Is Korean Chinese
Learn Korean, Chinese or Japanese
When I used to travel, westerners often asked me whether they speak Korean, Chinese or Japanese as their first language. But now they ask how the languages differ.
Korea and the Korean language have become much better known in recent years.
Korea and Japan have been influenced by China since ancient times, so Chinese characters are still used in Korea and Japan, but now Chinese, Korean, and Japanese are very different. Which of these languages is easier to learn, how do they differ and which of these Asian languages is right for you? We'll find out together in this article.
First, let's look at how Korean, Chinese, and Japanese differ.
What is the difference between Korean and Chinese
Although 60% of Korean words originally come from Chinese, the two languages no longer have much in common. While the Chinese grammar is simple and the Chinese writing is very difficult, it is the other way around in Korean. Korean has the simplest alphabet in the world, but grammar gets more complicated as you progress.
Chinese is a tonal language
When it comes to pronunciation of Chinese, tones are without a doubt the biggest hurdle. Mandarin has 4 tones and Cantonese has 6, but in practice Cantonese use 9 tones. In fact, we also use tones in German, for example when we raise the pitch at the end of a sentence to turn the sentence into a question.
However, in Chinese, these tones are used with every syllable and change the meaning of the words, not just the nuance. There are no tones in Korean. If a word is spoken differently in tone, it does not change the meaning.
Because German and Korean are not tonal languages, most beginners find it difficult to distinguish between Chinese words at the beginning. Even if they are very different words for native Chinese speakers. So besides the characters, the tones in Chinese are the most difficult to learn.
Dialects in Korean and Chinese
High Korean is based on the Seoul language. Even in Korea there are dialects in every region, but communication between the individual dialects is actually possible without any problems.
Mandarin is the standard language for Chinese and the language with the largest number of native speakers in the world. However, because China is bigger and has more people, there are many dialects in China. However, these dialects are more of a separate language, such as the "most widely spoken dialect", Cantonese.
Cantonese is spoken in southern China and Hong Kong, but unlike Mandarin, it is a language of its own. Mandarin speakers and Cantonese speakers cannot communicate with each other.
Of course, people in southern China also learn Mandarin at school, but they speak Cantonese in this area. So if you want to live or work in the Chinese province of Guangdong, Hong Kong, Macau, etc., you should learn Cantonese.
So you have to choose either Mandarin or Cantonese if you want to learn Chinese. You don't have to worry about that while learning Korean.
How is the Korean alphabet different from Chinese?
The Korean script is phonetically, so it represents the sounds produced when speaking, while the Chinese script is ideographic. Ideographic means the signs have a meaning and are not abstract.
If you see a Chinese character and know its meaning, you can understand it without knowing the Chinese language. If you've learned the Korean alphabet, you can read any Korean word, but still don't know what the words mean.
That is the biggest difference between Korean and Chinese and also the biggest difference between German and Chinese. It's also the biggest hurdle in learning Chinese.
You can read Korean after memorizing 40 Korean letters. These letters are easy to remember and the use of the letters is logical. However, you have to memorize around 3,500 characters in order to know the characters that are used in everyday Chinese life. Each and every one of these characters is more complicated than any of the Korean letters.
Therefore, when you learn Chinese, you will first learn pinyin, the spelling of Chinese in the Roman letters used in German. This romanization is also available for Korean, but you don't have to learn it and I don't teach it in the Korean alphabet lessons. After all, you can learn the Korean alphabet very quickly.
Traditional or Simplified Chinese Script
Because Chinese consists of so many characters, it used to be too difficult to write. The illiteracy rate was high, reaching 80% of the population at its peak.
Therefore, in the 1950s and 1960s, China began using simplified Chinese characters. Mainland China, Singapore, and Malaysia mainly use simplified Chinese characters, but Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Macau, among others, still use traditional Chinese characters.
So if you want to learn Chinese, you have to take that into account as well. Koreans used Chinese characters before the Korean alphabet was invented. The Korean alphabet was invented to replace the Chinese characters and counteract illiteracy. The Korean alphabet Hangeul was therefore designed to be easy to learn. So that's the least of the problem with learning Korean.
How to write Korean or Chinese on the keyboard
The Korean alphabet Hangeul is not only easy to learn, but Korean is also very suitable for writing on a computer or mobile phone. The sounds of the Korean language practically compose themselves when you write. If you are already learning Korean, but have not yet started typing Hangeul on the computer, I recommend that you do it now.
Chinese, on the other hand, cannot be typed directly, as Chinese are thousands of ideograms. So how do you type Chinese on your computer or mobile phone? Pinyin is used to type on a computer or cell phone. Pinyin is the Chinese pronunciation in the Roman alphabet.
When you type in the Chinese pronunciation of this Roman alphabet on a computer or mobile phone, it will automatically be converted into a selection of Chinese characters. Because there are different tones in Chinese, the same Roman letters can have completely different meanings. Therefore, you have to choose the right Chinese word.
So if you are learning Chinese for the first time, you will learn pinyin first, not the Chinese characters.
Because of these characteristics of Chinese characters, the Chinese also prefer voice messages to mobile phones instead of traditional instant messages and SMS.
Grammar & sentence order in Chinese compared to Korean
The Korean sentence order is subject, object and verb, but the Chinese sentence order is subject, verb and object. The order of the sentences in Chinese is the same as in German, which means that the order of the words in Chinese immediately makes sense if you have German as your mother tongue.
There are particles in Korean. Because the concept of particles does not exist in German (and in most other languages in the West), particles are one of the most difficult grammars in Korean. In addition, verb endings are often conjugated. However, the conjugation of Korean verbs is not necessarily related to the subject.
Another challenge faced by the Korean language is politeness. Korean courtesy is complicated even for Koreans. This only affects you later when learning, as you only need to know a few endings and situations at the beginning. When in doubt, always use polite language.
However, the further you progress in learning, the more complicated it becomes with politeness, not only linguistically but also culturally.
So Chinese grammar is much simpler than Korean. Chinese characters and sounds are difficult, but Chinese grammar is easier than most other languages.
How is Korean and Japanese different
After looking at Korean and Chinese, let's look at the similarities between Korean and Japanese and find out together which language suits you better and which one you should learn or whether you can even learn both at the same time.
Japanese characters: Hiragana, Katakana, Kanji.
We have already found that one of the biggest challenges in learning the Chinese language is the characters. Japanese has hiragana and katakana which are phonetic characters, like the Korean hangul. However, there are also Kanji in Japanese and Kanji are the Chinese characters.
So while Chinese writing is difficult, Japanese is even more difficult because you have to learn Chinese characters to read and write Japanese.
Hiragana are used when there is no corresponding or difficult kanji. It is also used for endings, for example when conjugating verbs and particles, whereas katakana are mainly used to represent foreign words.
Korea is also heavily influenced by China, so we learn Chinese characters in middle and high schools, but these days, Chinese characters are rarely used. When I was young, words were written in Chinese characters in the newspapers, but now I don't see them anymore. When I was a student, many words were written in Chinese characters in my books, but not these days.
If you study Korean, you must also learn Chinese characters, but if you only want to speak, read, and write Korean, you don't have to learn Chinese characters.
However, in order to learn Japanese, you need to learn Kanji because Japanese people still use Kanji a lot.
When Koreans and Japanese learn Chinese, it's actually not that difficult because they have already learned a lot of Chinese characters. The Japanese in particular know a lot more Chinese characters than Koreans.
The Korean alphabet is Hangeul or Hangul. As already mentioned, Hangeul is a phonetic script. So while the Chinese and Japanese have to learn Chinese characters, the Korean script is very different and much simpler. If you want to learn more about the making of Hangeul, read this article about the history of the Korean alphabet and to start learning Hangeul right away, I recommend our playlist on the Korean alphabet on YouTube.
How do you write Japanese or Korean on the keyboard?
As mentioned earlier, Korean comes in handy when you type on your computer keyboard. Korean can be entered directly without conversion. The sounds are formed almost automatically when you type.
So how about Japanese when three alphabets are combined?
Hiragana and katakana are phonetic characters, just like Korean. However, they cannot be typed in immediately.
Hiragana and Katakana are phonetic characters, but unlike Korean, a consonant and a vowel are already combined in one letter, for example た ta or ほ ho.
When you type Japanese on the keyboard, you are entering the pronunciation in the Roman alphabet, similar to Chinese. Then when the Japanese comes out that matches the pronunciation, you have to pick the right one. You also have to choose whether you want to use Hiragana, Katakana or Kanji.
Grammar & sentence order in Japanese compared to Korean
The sentence order of Korean and Japanese is the same. In both languages the subject comes first, then the object and the verb only at the end of the sentence.
Japanese also has particles like Korean and the usage of the particles is almost the same. The Japanese verbs are also often conjugated, but do not depend on the subject as in Korean.
Korean and Japanese have similar grammar, but the Korean and Japanese language families are not the same. Both languages are isolated languages, so they have developed independently of all other languages and have no relationships.
Nevertheless, a knowledge of Japanese helps to learn Korean and vice versa. Mainly because the grammars of both languages have properties that do not exist in Western languages and that can therefore be difficult to understand. In grammar, there is most of the overlap between Japanese and Korean.
The pronunciation of Japanese and Korean
Unlike Chinese, Korean and Japanese have no sounds. In fact, it is said that the pronunciation of Japanese is one of the easiest of all languages because Japanese has only 33 meaningful sounds. Most of these sounds also occur in German, which is why the Japanese pronunciation is particularly easy for German speakers to learn.
The pronunciation of Korean is also not very difficult, but definitely more difficult than that of Japanese. They say in Korean it is very difficult to sound like a native speaker. There are sounds that are completely different from those of German and there are pronunciation rules that you absolutely have to learn.
A Korean syllable combines at least one consonant and one vowel. Another consonant can also be added. The second consonant is called batchim (받침). This batchim is very important in learning Korean grammar and pronunciation. We have a whole series of pronunciation on YouTube that mainly deals with the batchim rules.
These rules deal with how the pronunciation changes when a particle with or without a vowel is appended to a word with a batchim. So how the pronunciation changes when syllables are connected. My participants say it is difficult. You have learned words, but the pronunciation sounds different depending on which particle is attached.
Japanese doesn't have many of these final consonants batchim, however. Therefore, the syllables in Japanese pronunciation are not connected, and learning the correct pronunciation takes less time and is easier than the Korean pronunciation.
Because of these characteristics of Japanese, it is difficult for the Japanese to pronounce the Korean batchim. For example, the Japanese pronounce kimchi (김치) as kimuchi (기무치).
Gerhard learned Korean, Japanese and also Russian. He didn't stick to any of the languages, but while he had the feeling that he had forgotten all the words in Russian every week in class, he still knew many Korean words even after years. We looked into why that is so and came to the conclusion that it has to do with the sounds. The more different sounds a language has, the more difficult it is to learn (regardless of understanding grammar and other rules). Perhaps you have already noticed that Japanese and Koreans have problems learning foreign languages. Russians, on the other hand, are masters at learning foreign languages. This has to do with the number of sounds that occur in your own language. Of course, that's also the biggest problem with learning the Chinese language. As mentioned earlier, Chinese has four different tones that change the meaning of words.
Should you study Korean, Chinese, or Japanese?
So far I've compared Korean and Chinese and Korean and Japanese. However, I am biased. I am Korean and have experience with Chinese and Japanese, but cannot speak either language well. However, I tried to write the article from your German-speaking point of view. Let's recap what each of these three languages is all about.
Korean, Chinese, or Japanese: Which Language is Easiest to Learn?
Chinese is often referred to as the most difficult language in the world. Interestingly, the most difficult language in the world is also the one that has the most native speakers in the world. Why is Chinese called the Most Difficult Language? Because you have to learn several thousand characters to learn to read and write and because Chinese is a tonal language.
There is almost no grammar for this in Chinese. You can learn the Korean alphabet in no time, while the Korean grammar with its politeness and particles is a challenge and gets more complicated the further you progress.
The Japanese alphabet is even more difficult than Chinese because the Chinese characters are part of the Japanese system. Japanese grammar is similar to Korean, but Korean grammar is a little more complicated than Japanese.
So there is no answer to the question which of these three languages is easier. Chinese is often referred to as the most difficult language in the world because of its writing and sounds, but Chinese grammar is very simple. Japanese writing is even more complicated than Chinese, but Korean grammar is the most complicated of these three languages.
So let's look at a few more factors that are crucial in deciding which language to learn.
Korean, Chinese or Japanese: Which language has economic benefits in the global age?
I have heard from my students and read many times that it is difficult to find a job when Europeans have studied Koreanology at university. This is true! More and more Koreans speak English well and language skills usually do not qualify for a job.
If you learn Japanese or Chinese, can you find a good job?
The Chinese economy is growing and trade with China is becoming more and more active. If you learn Chinese, you may be able to find a good job in Europe or in China. But don't forget. There are many Chinese and many Chinese live abroad and speak good German or English and many Chinese of the younger generations even grew up bilingual.
The situation when learning Japanese is similar. Reaching a level that you can really work with takes a long time. The weekly language course is not enough and then you still need further skills for the respective profession. So language is just a means of communication.
If you want to learn a language for business purposes, you must first learn the subject and then learn the language as a secondary skill.
Not studying a language at university can also have advantages. If you study Koreanology, for example, you still have to learn a lot of Hanja, which you don't really need in practice. It can therefore have advantages to study something with good career prospects and to learn the language intensively in a course and in self-study in order to use it later in the job. If you are still thinking about studying Koreanology, there is an article on studying the Korean language here.
Is it a good idea to study Chinese while learning Korean?
Even though we have a common history, are neighbors, many Korean words come from Chinese, and we used many Chinese characters until not so long ago, the benefits of learning Korean and Chinese at the same time are small.
The greatest parallels between Korean and Chinese are found in similar vocabulary, but the structure of the language, grammar, alphabet, and pronunciation have nothing to do with each other.
Is it a good idea to study Korean and Japanese at the same time?
Korean and Japanese have similar grammar but are not related. Both are isolated languages. Learning Korean and Japanese at the same time makes it easier to understand the grammar of the other language, but the effort clearly outweighs the advantages.
If you already know Japanese and would like to learn Korean now, you will definitely benefit from your knowledge of Japanese. I would not recommend starting the languages at the same time, but that is only my personal opinion and recommendation. If you want to learn Korean and Japanese at the same time, I am for it. You do it. Above all, experience in language learning is always good if you want to learn other languages. It doesn't matter whether the languages are related or not.
Conclusion: So which language should you learn?
Since I am Korean, I recommend that you learn Korean. Haha! This is just a joke. The motivation to learn a language is the most important thing. Korean is growing in popularity as Kpop and KDrama grow in popularity and more and more people are interested in Korea as an exotic travel destination. Chinese is the language with the most native speakers and China is the fastest growing economy in the world. Japan is a fascinating country with a fascinating culture and history.
However, the path to success in a foreign language is through speaking. Are you planning to live and work in one of the three countries? Do you have Korean, Japanese or Chinese friends or colleagues, or are you in a relationship with someone from one of the three countries? I recommend you think about the future and how you plan to use the language. Everyone will have their own reasons for learning a language. If you haven't found a good reason to learn Korean yet, here are a few reasons to learn Korean.
I hope my contribution will help you choose a language to study. If you've already decided to learn Korean, I'll be happy to help. You can either use the free YouTube channel to teach yourself Korean with my help, look for a course in your city or see when my next online courses start. There are also tips here to help you learn Korean better.
Learning Hangeul is easy at first, but Korean grammar is not easy. However, if you understand Korean culture better through the language and continue to learn, you will soon see that learning Korean is worthwhile and the language is a lot of fun.
How about the next time we speak Korean together?
You are welcome to write your thoughts or your decision which language you will learn in the comments. I would be very interested.
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