana, and hiragana. Just like Chinese, the Japanese language has undergone changes over the years since its existence in the 9th century.
Some people perceive Japanese as quite similar to Chinese and even think that one originates from the other but it’s not true. Though, due to their close geography and shared history, they can be considered, in some ways, close to Chinese due to their writings and loanwords.
Japanese vs Chinese: Primary Benefits in Learning
Since it is a globally known fact that Japan and China are notoriously competitive in different international fields from technology and business to engineering, architecture, and agriculture. Thus, acquiring skills and proficiency in the language spoken in these countries allows you to expand your career opportunities and global network.
For non-natives and foreigners who would like to try their luck in such progressive countries, it is not a waste of time to consider learning these languages. In fact, it is a great investment.
Why learn Japanese?
Aside from the language, Japan has an incredibly rich culture. From entertainment to exquisite cultural dishes such as sushi, matcha, and many more. A knowledge of the Japanese language will allow you access to the different Japanese traditions and that is a one-of-a-kind experience.
1. Sets you apart from the crowd
Japan is a thriving and continuously progressing country. It will look great on your CV to include your ability to speak and understand Japanese. Most of the foreign language students in Western culture often choose languages such as Spanish, French, and/or Italian. It is a great edge to acquire yourself with something that is not usual as it will make you more noticeable and advanced from your competitors.
2. Say ‘Hi’ to technology and innovation
Aside from entertainment in the form of films and food flavors, plenty of interesting vendo machines in Japan will keep you amused for days! They are ubiquitous in Japan and can be found in corporate offices, train stations, and basically, every urban street corner. These vending machines sell all types of foods and stuff like crepe, ramen, pizza, burgers, sweet potatoes, and for the daring foodies, edible insects. Apart from food and dishes, there are vending machines that dispense toys, clothes, and even drones.
Why learn Chinese?
China’s economy is booming and its popularity has been expanding continuously. As they continue to push through the competitive race of business, companies look for individuals and professionals who understand and can speak Mandarin Chinese. The Chinese language is one of the SIX official languages of the United Nations.
1. Spice up your CV
Attract companies with your Chinese language skills. Incorporating your Chinese language abilities into your Curriculum Vitae will easily get you a green flag from your potential employers. You can use this knowledge in the Chinese language to be someone that will drive your company to success. You can even hold short sessions to teach and share your knowledge with your workmates. This will help you create a bond with them and at the same time help the company build individuals that can start conversing in the Chinese language. After all, sharing is caring.
2. Get to know a fascinating culture.
China has a fascinating and diverse culture. Being able to understand the Chinese language will save you from culture shock and allow your stay in China to be smooth sailing. Language and culture are closely associated with each other. This means that connecting with their language and finding time to thoroughly study it will get you closer to understanding their rich culture and history. Just think of the beautiful thing you’d get to experience, from tea ceremonies to lantern festivals.
What are the common grounds?
1. Internet’s largest language groups
One of the common grounds for Chinese vs Japanese is that they’re both part of the Internet’s language groups. The internet language group pertains to the most popular languages used on the internet. Along with English and Spanish, Chinese and Japanese ranked high as one of the largest language groups on the internet.
Being able to speak and be fluent in either Chinese or Japanese allows you to create a connection with people from all around the globe, even just virtually. This is a plus for you to widen your network then and be exposed to different types of people coming from different backgrounds. Take this as a great learning experience as well.
2. Expands your mind
As you engage in languages that come from a completely different origin than your mother tongue, it expands your knowledge and feeds your brain. The distinct qualities and elements of languages such as Chinese and Japanese will exercise your brain. Dissecting each element from ones, characters, intonations, and vocal stress requires many brain functions and will definitely spark your brain power. Along with this, writing with the different characters of each language will improve your motor skills and visual recognition.
3. Good for business and opportunities
Because China and Japan’s economy are rapidly growing in the competitive world of business and finance, being able to be proficient in either one of these languages guarantee a good chance for you to be more globally competitive and be more exposed to even wider opportunities abroad.
Language is a powerful tool for you to start your journey in a progressive country like China and Japan. This will also easily make you seem like the smartest person in the room. Take it as an edge over your competitors because not everyone has the dedication, passion, and patience to learn a new language starting from nothing.
Japanese vs Chinese: What are the Major Differences?
Along with time, languages evolve. Some of the changes are brought about by the speakers and some are due to the influence of other dominant languages. Often, people, particularly foreigners and non-native speakers, associate the Japanese language with being derived from the Chinese language. However, the only significant commonality between the two languages is their writing systems. This is because the Japanese adopted said writing system in the 3rd Century.
The writing system of these languages, combined with their complex grammar rules and unique intonations, can be quite confusing for language learners. Proper pronunciation is crucial, and learners must listen closely and pay attention to the nuances of the language. While this may seem tricky at first, you’ll realize their beauty once you’ve learned your way around them.
Japanese vs Chinese: Back to Basics
While in this discussion, equip yourself with the basics of Japanese and Chinese languages that will surely spark your interest.
Basic Chinese phrases
Hello! – nǐ hǎo ! (你 好!)
Good Morning! – zǎo shàng hǎo ( 早上好 )
Good Evening! – wǎn shàng hǎo (晚 上 好)
How are you? – nǐ hǎo ma ? (你 好 吗?)
Have you eaten? – nǐ chī le ma ? (你吃了吗?)
I’m fine. – wǒ hěn hǎo. (我很好)
Welcome! – huān yíng! (欢迎)
Pleased to meet you. – hěn gāo xìng jiàn dào nǐ (很 高 兴 见 到 你)
Thank you! – xiè xie (谢谢)
You are welcome. – bù kèqì (不 客气)
I’m sorry – duì bù qǐ (对不起)
No problem – méi guān xì (没关系)
Good bye! – zài jiàn! (再见)
See you later – huí tóu jiàn (回头见)
Here’s a simple dare for you to try. Have a take on these few tongue twisters!
- 四 是 四 ， 十 是 十 ， 十 四 是 十 四 ， 四 十 是 四 十
sì shì sì, shí shì shí, shí sì shì shí sì, sì shí shì sì shí
Four is four, ten is ten, fourteen is fourteen, forty is forty.
- 八百标兵奔北，炮兵并排北边跑 炮兵怕把标兵碰，标兵怕碰炮兵炮。
Bābǎi biāobīng bēn běi, pàobīng bìngpái běibian pǎo pàobīng pà bǎ biāobīng pèng, biāobīng pà pèng pàobīng pào.
Eight hundred model soldiers ran north, and the artillery ran side by side to the north. The artillery is afraid of touching the artillery, the artillery is afraid of touching the artillery’s artillery.
Basic Japanese Phrases
Hello! – Konnichiwa. こんにちは。
Good morning! – Ohayou. おはよう。
Good evening. – Konbanwa. こんばんは
Nice to meet you. – Hajimemashite. はじめまして。
How are you? – Genki desu ka? 元気ですか。
I’m fine. – Genki desu. 元気です。
Excuse me. – Sumimasen. すみません。
I am sorry. – Gomennasai. ごめんなさい。
Thank you! – Arigatou! ありがとう
Good bye! – Sayonara. さようなら。
Try these basic Japanese tongue twisters!
namamugi namagome namatamago
Raw wheat, raw rice, raw eggs
kono kugi wa hikinukui kugi da
This nail is one that is difficult to pull out.
Japanese vs Chinese: Which is easier to learn?
Sorry to break your bubble but language acquisition can be a challenging endeavor and there’s no such thing as an easy or hard language because the learning journey will completely depend on you. Take your time to weigh and choose whichever you will choose between Chinese and Japanese language but make sure that you have the commitment and dedication to push through the challenges and struggles that you’ll face on your journey.
To give you an idea, the US Foreign Service Institute categorizes both Japanese and Chinese as Category V languages in terms of difficulty. This means that the estimated time for the language learner to reach fluency and proficiency for native English speakers is around 44 weeks or 2200 hours of study.