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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.


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.


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.


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


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.


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.]


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: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zO6tL0MZN6Q&list=PLx1Agzx9HiRqVBq-Or7-viUoQgM8lOkNX ) 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.


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)

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