Chinese vs Japanese || Which Do You Study?

Mandarin Chinese was my first ever foreign language but I’ve also dabbled enough in Japanese to just about be able to get by in Japan.

I wondered what you guys are studying at the moment, and if you ever had any interest in trying the other?

I’ve definitely found that knowing Mandarin helps when you make the jump to Japanese, not so much in a spoken sense, but more with Kanji, which is typically one of the hardest elements for foreigners to crack.

I love love studying both, but they really are so different.

On the topic of both - I listen to this really nice podcast run by a Mandarin native speaker and a Japanese. They speak 50-50 and it’s a really cool way to absorb both languages at once.

The podcast is called 爽语

LINK || Spotify



I actually started learning Japanese when I returned to college in my 20s. I had friends from Japan and some from Taiwan. I leaned into the Japanese at the time. I didn’t get past A1 though, because my priorities were different (I did learn to read the hiragana and katakana, and started recognizing characters in context, though). A few years later, I introduced both German and Japanese to my oldest daughter, and she leaned more into Japanese (at the same time living with my Spanish-speaking husband, so she’s bilingual in English/Spanish). I could only go so far, so used music and kid programs to get her further. She’s. now 24 and continues to pick up and study on her own when she wants.

Fast forward to second daughter, 11 years younger than my first. I started her learning Mandarin after the Chinese company I taught English through offered discounts for our kids to learn Chinese. I started learning a few months into her learning so I could help her practice. She was 8./9 years old at the time. We continue to do Mandarin Mornings, even though her active study slowed down a lot, but mine hasn’t. She’s now 13 years old.

I’ve started relearning Japanese alongside learning Mandarin. Funny, when talking to my oldest daughter and I teach her something in Chinese, she says it with a Japanese accent. Absolutely hilarious! I see Kanji and want to pronounce Hanzi. While also relearning German, I see “wo” and think “I” instead of “where.”

I’m adhd and perimenopausal, so learning more than one language is perfect for me. :grin::joy:

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This is so fascinating to hear. Thanks for sharing Tam.

My wife is Italian and I am English - we’re genuinely intrigued with the language journey we take any of our future children on.

Which language will be the more dominant, which foreign languages will they pick up and warm towards (if any). How will it differ to the two of us.

Our original plan is to only speak our mother tongue to them, the rest will fall into place as we go.

Appreciate you sharing your families story :slight_smile:

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I haven’t gotten married yet, but this topic is interesting for me to know. In Vietnam, there is a trend for the young generation to raise their kids to become bilingual. But in many cases, the kids get confused and can only consume one language more than another; some tend to develop slower than kids of the same age, who only study their mother tongue as 1st language, in the other language. So I wonder how you managed to raise your kids to be fluent in two languages at the same time. And then introducing the 3rd language to her at a very young age while still motivating her so she doesn’t feel mixed and bored between languages. :thinking:

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It is a common misconception that children get confused learning more than one language at a time. And, it is natural that there is often one language more dominant than another, depending on situations a person is in. This is true even for adults, there is only so much time in the day and whatever you use most will be dominant.

The misconception of children becoming confused is very common. People base this assumption on whether the child code-switches, or the number of words used in one of the languages.

  1. We all code-switch. The brain is very efficient, and when we want to speak our mouths can move faster than our brain. If we are talking about gardening in L1, but the word for garden pops up in our head in L2 first, the brain will use it. It’s not confusion, it’s efficiency. Why wait around searching for the L1 word for garden if you can just use the L2 word and keep talking? This is not a child confusion thing, but a human-wants-to-get-the-point-across-quickly thing. Totally normal. If you can’t think of the word “book” when talking, just substitute with “libro,” or 书, or “buch.” It’s the same thing. Not confusion at all.

  2. In early childhood (this is my graduate degree and teaching license), we’ll often count words to measure language development. When children are raised in a multilingual environment, some people make the mistake in just counting the number of words in one language. We actually count the number of words known altogether, including all the languages. Because language learning may be situational, a child may learn one language at school, one from the mom, one from the dad. So, the vocabulary will differ between the languages because the conversations are different. I remember when one of my daughters was small, my husband (Spanish-speaking) used to drink beer. Since I didn’t drink, we only talked about “cerveza,” never “beer.” There was never a reason to talk about “beer,” so she didn’t learn that word until she was older. That is not slower in development, that is situational language.

What can seem like slower development, usually isn’t in 98% of the cases, and evens out in the future. It is just a misunderstanding of what language development looks like. These are the only two examples I can think of right now, but I’d encourage anyone wondering about language development in children to research it. It is actually pretty fascinating. I belong to several groups of parents raising multilingual children, and there is plenty of research out there being shared…

Feel free to ask more questions, but I really don’t want to change the topic of this original post.


You can never get bored if you can speak more than one language. :joy: Monolingual is boring, not multilingual!


Speaking of bilingualism in children, and to add a research reference to my previous comment, here’s a website with useful articles. Bilingual children cannot 'turn off' their language knowledge, says researcher

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It’s very interesting to know. Thank you for sharing all this. It now makes me less worried about what people are saying about their problem with raising their child to be bilingual.

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Super interesting insight, thank you for sharing that!

I’m Italian and, unfortunately, I’m monolingual :frowning: but since I started living abroad my English has become stronger and stronger to the point that now I think in English!

If I’ll have children in the future I’ll try what you did with yours, speaking more than one language is such an incredibile thing!

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So a couple of weeks ago, I was lamenting how i had forgotten the transliteration of my name that my Japanese friends had given me 25 years ago. I used to practice writing it, but slowly forgot how, only remembering that they used characters for it to loosely mean “a lot of beautiful flowers,” ta-mi-ka.

I could only remember a few strokes. As I started to trace the first character in my mind, I thought, "Oh, snap! I know this as a Chinese hanzi! It means the same thing, only different pronunciation. I started the second kanji, man, I know this too! So, by then, I already figured what the third character was. My mind was blown.

Chinese brought me full circle back to Japanese. 多美花

I told my daughter, but she only agreed with me that I’m a nerd and only I could geek out on something like that. So, I’m telling ya’ll.

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