Should I Learn Chinese or Japanese?

Hello, I have been contemplating if I should learn Chinese or Japanese. I am intending to get a masters degree in international relations, so I find there are pros and cons to learning both languages.

I really admire the Chinese and Japanese for their history, culture, art, and philosophy, personally putting them on par with the Greeks and Romans. I also find their languages to be really beautiful and useful for global interactions. (China is the #1 trading partner of the US, but Japan is arguably the US #1 diplomatic partner next to South Korea.)

Are both languages equally as important with respect to global issues (like trade)? Should I Chinese before Japanese, or vice versa? I would really appreciate some input into this matter.

February 7, 2018


I am not sure if it is my stereotype but Chinese seems an easier language compared with Japanese and once you are familiar with Chinese characters everything would become quite logical.

If your ambition is in global relations it would be quite difficult to master both languages to an equally profound level. Make your choice with an intuition which one would be more interesting for you. And certainly in terms of global relations the challenges may be a lot more with China than with Japan. That's a consideration not related to the languages though.

February 7, 2018

If you haven't decided yet I'd recommend to start with both!

For Chinese I recommend to use Robin Cards extension for traditional characters for two reasons:

  • learning traditional characters makes learning Japanese kanji easier and vice versa, since they are mostly identical
  • learning traditional characters and understanding simplified characters as well is probably easier than the other way round

After a while you can focus on one language and come back to the other language at a later time.

February 7, 2018

Chinese takes a long time to learn; at least half a year on 12 hour days for heritage learners. Realistically, it should take 3 semesters of immersion and intensive coursework (BCLU intensive program). Better to get the simplified HSK6 standard done first then progress from there to TOCFL (traditional). You'd need at least HSK5 certification (with superior grades) to be able to read Chinese comfortably, and the only guarantee of "comfort" would come with superior HSK6 certification. The front loading is way too much to waste time on complicating initial Chinese learning efforts with dual traditional / simplified learning. Moreover, traditional has the drawback that it's harder to write than simplified, serious fluency requires time spent on working characters into muscle memory.

January 13, 2019

I would try both. But I would maybe start out with Japanese first.

February 7, 2018

It is important to note that learning the characters will be the big challenge. In my opinion this means that:

1) You really should go for both languages in the long run. When you know enough characters (be it Chinese or Japanese) it is a waste not to learn to use them in the other language. Especially since you seem to find both interesting.

2) Comments about which is easier can be ignored. They are both hard, because of the characters, and Chinese will probably be harder, since you have to learn more characters (I think), but that's on the advanced level. As a newbie they are just hard.

As a conclusion, I would say that you should pick the one that gets you motivated, and when you have reached an upper intermediate or advanced level you add the other one to your study routine.

February 7, 2018

I would say: start with Chinese if you have a talent for hearing pitches, singing, music or whatever. That would make the Chinese tones easy to learn. If you struggle with tones, however, I'm not sure if you should use the Duolingo Chinese course without having a real-life tutor.
[Oops. didn't read your post properly.]

February 8, 2018

Chinese. It is actually the second most popular language spoken in the world. Chinese is a lot easier, but Duolingo has just come out with the course. It is not bad, but you should get the robincard extension. If you are wanting to learn Chinese(which I highly recommend), then you could use this site first, to understand what you are/will be doing before heading right into it(the site is: ) It is a good site, but the elementary course costs. I would use Duolingo for the elementary course. There are about 11 lessons in the Litao Chinese course(the link I attached up there.) I do NOT recommend Japanese.

February 14, 2018

I also add that characters are NOT hard with Duolingo. Please take my advice. Thanks. (Chinese first, but I wrote another post on why below)

February 14, 2018

Learn Esperanto first. Chinese is not a good second language in that it takes way too much time to learn; around 4400 hours (including self-study) if you were going through the Defense Language Institute's program.

On the other hand, if you had to choose between a Chinese -> Japanese switch or a Japanese -> Chinese switch, I'd recommend Chinese first. Japanese is a hard language for English speakers due to the grammar and kanji, to the extent that it would take 6600 hours for an English speaker under the DLI program. But for fluent Chinese speakers, it's roughly estimated by the Japanese government to take between 2000 and 4000 hours. Informally, though, I'd guess the difficulty going from Japanese to Chinese and Chinese to Japanese as for an English speaker learning French or German respectively, Japanese speakers struggle with the pronunciation and listening skills for Chinese, and require a slightly larger Hanzi recognition than for Japanese, while Chinese speakers struggle more with grammar with very few new Kanji to learn.

As an English speaker, though, Kanji is the biggest problem with Japanese, and if you get to a good HSK 6 score, you have most* of the Kanji down. Grammar is a problem, but less challenging since English is inflected, and combining inflected English with Chinese particles and occasional use of SOV (被 structures) it should be significantly less challenging.


Also, the advice to learn Chinese and Japanese at the same time is not advised. You're not supposed to learn related languages at the same time due to the potential for confusion, and the similar orthography makes them too akin. 私 -> Watashi or Si1?

*The average educated Chinese speaker knows 5000 Hanzi. The standard for literacy is 2000 characters for the urbanite, and the HSK6 standard, which approximates junior high school, is around 2500 characters. Japanese JLPT N1 (TOEFL equivalent) is 2000 Kanji.


Also please note, from a data structure POV, a Chinese word is:

Meaning Grammar Orthography Pronunciation Tone(s),

or, around 6 units, counting orthography as double.

An English word is closer to:

Pronunciation Meaning Grammar Orthography (Linked to pronunciation)

Or around 3.5 units, given that orthography is linked to pronunciation.

Japanese would be closer to:

Meaning Grammar Orthography Pronunciation Reading

Or around 7 units, counting orthography as double and reading as double, given that Kanji usually have multiple readings while Hanzi usually don't.

It's easier to master the meaning of Hanzi first, then graft multiple readings and pronunciation onto Kanji.

January 13, 2019

I recommend Japanese. It’s culture is widely shared and integrated into America’s media. Anime for an obvious example.

There are so many free and easy ways to access Japanese culture, media, or news from your phone; Whereas, China’s is a bit more challenging. I’ve never seen a Chinese cartoon in America (Chanime?) and the amount of Japanese natives wanting to learn English or teach Japanese is overwhelming.

February 7, 2018

Chinese anime is called "donghua". Here is a little example:

I found japanese easier, but both languages are interesting.

February 7, 2018

We all tend to find what we are looking for, and not find the things that we have never thought about. There are plenty of resources for either language out there, so no need to consider that aspect while choosing between them.

February 7, 2018
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