Mandarin, Japanese, Korean: My Experiences
Starting in my Freshman Year of high school, I only spoke English. I barely spoke the most basic Spanish. Now that I turned 18 today, approaching my high school graduation, I've done a lot of reflecting. I have grown a lot as a person in my four years of high school. Some changes were good, others less so, but I am very content with who I've become. One of the changes I made was in my awareness and knowledge of language, culture, and things outside my perspective in general. I will specifically be discussing my experiences with learning Mandarin Chinese, Japanese, and Korean.
I studied Mandarin in freshman year, but it was not available on sophomore year, and only an online course was available in the final quarter of Junior year, and now I have Mandarin again, but it is a very disruptive class. So a decent chunk of my Mandarin studies has had to take place outside of school. At first, I didn't know about 简体字 and 繁體字, but when I did, I started learning them both simultaneously. My thoughts on Mandarin are: it is interesting learning a tone-sensitive language that has a writing system entirely different from the concept of alphabets and phonetics that are relatively different from English. There is, however, a method to the 'madness'; by learning radicals and simple characters, guessing pronunciations of new, more complicated characters becomes much easier. The grammar of Mandarin also starts off basic, but going further into detail with it, it is much more complicated than I anticipated, which I enjoy, because there's no accomplishment without challenge. Having to learn 3000-4000 characters just to achieve functional literacy seems intimidating, but it keeps looking simpler and simpler the more one forgets of a 'standard set' and just focuses on learning the characters and how to communicate. Learning should, after all, be an experience, not a checklist. I also can't argue against the practical benefits of Mandarin: a billion speakers in economic powerhouses as China, Taiwan, Singapore, and Malaysia.
I never took a class on Japanese, and I never used Japanese learning apps. My interest in Japanese came about the same way it probably did for many people: interest in anime and manga. I began getting into the アニメ habit approaching the end of sophomore year. Soon, I was focusing less on the show and more on the dialogue. First, I only knew katakana, then I endeavored to learn hiragana. I already knew some Kanji from my studies in Mandarin, and how to write characters, but I continued to learn more and more. I eventually started learning even more one step at a time. I moved on from rōmaji entirely to furigana. I like Japanese because it is very much a language/ culture based on politeness and respect. I learned the most during the summer before senior year of high school, where I would spend hours going through websites learning more details of Japanese. It's given me a much greater appreciation for the dialogue in anime and Japanese-language media in general. Its phonetic system is much simpler than Chinese, and while grammar is initially a huge challenge, it is like a peak; once it is passed, it becomes easier and easier, as opposed to Mandarin, where it starts easy and becomes more complicated. I have great interest in Japanese culture in addition to language as well.
Korean is a relatively recent interest of mine. I studied Chinese and Japanese, and felt Korean would be a reasonable transition. I had a brief interest in Korean in the summer after my freshman year because of my interest phase for kPop, but not enough to push me towards learning the language. I looked more into depth on the language in my late junior year. My findings: Korean has grammar like Japanese and phonetics like Chinese, and the simplest writing system by far. It uses an alphabet instead of a pictographic/syllabic writing system like Chinese or Japanese. I haven't learned too much Korean yet, but it is so similar to Japanese, with case particles, verb forms, and context rules equivalent to Japanese. It is no difficulty to understand. the caregorization of Korean verbs corresponds very harmoniously with Japanese: ㅏ/ㅗ 다 verbs are like る verbs, 하다 verbs are basically identical to する verbs, and the third group group of Korean verbs are like う (all other verbs not る or する verbs). What I found interesting was that Korean is almost a transition of phonetics between the Sino-cognates. Like 'rudeness', from C-K-J, is: 失禮 (shîlî)--> 실례 (shillye)--> 失礼 (shitsurei). For the most part, I don't think I'll have too much difficulty. Korean is only spoken by around 75 million people, so it's not 'as' advantageous as learning Chinese or Japanese per se, but since South Korea is a very active economy, and North Korea is a hot topic in international news, it is no slouch in economic or international terms.
Overall, high school has been an eye-opening time of my life. I have learned a lot and I hopefully will continue learning more to improve myself. I've always had high standards for myself, but I am glad I do; it gives me ambition and initiative to continue with something until it is done.