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View Poll Results: Which of Chinese or Japanese is harder to learn for a Westerner?
Chinese is harder 23 74.19%
Japanese is harder 8 25.81%
Voters: 31. You may not vote on this poll

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Old 01-15-2016, 04:16 AM
 
919 posts, read 603,270 times
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Quote:
Originally Posted by saibot View Post
Well, that is mostly true (except for the part about being tone-deaf. The world is not divided between those who have perfect or absolute pitch, and those who are tone-deaf, as though those are the two options. The vast majority of people are somewhere in the middle. Being tone-deaf means you are unable to distinguish relative tones. I don't expect that a tone-deaf person could be a good pianist, as he would be unable to discern when he'd played a wrong note).

You don't have to be a good speaker of many languages to be a linguist, agreed. I have a BA and MA in linguistics, as a matter of fact, and I don't consider myself truly fluent in any language except English. I find the question "How many languages do you speak?" slightly annoying, too.

However, as a linguist, you do acquire a certain facility with languages in general, just from spending so much time analyzing them. The part that was the most significant to me in the quote I posted was that Ms. Fallows found Chinese harder than any other language she had studied, which I assume was several. (For my BA, we were required to study one language for four full years, or two languages for two years each; in addition, I had studied two entirely different languages in high school for three years each). She certainly implies that Chinese words were more difficult to remember than words in other languages (and in a part I did not quote, she elaborated on the task of memorizing first the tone of each new word, then learning to distinguish it from similar words with a different tone, then being stymied by identical words with the same tone but different meanings).

I can only reiterate that these aspects of Chinese are very difficult for native English speakers. Japanese has its difficult points too, but they generally do not lie in pronunciation or vocabulary. Speaking for myself, the most difficult part of Japanese is mastering when and how to use the correct honorific and humble forms. The plain style is very easy; I wish it could be used all the time!
Thank you for clarifying! I didn't know what tone-deaf meant

Well, I admit it was difficult for me to differentiate those tones in the beginning too, but is it that hard?

(to) import
(an) import

(to) report
(a) report

How do you differentiate them? Merely based on strength, or both strength and pitch? I think the latter. If that is the case, you guys are familiar with tones

As for the plain style and honorific/humble forms in Japanese, Chinese people tend to not bother with them

BTW, is an economics student required to invest in some companies or properties, or analyse other countries economies? IMHO, they should not require you to learn different languages
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Old 01-15-2016, 04:27 AM
 
919 posts, read 603,270 times
Reputation: 369
Quote:
Originally Posted by yueng-ling View Post
Chinese has a huge vocabulary due to the long history of literature. Also, words from different dialects sometimes become official.
While I don't disagree with you in this regard, but there are similar situations in other languages as well.

For example,

The word cul-de-sac came from French.

Check Cul-de-sac:
A cul-de-sac /ˈkʌldəsæk/, dead end (British, Canadian, American, South African English, and Australian English), closed, no through road, a close (British, Canadian, and Australian English), no exit (New Zealand English) or court (American, Australian English) is a street with only one inlet/outlet.

While historically built for other reasons, one of its modern uses is to calm vehicle traffic.
And you should learn Latin phrases, Bible quotes and many foreign words, as well as the sentence - long time no see, which came from Chinese OFC
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Old 01-15-2016, 08:52 AM
 
6,523 posts, read 4,085,618 times
Reputation: 16823
Quote:
Originally Posted by Yanagisawa View Post
Well, I admit it was difficult for me to differentiate those tones in the beginning too, but is it that hard?

(to) import
(an) import

(to) report
(a) report

How do you differentiate them? Merely based on strength, or both strength and pitch? I think the latter. If that is the case, you guys are familiar with tones
No, English is a stress language, not a tone or pitch language. When I say import (verb) and import (noun) separately, they are distinguished by how heavily I stress one or the other syllable. The tone remains neutral in both. (There is no differentiation between the two uses of "report." They both have stress on the second syllable. Maybe you were thinking of "record"?)

Of course, I can impose a tone upon the stress suprasegmentally. In the sentence, "Are these the items you're going to import?", the word "import" has stress AND a rising tone. But this tone never changes the meaning of a word as it does in Chinese.

Hence the difficulty English-speakers have, not so much with the concept that a changing tone can change the meaning of a syllable, but with actually hearing and producing these tones. We are not conditioned to hear tones as semantically meaningful.

In Japanese as well, and correct me if I am wrong, pitch or tone does not play a part in differentiating single-syllable words, but only across multiple syllables in certain words, such as the various meanings of "hashi" (橋, 端, 箸).

Last edited by saibot; 01-15-2016 at 10:19 AM..
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Old 01-15-2016, 10:15 AM
 
1,424 posts, read 735,908 times
Reputation: 508
Quote:
Originally Posted by Yanagisawa View Post
While I don't disagree with you in this regard, but there are similar situations in other languages as well.

For example,

The word cul-de-sac came from French.

Check Cul-de-sac:
A cul-de-sac /ˈkʌldəsæk/, dead end (British, Canadian, American, South African English, and Australian English), closed, no through road, a close (British, Canadian, and Australian English), no exit (New Zealand English) or court (American, Australian English) is a street with only one inlet/outlet.

While historically built for other reasons, one of its modern uses is to calm vehicle traffic.
And you should learn Latin phrases, Bible quotes and many foreign words, as well as the sentence - long time no see, which came from Chinese OFC
Of course all languages have loanwords or idioms. Your point?
I was saying Chinese literature has a very long history so many words accumulated.
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Old 01-15-2016, 11:46 AM
 
Location: Billings
17 posts, read 29,329 times
Reputation: 122
Every language is hard. To me, French is harder than Chinese, to be honest. Chinese grammar is not bad at all, and the language is very logical. Generally, Chinese is considered a bit harder than Japanese because it's a tonal language, but if you can sing, it won't be a problem at all.
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Old 01-15-2016, 12:34 PM
 
6,523 posts, read 4,085,618 times
Reputation: 16823
Quote:
Originally Posted by cosmopolite View Post
Every language is hard. To me, French is harder than Chinese, to be honest. Chinese grammar is not bad at all, and the language is very logical. Generally, Chinese is considered a bit harder than Japanese because it's a tonal language, but if you can sing, it won't be a problem at all.
Well, that's an interesting perspective. All languages are "hard," to a degree, but it's been pretty well established that some are harder than others for persons with certain backgrounds. I may be going back and forth with another poster about whether Chinese or Japanese is more difficult for a native English speaker, but I doubt either of us would argue that French is actually harder.

Consider these two sentences:

我的房间里有台电视,我常打开它看新闻。
(wǒ de fáng jiān lǐ yǒu tái diàn shì, wǒ cháng dǎ kāi tā kàn xīn wén.)

"My room has a television and I always turn it on to watch the news."

vs.

Conservez son numéro de téléphone avec vos autres numéros d'urgence près de votre téléphone.

"Keep the telephone number with your other emergency numbers near your telephone."

Which one is more accessible to an English-speaker?

The Chinese writing system is utterly foreign and incomprehensible without a great deal of special study. In addition, virtually 100% of Chinese vocabulary is unrecognizable. Without studying, you will not be able to understand even one word. This is before you even delve into grammatical differences between Chinese and English, or the need to attune one's ear to tones. (Singing doesn't help much, unfortunately).

On the other hand, French uses the Roman alphabet. When you look at French words, you are not totally illiterate. The letters are not pronounced exactly the same way as in English, but you can at least make a stab at it. In addition, 40-50% of French vocabulary is cognate with English. Some words are virtually the same (téléphone). Many others are nearly as transparent (conservez = conserve, keep; numéro = number; urgence = urgency, emergency). If you've ever studied Latin, Spanish, or any other Romance language, you will recognize even more words. Having a large common vocabulary is a HUGE asset in learning another language. I don't think the fact that Chinese syntax is simpler, or that French grammar has more irregularities, negates these advantages.
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Old 01-15-2016, 02:18 PM
 
Location: Billings
17 posts, read 29,329 times
Reputation: 122
Quote:
Originally Posted by saibot View Post
Well, that's an interesting perspective. All languages are "hard," to a degree, but it's been pretty well established that some are harder than others for persons with certain backgrounds. I may be going back and forth with another poster about whether Chinese or Japanese is more difficult for a native English speaker, but I doubt either of us would argue that French is actually harder.

Consider these two sentences:

我的房间里有台电视,我常打开它看新闻。
(wǒ de fáng jiān lǐ yǒu tái diàn shì, wǒ cháng dǎ kāi tā kàn xīn wén.)

"My room has a television and I always turn it on to watch the news."

vs.

Conservez son numéro de téléphone avec vos autres numéros d'urgence près de votre téléphone.

"Keep the telephone number with your other emergency numbers near your telephone."

Which one is more accessible to an English-speaker?

The Chinese writing system is utterly foreign and incomprehensible without a great deal of special study. In addition, virtually 100% of Chinese vocabulary is unrecognizable. Without studying, you will not be able to understand even one word. This is before you even delve into grammatical differences between Chinese and English, or the need to attune one's ear to tones. (Singing doesn't help much, unfortunately).

On the other hand, French uses the Roman alphabet. When you look at French words, you are not totally illiterate. The letters are not pronounced exactly the same way as in English, but you can at least make a stab at it. In addition, 40-50% of French vocabulary is cognate with English. Some words are virtually the same (téléphone). Many others are nearly as transparent (conservez = conserve, keep; numéro = number; urgence = urgency, emergency). If you've ever studied Latin, Spanish, or any other Romance language, you will recognize even more words. Having a large common vocabulary is a HUGE asset in learning another language. I don't think the fact that Chinese syntax is simpler, or that French grammar has more irregularities, negates these advantages.
It is indeed well established that Chinese is more difficult to learn than French, but not for everyone. I, for one, can't handle dealing with verb conjugations. French grammar seems too difficult to me.
As for Chinese, its grammar is somewhat similar to English.
1. Regulative verb complements. English: to burn down, to eat smth up etc. Chinese: 吃掉, 寄到 etc. Not exactly the same thing, but similar. I don't think many languages have anything like that at all.
2. Fixed word order. Moreover, both Chinese and English have Subject Verb Object sentence structure, while for Japanese it's SOV)
3. Neither Chinese nor English have different forms based on gender, or number.

French, surely, looks much easier to an English speaker, while Chinese is impossible to read without substential knowledge, but then when you start learning French, you realize how difficult it actually is, while with Chinese it's more like "well, it's not too bad" after a while.

I didn't have any problems learning Chinese tones. To me it was the easiest part. I attributed it to having perfect pitch.

Having a large common vocabulary is a huge asset until you come across "false friends of a translator". I didn't go far with French, but I bet there are tons of words in English and French that sounds similar but have different meaning.

Chinese writing system is indeed pretty difficult but it is pretty logical. Once you know about 2000 words, you can guess the meaning of many other words that have familiar characters in them.

I think, ultimately it comes down to what you feel more comfortable with: learning more new words or learning a really difficult grammar. I chose the first one.
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Old 01-15-2016, 02:57 PM
 
6,523 posts, read 4,085,618 times
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Quote:
Originally Posted by cosmopolite View Post
It is indeed well established that Chinese is more difficult to learn than French, but not for everyone.
I have no reason to doubt what you say about yourself, but you are definitely an outlier.

Particularly in this statement:

Quote:
Chinese writing system is indeed pretty difficult but it is pretty logical. Once you know about 2000 words, you can guess the meaning of many other words that have familiar characters in them.
You make it sound so simple! Once you know about 2000 characters, indeed. Let me just say that when I was learning Japanese, I devoted myself to studying kanji. I'm sorry to sound like I am bragging, but I was noted among my teachers and classmates as being exceptionally quick at learning and retaining them. Still, it was three years before I really felt confident about my ability to both read and write the essential kanji, which at that time numbered 1,850 (there are more now). Granted, at that time we did not have computer programs and other learner's aids which are now common--it was just me and my book, pencil, and paper. But if you learned 2000 Chinese characters in the blink of an eye, and used them as a springboard to then more recognize hundreds more characters, more power to you--you were born to read Chinese.

Nitpicking now, but it is not true that English grammar doesn't involve different forms for gender or number. We absolutely have both (gender in pronouns; number in pronouns, nouns, and verbs), though of course not to the extent of French.
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Old 01-15-2016, 03:42 PM
 
Location: Billings
17 posts, read 29,329 times
Reputation: 122
Quote:
Originally Posted by saibot View Post
I have no reason to doubt what you say about yourself, but you are definitely an outlier.

Particularly in this statement:



You make it sound so simple! Once you know about 2000 characters, indeed. Let me just say that when I was learning Japanese, I devoted myself to studying kanji. I'm sorry to sound like I am bragging, but I was noted among my teachers and classmates as being exceptionally quick at learning and retaining them. Still, it was three years before I really felt confident about my ability to both read and write the essential kanji, which at that time numbered 1,850 (there are more now). Granted, at that time we did not have computer programs and other learner's aids which are now common--it was just me and my book, pencil, and paper. But if you learned 2000 Chinese characters in the blink of an eye, and used them as a springboard to then more recognize hundreds more characters, more power to you--you were born to read Chinese.

Nitpicking now, but it is not true that English grammar doesn't involve different forms for gender or number. We absolutely have both (gender in pronouns; number in pronouns, nouns, and verbs), though of course not to the extent of French.
It took me about 2.5 years to learn 2000 characters. I didn't learn them in the blink of an eye, I had to work hard, but for some reason it was less stressful than attempting to learn French. I have never tried to learn Japanese though. I've heard it has three different writing systems, and I suppose it makes learning process quite difficult.

You're quite right about different forms for gender or number. I think I tend to overlook them because their amount is so insignificant.

Returning back to the topic, I don't think people should choose what language to learn based on its difficulty, especially when it comes to such equally hard languages as Chinese or Japanese. Genuine interest in a language and culture is more motivating, and will probably make learning easier and less stressful.
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Old 01-15-2016, 06:23 PM
 
6,523 posts, read 4,085,618 times
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Originally Posted by cosmopolite View Post
I have never tried to learn Japanese though. I've heard it has three different writing systems, and I suppose it makes learning process quite difficult.
The native syllabaries (hiragana and katakana) are not difficult at all. You can learn them in a few days. It's the kanji that are hard, and maybe more so than in Chinese because almost all have at least two different pronunciations, if not more.

Quote:
I don't think people should choose what language to learn based on its difficulty, especially when it comes to such equally hard languages as Chinese or Japanese. Genuine interest in a language and culture is more motivating, and will probably make learning easier and less stressful.
Could not agree with this more!
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