Saw this question on Area 51 and I'm learning both languages.

Which order should I learn Japanese and Chinese? I already know some French and am fluent in English, so what way would I go from that?

Are there analogies between learning Japanese and Chinese versus learning English and French, and if so, are there implications for which one it is easier to learn first?

  • Questions about specific languages that are not widely applicable are not on topic for this site.
    – fi12
    Apr 5, 2016 at 19:47
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    The order in which to learn a language depends entirely on your reasons for learning a language.
    – Flimzy
    Apr 5, 2016 at 19:50
  • This question is like asking which food should be eaten first: potatoes or carrots. Apr 5, 2016 at 19:55
  • I think the new last paragraph (and my answer) sum up the issue, and I nominate the question for reopening in its current form.
    – Tom Au
    Apr 5, 2016 at 21:08
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    Asking whether Japanese or Chinese is a "better" language without any criteria would be opinion based. But asking about how easy it is to learn X then Y versus Y then X should have a basis in fact. Apr 8, 2016 at 9:29

1 Answer 1


I've studied both, and I would learn Chinese first. Because written Chinese is almost a "subset" of Japanese, it's easier to learn Chinese first, because you don't have to "unlearn" any of it when studying Japanese

Essentially "all" of written Chinese has an equivalent in Japanese. Put another way, most of the written Chinese languages "maps" to a subset of Japanese. Essentially all Kanji characters are Chinese based.

The reverse is not true, because Japanese has significant "indigenous" (non-Chinese) based strains (katakana, hiragana) characters. This might confuse you if you studied this first, and then learned Chinese.

It's like saying that English has both a "latin" (French related) strain and a German strain. I'd learn French first, then French-based English words such as "chair" and later German-based equivalents such as "stool."

  • 1
    Seems really opinion based to me.
    – fi12
    Apr 5, 2016 at 19:54
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    @fi12: If Chinese is a "subset" of Japanese, it's easier to learn Chinese first, because you don't have to "unlearn" any of it when studying Japanese. Whereas if you studied "non-Chinese" Japanese, you'd have to unlearn those things. The second two paragraphs are just empirical facts.
    – Tom Au
    Apr 5, 2016 at 19:56
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    Chinese is not a "subset" of Japanese. They do not even belong to the same language family. The similarities are superficial because Japanese took the Kanji (which literally means "chinese characters") from Chinese and assigned different pronunciations to them. Linguistically, they are very different and are only accidentally similar. Apr 5, 2016 at 20:09
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    In addition, the 音読み of a Japanese character is often similar to the Mandarin pronunciation (eg the Japanese word 天気 tenki becomes 天氣 tiānqì. The character 気 is of special interest because it's somewhere between the traditional Chinese character 氣 and its simplified equivalent 气). Anecdotally, I survived my first few weeks in Taiwan based only on my knowledge of Japanese kanji, and even now regularly use my Japanese vocabulary to "guess" a Chinese word with a reasonable success rate, so the connection is real, and of practical importance.
    – John
    Apr 6, 2016 at 1:12
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    My good people, comments are not for extended discussion. The format is really not good for a discussion. Feel free to discuss this in chat.
    – ANeves
    May 10, 2016 at 9:14

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