For those who speak both Chinese and Japanese, would first learning Chinese make it easier to learn Japanese?

I know that Japanese Kanji are derived from Chinese characters.

  • Knowing one before the other would certainly help to an extent with literacy, but the order probably doesn't matter. I don't think a real definitive answer exists to this question. It's best to just pick the one you want to learn first and have at it! – ssb Mar 12 '15 at 4:38
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    I highly doubt it, except that learning a second language generally aids in learning a third language. It would help reinforce kanji writing, but otherwise it wouldn't give you any advantage over pure Japanese. – Eric Mar 12 '15 at 4:51
  • chinese.stackexchange.com - Is it easier to learn Chinese after learning Japanese or vice versa? – blutorange Mar 12 '15 at 6:34
  • Chinese could be easier since the construction is really close to the english language. You could only focus on kanji and pronounciation first. Then it would be easier to attack the japanese language afterward. – oldergod Mar 12 '15 at 8:28
  • What I would probably avoid with Chinese vs. Japanese is learning Simplified Chinese first, because then you would have to relearn all characters. – Earthliŋ Mar 12 '15 at 9:48

For English speakers, this site breaks down how many "hours" or weeks it takes to get "proficient"


If you want some detailed breakdowns, there is a nice analysis of relative language difficulties available here https://www.nsa.gov/public_info/_files/cryptologic_spectrum/foreign_language.pdf

One key way that languages are rated (in terms of difficulty) is basic grammatical orderings of "subject object and verb."

Group I (VSO):
  Arabic, Hebrew, Ancient Egyptian,
  Celtic, Polynesian languages

Group II (SVO):  
  Romance languages, English,
  Russian, Chinese, German,
  Albanian, Greek, Khmer,
  Vietnamese, all Thai languages
  except Khamti, Malay, Dutch,
  Icelandic, Slavonic, Norwegian,
  Swedish, Danish, Finnish,
  Estonian, Serbian

Group III (SOV):
  Japanese, Korean, Turkish,
  Burmese, Hindi, Navaho, Tibetan,
  most Australian languages

From the list above, you can see that Chinese (presumably both Mandarin and Cantonese) fit into the pattern of SVO or Subject+Verb+Object.

In mastering Japanese it would benefit one more greatly to study a language in the third grouping, to get one's "mind" wrapped into the form of SOV where the verb comes at the end. Thus, in preference to learning Chinese, which is roughly the same grammatical trickiness as English, you might want to look into Hindi, Tibetan, or even Turkish.

Knowing Chinese would probably help with the lexicon and mastering the writing system, but the Japanese writing system is catered for a language that is entirely different in terms of spoken sounds; even though they are derived from the same origin, their paths have diverged substantially in the last 1000-2000 years. This is not surprising if you look at how much English has changed since the time of Shakespeare, and that is an example of linguistic entropy within the "same" language.

In short: For writing, maybe yes. For grammar, there are other languages which exhibit closer behavior.

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