Learning Japanese and Chinese Simultaneously : 3 Observations

My goal in this lifetime is to become multilingual…I am talking about learning as much as I can before my time on this conflicted planet ends…Chinese is the second language on my list of global competence. I decided this after taking multiple Chinese history courses and the result was wanting to expand my knowledge on a nation that had went through some millennia of geographical, social, and political change. (Also, the fact that I’m an Asian Studies major)

However, having studied Japanese for four years now there are some common misconceptions I would like to address.

  1. Japanese does not equal Chinese: PEOPLE… These are two completely different languages – yes Japan did borrow China’s hanzi writing system, converting it into kanji but other than that these two languages virtually have nothing in common linguistically. However, culturally the two nations do share some of the same cultural facets. Just to name a few: filial piety, tea, Buddhism.   I constantly find myself blurting out the Japanese pronunciation of Chinese characters in class, while it is a bit frustrating it’s thrilling in its own way.

2. Japanese = Syllabary, Chinese= Tones: Mandarin Chinese has four tones you need to be aware of always. These tones will make or break a word in an instant, and training your mouth to say them correctly is a workout. However, you do have a bit of wiggle room in Japanese because it uses something called pitch accent rather than tones. Meaning, you can alternate your voice in a variety of ways and still be understood, because of Japanese being a contextual language – Chinese can also be contextual, but not to the extent of the Japanese language. To be honest I have been completely underestimating my tones in Chinese class, I think everyone has – it’s as if we know they are there and realize their importance but we just cannot deal with them…yet.

3. Hiragana…where are you?: For those of you unfamiliar with the Japanese language there are essentially 3 alphabets: Hiragana, Katakana and Kanji. Hiragana can be mixed with kanji to form a word or it can just be written by itself to form the phonetic composition of a word. However, in Mandarin Chinese or any dialect of Chinese for that matter fillers like hiragana don’t exist. It’s like you’re thrown into the lion’s den in a violent carnage of hanzi. You cannot rely on the little curvy script you know and love when you forget a character. Funny story is though, although we are learning simplified script in Chinese class – the moment I forget the traditional, I am writing that **** in Japanese (the traditional form). While I do feel guilty sometimes doing that, its life saving on tests because I still manage to mark up 3/4ths of the points. Sense- I mean Laoshi says that it will take some time for me to get adjusted but I am just cruising at this point in a world of words *float* float*


3 thoughts on “Learning Japanese and Chinese Simultaneously : 3 Observations

    1. Good point! Japanese is syllabary so the pitch accent is usually placed on 1 or 2 pairs of syllables in a word. In Chinese a tone can be placed over one letter and completely change the entire word itself. I guess if I had to sum it up, I’d say that pitch accent in Japanese has less of an impact on the word’s entirety.

      Liked by 1 person

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