Learning Japanese and Mandarin simultaneously. Advice?

I just started learning Japanese online about a week ago, and so far I’m really loving it. I’m much more passionate about it than other languages I’ve started and ultimately dropped. Unfortunately I’m doing this while taking mandatory classes on Mandarin (which I have been doing for quite a few years now). There are some aspects of previous knowledge of Mandarin that are helping me, like the concept and meaning of many radicals and some Kanji, but there are also things negatively impacting my ability. Mainly, Having to remember the Japanese Onyomi / Kunyomi, as well as pinyin in Mandarin. (Simple example: 一 is ‘いち’ in Japanese, while ‘yī‘ in Mandarin.) I would much rather be only studying Japanese, though isn’t possible in my current situation. I’d be very grateful if anyone who has done/is doing the same thing, or anyone with general advice on how to not get confused between the two while still succeeding could offer something on it!

All your responses are appreciated,
-A

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Hello and welcome.

I have not studied your particular combination of languages (I learned French) so I will keep this short, but essentially confusion will happen, it is a natural part of the process as your brain takes all this information in and learns where to store it. The more exposure to each language, the better your brain will get at bundling new info in the appropriate area and linking it to learned info in the same language. That said, despite French and Japanese being quite different languages, I would/will occasionally have the wrong language pop out when I got stuck for a word in either language (the not-so-bad burden of developing multilingualism).

All the best with your studies.

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I tried learning both languages voluntarily, and I gave up on Mandarin Chinese eventually (at least for the time being). The issue wasn’t as much with getting them confused – they are quite different languages after all – but more with the limited time available. There are only so many hours in a day and if you do, say, a couple hours of listening practice for one language, it can be difficult to find the time of even the motivation to then study another language. They can both be fairly demanding languages as well, as reading anything in either language takes a lot of effort for a learner. I think if you can manage your time effectively and keep yourself from burning out (this can creep up on you), that would overcome the biggest obstacle.

I did get some odd interference, like remembering Japanese readings while reading texts written with traditional characters, but I found this will sort itself out pretty quickly. I imagine it’s even less of a problem with simplified Chinese. I did notice I had somewhat more trouble with the characters in Japanese than with Chinese, though, due to the multiple ways kanji can be read vs the usually one reading of hanzi. Knowing the meaning of the characters in one language mostly helps, but can occasionally trip you up as well. For example, 走 means ‘walk’ or ‘go’ in Chinese, but in Japanese it has retained the meaning it had in Classical Chinese.

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Hello!

I understand your struggle. I’ve studied Japanese, Mandarin, and Korean more or less simultaneously for the past 4 years.

I realized that by using the other languages I was studying, I could build up my skills in another language. Not just by sticking to English as the base language.

Since you have no choice to take Mandarin, why not use Mandarin to reinforce the vocab/grammar you’re learning in Japanese? Yes, there are some words are either extremely similar or extremely different between Japanese and Mandarin, but those types of words also exist phonetically between English, Japanese, Mandarin etc too.

The other languages also offered a different type of mnemonic device that seems unique to polylinguals.

Like @Rowena said, the more exposure you have to each language, the better it will be.

Good luck!

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My very subjective opinion would be: don’t. :smile: Unless you’re at a high level in Mandarin, you are going to struggle to find the time and effort to keep up both in a way that they advance at a satisfactory level. It would probably be more effective to study for example 6months+6months separately (and doing some maintaining) than doing both. That way you can focus all your energy into one language and get more out of it (which will motivate you further). But given the foreign nature of Japanese, 6 months wont take you very far…

But if you are happy with your rate of progressing and enjoying the process, why not.

@casper613 I second this. I can’t say I understand your situation fully, because I was fluent in Mandarin before starting Japanese, but you can use Mandarin to strengthen your understanding of kanji usage (so far, almost all the intuition about the nuances I have about different kanji carries over from Mandarin to Japanese) and of on’yomi. Japanese proverbs are sometimes taken from Chinese poems or sayings, or contain similar ideas to Chinese ones, so you might be able to strengthen retention through association. There is also quite a bit of shared technical vocabulary, even if the kanji combinations are sometimes slightly different in each language.

As for how to keep the languages ‘separate’ in your head… Mandarin is a subject-verb-object language. Japanese is a subject-object-verb language. As for pronunciation, Mandarin hanzi are all monosyllabic. Japanese kanji on’yomi rarely are. Also, Mandarin never ends a reading on a hard consonant – almost everything ends in vowels or nasal sounds like ‘n’ or ‘ng’. Japanese, however – like many non-Mandarin Chinese dialects – often ends on’yomi with fairly sharp sounds like く or つ, which you often hear in dialects like Teochew, Hokkien, Hakka or Cantonese. (Frankly, in this regard, Mandarin is the outlier, not the dialects that are typically given subordinate status.) Finally, Mandarin has fixed tones that vary according to specific rules and whose variations are often linked to differences in meaning. Japanese doesn’t do that, though it does have pitch accents.

My final piece of advice would be to get as much exposure to each as possible, especially by listening to or watching programmes in each language. The two sound really quite different (even if I often can use ‘conversion rules’ and context to help deduce what expression that exists in Chinese is being pronounced with an on’yomi), and exposure to usage will help you get used to what’s normal and natural in each language. All the best.

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Yo I’m learning Japanese and Chinese right now. It’s my degree.

All I can say is, having learnt Japanese for a few years first really helped me. I find Chinese easier than Japanese, so I suppose maybe it’s harder the other way round.

My number one tip is have set times to learn them. !!Don’t !!mix them. Maybe do Japanese in mornings or evenings. If you start mixing them you’ll start having issues

Also look at why you want to study Japanese. Is it just something you think you’ll pick up for a few weeks then quit, or have you wanted to do it for a while. A lot of people who learn languages feel like they want to pick up a new one occasionally, then drop it. That’s perfectly okay too!

But if you really want to keep at it. I recommend following a textbook system like Genki and lay down some foundations. This way you study in a guided way rather than not knowing where to start!
:slight_smile: goodluck

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I second this! Currently learning Chinese and Mandarin as well, and my biggest tip is to keep Japanese and Mandarin studies as far apart in the day (preferably, the week) as possible in order avoid confusion.
But no matter how hard you try, you will likely get confused in the beginning anyway. It’ll get easier after a while, though.

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I appreciate all of your replies! I will certainly take these into account when studying and learning.
Thank you!

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Laddering might be helpful here. I don’t have experience myself so I’m just repeating what I’ve heard YouTubers say. Basically focus on one target language until its about intermediate or upper intermediate and then start learning the second language from your first target language.

There’s a chance learning two languages at the same time will take longer than learning one after the other because of the confusion that will occur so it depends on what you’re going for. If its just for fun, go for it but if there are specific goals with a clear time line, it may be better to pick one and stick to it and then tackle the second.

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Normally, I would suggest that you put off one of the languages until you reach a pretty advanced level in one (i.e. have decent conversations, understand most of what’s going on in TV shows, be able to read most of the material you come across). However, given your situation, I would suggest limiting your study of Japanese since you have to take Mandarin, and it’d be a waste if you just went through the motions and forgot everything 2 months later. Of course, I’m assuming that you don’t hate studying Mandarin. There are still ways you can improving your Japanese while spending minimal time each day, such as reviewing your WaniKani flashcards, and speaking to yourself in simple sentences. As for kanji, a method I use to not get myself confused (I’m a native speaker of Mandarin) is to think of the Japanese on’yomi as a Chinese dialect, which honestly isn’t too far from the truth since a lot of Southern dialects have words that sound similar to Japanese Chinese words.

加油!頑張って!

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