Asian languages may appear enigmatic to many, which is another reason why so many people find them fascinating. There are Three East Asian languages that frequently contrast and also have many connections with one another Chinese, Japanese, and Korean.
You’ve come to the perfect place if you’re unsure about which to learn or want to know which is the hardest. In an accessible manner, in this article, you learn about the writing systems, vocabulary, grammar, speaking, and pronunciation of Chinese vs Japanese vs Korean languages.
A Sample Of East Asian Language History
The Chinese language is one of the oldest languages in the world. Ancient carvings contain Chinese characters still used by contemporary Chinese writers. Chinese characters are ideological so each character has one or more meanings, and combinations of characters comprise various words.
Chinese has had a significant influence on almost every Japanese word in terms of pronunciation, vocabulary, and writing. In archaic times, Japanese was only spoken and not written.
Things changed when Chinese characters began to be imported into Japan. Native Japanese words are those in Japanese that have been passed down from Old Japanese rather than having been borrowed at some point. These words are referred to as wago.
Before the modern era, the Korean language was mainly written in Chinese characters, as is Japanese. In 1945, both North and South Korea banned Chinese characters and promoted Hangul. Korean is one of the most popular languages today for students to learn.
Chinese, Japanese, And Korean Grammar
For English speakers or speakers of other European languages, the language structure and word order of Chinese are simpler than those of Japanese or Korean. Most of the time, the word order is more familiar to us. Furthermore, there aren’t any tenses, case endings, agreements, etc. to worry about, unlike in many Western languages.
In contrast to Chinese, Korean and Japanese share a somewhat comparable word order and are members of the same language family.
The Chinese language is relatively similar to the English language because both include synonyms and antonyms, and both employ vowels and consonant sounds. Their sentence structures are also quite similar.
However, the Chinese language still has its strengths including an easy grammar system. The Chinese language doesn’t have prepositions, verb conjugations, or tense changes. Furthermore, the Chinese grammar system doesn’t have the honorific system that both Japanese grammar and Korean grammar have.
Japanese grammar might be the most intricate in the entire world. Each Japanese verb, for instance, has 13 different forms, and when the tense is added, many more forms are produced.
Additionally, the Japanese honorific system can be rather challenging for Japanese speakers because it requires them to adjust their level of politeness in response to various listeners and circumstances. Even many native Japanese people struggle with this.
Korean grammar is quite similar to Japanese grammar in terms of sentence form and the use of honorifics. Korean has a simpler linguistic structure than Japanese, nonetheless. For instance, there aren’t many different verb conjugations.
Overall, the Japanese and Korean populations may learn each other’s languages quite readily because of the similarity in grammatical reasoning. Similar to this, learning another language will go more swiftly if you already speak Japanese or Korean.
Chinese, Japanese, And Korean Writing System
If you’re not accustomed to Asian writing systems, Korean, Japanese, and Chinese may all appear the same to you in written form. It is true that writing in both Korean and Japanese can occasionally use Chinese characters.
But there are significant differences between these three languages. Even if you cannot read any of them, you should be able to identify between Chinese, Japanese, and Korean writing if you learn to recognize unique character shapes and text styles.
Let’s examine how Japanese, Chinese, and Korean differ from one another and see if we can distinguish between them without knowing any of the languages.
Chinese Writing System
When first learning Chinese, many beginners may ask: where is the alphabet? Well, in contrast to English, which has 26 letters, Chinese doesn’t have an alphabet, but rather 3,000 common Chinese characters.
Chinese characters are pictographic, meaning they evolved from images. In other words, the “painter-like” Chinese people were the ones who first developed them. Thus, many non-native speakers feel that writing Chinese characters is like painting.
The Chinese have complex symbols that look like a painting
Chinese characters have two writing styles: the simplified and the traditional. Mainland China uses simplified Chinese characters, while Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan use traditional ones.
Japanese Writing System
Japanese consists of the syllabic alphabet. In fact, the Japanese have three different writing systems: hiragana, katakana, and ikanji that work together.
Hiragana is the “glue” of the writing system, hiragana is used for verb endings, particles, and words for which you may not be able to recall the Chinese character (kanji).
Katakana is used for borrowing words from other languages, but it can also be employed to denote an accent in works like manga.
Although there are several words that are typically written in Hiragana or can only be written in that script, Japanese Kanji is employed for nouns in general and the stems of verbs.
Japanese have many curvy cute symbols, like
Korean Writing System
Modern Korean has a far simpler writing system than the Chinese and Japanese. Hangul is the official alphabet used to record Korean, which has 40 letters consisting of 21 vowels and 19 consonants.
In Korean, any vowel and consonant letter can be used individually or combined to form words. It’s systematic and comprehensive. Moreover, it’s easy to learn, print, and use on the computer. The creation of Hangul has also contributed dramatically to reducing illiteracy and the development of the publishing industry in Korea.
Korean have square face-like symbols with circles like
호랑이가 먹이를 먹어요.
Chinese, Japanese And Korean Pronunciation
In terms of pronunciation, Chinese is difficult only because of the fact that there are four different tones. The tone determines the meaning of a word. Japanese and Korean are very distinct languages and they don’t have the same pronunciation.
Many would contend that the Japanese are simpler at this point. Due to the language’s complete phonetic nature, words are spoken exactly as they are written. Although there are subtleties to the Japanese pitch accent, most people will still recognize you.
Korean is slightly more difficult to pronounce than Japanese since it includes more Korean sounds. In general, native English speakers may discover that many of the sounds are extremely similar to one another, and English speakers may struggle with most of the foreign sounds. To be understood, one must be able to recognize each one and speak each one correctly.
Chinese: Logographical Characters With A Tonal System
As mentioned before, Chinese characters are ideological. Therefore, there are no rules to follow other than remembering the pronunciation of each required Chinese character, and the same applies to Kanji in Japanese.
There is no alphabet in Chinese. Each word in Chinese is denoted by a unique character (pictograph) or group of characters (ideograph). To standardize Mandarin, Pinyin was created as the phonetic system to pronounce Chinese characters using the Latin alphabet.
More importantly, Chinese is a tonal language, and word meanings constantly vary according to their tones, which is not the case in either Japanese, Korean, or English. Thus, we can say that Chinese is the most difficult in terms of pronunciation.
Japanese: Vowel To Consonant 1:1
There is a saying that Japanese is the best-sounding language due to its 1:1 vowel to consonant ratio, which is close to a musical rhythm. Japanese has no diphthongs, and all syllables are open. What’s more, Japanese has only five vowels (a i u e o), combined with 14 consonants to form the Japanese syllables.
For English speakers, it’s easy to pronounce almost all of the Japanese syllables. Pronunciation is the simplest part of Japanese, compared to its complex writing system.
Japanese doesn’t have tones, although it does have two alphabets and uses Chinese symbols called Kanji. The primary alphabet is hiragana.
Korean: All Is Phonetic
The pronunciation of Korean is harder than in Japanese. Korean has some complex syllables, such as compound vowels and synthetic consonants, which many people find difficult when they first try to practice Korean pronunciation.
But the good news is that Hangul is entirely phonetic, without any hidden sounds. Beginners can basically read them within one to two hours of study and get familiar with them during a week’s practice. Korean, however, is the most difficult language to pronounce when compared to Chinese and Japanese.
Learn how to Master Your Pronunciation with this Speechling Review.
Japanese, Chinese, And Korean Vocabulary
Despite the fact that the three languages cannot be understood by one another, most Japanese words and Korean words come from Chinese words. This is yet another justification for the continued usage of Chinese characters in both Japanese and Korean, known respectively as Japanese kanji and Korean hanja.
Both languages also take words from other languages and assimilate them into their own vocabulary. In some instances: The use of Chinese characters is common. As you are aware, Chinese is the source of many words in both the Japanese and Korean languages. Around the fifth or sixth century, Japan adopted kanji, and Korea had hanja even earlier.
In written Chinese, Each word in the vocabulary is represented by a single, distinctive sign, or character. Most characters are written representations of spoken sounds with meaning.
Greetings And Farewells Chinese
|Good evening||Wan3 shang4 hao3.||晚上好|
|Good morning!||Zao3 chen2 hao3.||早上好!|
|Good bye||Zai4 jian4||再见|
|Good Night||Wan3 an1||晚安|
|Hi! Hello!||Ni4 hao2.||你好！ 你好！|
|See you later.||Zai4 jian4.||回头见|
|See you again.||Zai4 jian4.||再见|
|See you tomorrow.||Ming2 tian1 jian4||明天见|
Courtesy Words In Chinese
|Congratulations||Gong1 xi3 ni3||恭喜|
|I’m sorry.||Dui4 bu4 qi3.||对不起|
|Thank You very much||Fei1 chang2 gan3 xie4.||非常感谢|
|Thank you||Xie4 xie4.||谢谢|
|welcome||Bu2 ke4 qi3||欢迎|
Basic Phrases In Chinese
|How are you?||Ni4 hao2 ma0?||你叫什么名字？|
|My name is . . .||Wo3 jiao4 . . .||我的名字是。|
|Nice to meet you.||Ren4 shi1 nin2, hen3 gao1 xin4.||很高兴见到你|
|This is my calling/visiting/business card.||Zhe4 shi4 wo3 de0 ming2 pian4.||这是我的电话/访问/名片。|
|Very well||Hen3 hao3||很好|
|What’s your name?||Ni3 gui4 xing4?||你好吗？|
If you want your students to refer to you in Chinese, have them use “Lao Shi” after your last name. For instance: King Lao Shi
Despite the fact that all three languages are incomprehensible to one another, the majority of vocabulary in Japanese is derived from Chinese. This is another reason why Chinese characters, known as kanji in Japanese. Around the fifth or sixth century, Japan adopted kanji,
Greetings And Farewells In Japanese
|Good morning||Ohayou gozaimasu||おはよう|
|Good afternoon||Konnichi wa||こんにちは|
|Good evening||Konban wa.||こんばんは|
|I’m going but I’ll be back||Ittekimasu||私は行きますが、私は戻ってきます|
|See you later||Itterasshai||また後で|
|See you||Dewa mata.||またね|
|See you tomorrow||Mata ashita.||また明日ね|
Courtesy Words In Japanese
|Thank you||Arigatou./ Doumo||ありがとうございました|
|Thank you very much||(Doumo) arigatou gozaimasu||どうもありがとうございます|
|I’m sorry||Gomen nasai||申し訳ありません|
Basic Phrases In Japanese
|What’s your name||Namae wa nan desu ka?||あなたの名前は何ですか|
|My name is..,.||——–desu.||私の名前は..、。|
|Nice to meet you||Douzo yoroshiku onegaishimasu.||お会いできて嬉しいです|
|Are you well||Ogenki desuka||大丈夫|
|I’m fine||Genki desu||私は元気|
Ask the pupils to state your last name followed by “Sensei” if you want them to address you in Japanese. King Sensei, for instance.
Despite the fact that all three languages are incomprehensible to one another, the majority of vocabulary in Korean words is derived from Chinese.
Greetings And Farewells In Korean
|Hi, hello||Annyonghaseyo||안녕하세요 안녕하세요|
|Good bye||Annyeonghi gyeseyo (when you, the guest, are leaving)||안녕히 계세요|
|Goodbye||Annyonghi gaseyo (when you, the host, are saying goodbye to guests.)||안녕히 계세요|
|See you tomorrow||Nae-il boepkesoyo||내일 봐요|
|Take care||Salpyogaseyo. (when you are parting, or when you, the host, aresaying goodbye to guests.)||잘 지내세요|
|Good night||Annyonghi jumushipsiyo||안녕히 주무세요|
|See you later||Najung-e bayo||나중에 봐요|
Courtesy Words In Korean
|Thank you ( formal)||Kamsahamnida||감사합니다(공식)|
|Thank you ( less formal)||Komapsumnida.||감사합니다(덜 형식적인)|
|I’m sorry ( intense)||Joesonghamnida||죄송합니다(강렬)|
|Excuse me ( getting attention)||Shille Hamnida||실례합니다 (주의를 끌기)|
|I’m sorry (less intense)||Mianhamnida.||죄송합니다(덜 강렬)|
|Welcome||Oso oseyo||어서 오십시오|
Basic Phrases In Korean
|What’s your name||Dangshini irumugan mu-ot imnikka?||너 이름이 뭐니|
|My name is…||Je irumum—– imnida||내 이름은…|
|Nice to meet you||Mannaso bangapsumnida||만나서 반갑습니다|
|How are you||Ottoke jinae hashimnikka||잘 지내고 있나요|
|Fine, thank you||Jal jinae mnida.||좋아, 고마워|
Ask the pupils to state your last name followed by “Sonsaengnim” if you want them to address you in Korean. For instance, King Sonsaengnim.
Chinese, Japanese, And Korean Speaking
Speaking: Medium-Hard. English speakers find it difficult to understand tones and some sounds (like the Chinese “r”). However, because English has a robust phonetic vocabulary and we are accustomed to intonation in speech, recognizing tones is made simpler.
In spite of their fluency, though, the majority of non-native or bilingual Chinese speakers I’ve heard have very strong accents.
Speaking: Easy-Medium. There are no tones, and English speakers can access the majority of Japanese sounds (minus the “r”, but if you took Spanish in high school, it should be fine). A consonant-vowel combination’s pronunciation is also constant, unlike in English.
There is no ah/ay nonsense; an “a” sound is always pronounced the same. But while mastering pitch disparities is easier than tones, it clearly separates non-native speakers from native speakers.
Speaking: Medium. Although Korean lacks tones, it offers some rather challenging sounds. In English, there are some unusual vowels. For instance, while the “eu” has a very guttural sound, the widely used “eo” is something of an oh/uh hybrid.
Many words in English end in “l,” although not all of them do (as my textbook put it, a Korean ending “l” sounds like an English beginning “l”). I personally find it hardest to make this particular sound. However, with exposure and practice, these things get simpler.
Chinese, Japanese And Korean Sentence Structure
The subject + object + verb sentence structure is one of the most comparable features between Japanese and Korean.
Particles are used in both Japanese and Korean sentences to offer context and illustrate the links between words. The usage of the particles in Japanese is consistent, each type of marker has only one option. However, in Korean, you may notice that in the first three columns on the left, there are two options per marker type.
Particles are words that mark the relationship of the words in the sentence. Korean offers more possibilities for the same particle, as you may have seen in the example. This is partially due to the fact that Japanese particles are universally applicable, but Korean particles vary in politeness.
Japanese and Chinese scripts have no spaces between words. While Korean scripts have spaces between words.
Japanese scripts use a comma, periods, and quotation marks. Chinese scripts occasionally use question marks or exclamation points. While Korean scripts use the same punctuation marks as the European language.
How Similar Are Chinese, Korean, And Japanese?
The three nations have a lengthy and intertwined history. What does that entail, though, for language learners like us?
We can learn Chinese, Korean, and Japanese more quickly and simply if we are aware of their similarities.
Japanese and Korean share a lot of vocabulary with the Chinese because of their shared Chinese roots. According to linguists, over 60% of Korean vocabulary and 50% of Japanese terms originate from Chinese.
Therefore, having knowledge of one of these languages provides you a huge advantage over others when learning the Japanese language, Chinese language, or Korean language.
Differences Between The Korean, Japanese, And Chinese Languages
Despite the complexity of the Chinese language, it is easy to recognize Chinese characters since they are square rather than curved. Japanese letters appear more rounded and curvier.
Japanese and Korean are likewise more visually airy and roomy than the Chinese, which is denser.
The primary circular shapes that make up the Korean alphabet are distinctive from it and are absent from either the Japanese or Chinese alphabets.
After China’s cultural revolution, Traditional Chinese has become more modernized and is now Chinese written horizontally. Ancient Chinese was once written from top to bottom, left to right.
The Japanese writing style was also affected by the Chinese, which was historically written in an “up and down” pattern but is now also written horizontally.
Which Language Is The Easiest To Learn?
Learning Japanese and Korean can be fascinating because you’ll discover the parallels and discrepancies between the two European languages.
The easiest language to learn is undoubtedly Korean since, after working hard in the beginning, you don’t have to spend your entire life learning thousands of Chinese characters (or Kanji).
It would be simpler to learn Korean. Korean is not the most difficult language in Asia to learn due to its phonetic alphabet and less complex grammar rules. On the other hand, Chinese and Japanese are far more extensively spoken.
Finding resources for studies and practice partners should thus be simpler. In the end, you ought to pick the one that will be most helpful to you.
You might be wondering, if Korean is worth it, well we assure you that it totally is.
- Pronunciation – Hard
- Grammar – Easy
- Listening – Hard
- Writing – Moderate
- Honorifics – Easy
- Pronunciation – Easy
- Grammar – Hard
- Listening – Moderate
- Writing – Hard
- Honorifics – Hard
- Pronunciation – Hard
- Grammar – Moderate
- Listening – Hard
- Writing – Easy
- Honorifics – Easy
After reading this comparative review, I’m sure it has become clear that it’s hard to tell which one is objectively the easiest or the hardest. You need to consider the three aspects of pronunciation, writing, and grammar and make your decision from there. I would like to present you with the difficulty rankings based on my personal experience below.
- Writing system: Japanese > Chinese > Korean
- Pronunciation: Chinese > Korean > Japanese
- Grammar: Japanese > Korean > Chinese
Thank you for reading this article. I hope you learned a lot from this blog post. Although these three Asian languages are challenging, you can take on a rewarding adventure and have a great time learning Japanese, Chinese and Korean.
Learning Korean is an exceptionally wholesome experience since you get to learn many new things like new sounds, alphabets, honorifics, and whatnot. Korean is similar to the English language in a few ways but in many ways, Korean is very different from the English language.
These differences might be fascinating to you at first sight but for a beginner, these differences can be troublesome. To save you from all the pain of learning new things and forgetting them the next day, Ling App has carefully crafted its lessons in the Korean language for you.
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If you liked this article then you can also check out our more specific blogpost on Korean Vs Japanese Language. With the goal of teaching you the best, the Ling App is trying to give its best. So download the Ling App now and start learning the Korean language like a pro!