Studying Japanese and Chinese together


I was wondering if anyone here has any experience on learning Japanese and Chinese together at university.

I’m currently studying an Access to Higher Education course so I can go to university, but I need to apply soon and I can’t decide if it’s a stupid idea to study both Japanese and Chinese together.

The course would start in September 2018 with both languages being taught at beginner level and that point I would’ve been learning Japanese for a year and a half. I feel like it wouldn’t be impossible especially if I have a good grounding in Japanese, but I’d be really grateful for advice!

I’ve also been looking at studying Japanese on its own or with Korean which is another language I’m really interested in, but I think Chinese would pay off better in the long run.

Extra info: the course is 5 years with 2 years abroad (one year in China, the other in Japan) and I’d get a BA out of it.

I’m really interested to hear if you’ve studied both together (at uni or self-study) or if you studied one at university and if you felt you were better off with just one or if you felt like you could’ve coped with both and also any general advice is great too!


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Hey there - I’m not a polyglot myself, but I do have experience with many people that learned several languages in college.

Generally speaking, this comes down to your future goals. For most people, learning multiple languages is not advantageous beyond expanding your world view and to impress friends. There’s a slim chance that a future career would require both languages, and once you’ve left university it will be very difficult to maintain both languages without the rigor of an academic program.

If you have a good reason to learn both, then go for it! Otherwise, I think the best plan is to focus on the one you think you’ll use the most in the future :slight_smile:

What inspired you to learn these two (possibly three?) languages?

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Thanks for your reply! I hadn’t really thought about how hard it would be to maintain both Japanese and Chinese after uni, so thanks for bringing that thought to my attention!

I think it mainly comes down to total fascination of the writing systems, not to mention how incredibly different the languages sound compared to English and other European languages. I’ve always dreamed of being multilingual but nothing really stuck or had my interest and devotion until I started Japanese. I really like the idea of studying the two languages together because they’re so similar yet polar opposites from each other, as well Chinese being the most spoken language in the world as being the neighbouring country to Japan. The concept of being to speak to not only one but two other entire nations of people in their native language just really excites me, though I do understand I can’t live in two countries at once!

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I have not studied both but I say go for it if you are genuinely interested and passionate about both. I think it’s very doable but difficult and if you have the determination to push through it you can.
I know that personally I get so into one language at a time and even though I want to learn French and Spanish at the same time as Japanese I find it difficult since the motivation for Japanese is so much stronger.

This comes from a Swede who only knows Swedish and English and has never tried studying Chinese so yeah, just wanted to encourage you to do it if you have the passion since a lot of people probably will tell you not to.

Thank you! I appreciate it :relaxed:

I think I’ve really got my heart set on this course and just wanted to know if I was insane for considering it. That being said, according to the uni stats, 50% graduate with 2:1 and 18% with a first, so it is doable! I think I’m more stressed about having to make my mind up soon since I have to hand in the first draft of my personal statement into class on Tuesday!

you sound like you have a lot of passion for learning languages in general which is a great thing to have.

maintaining the knowledge post uni is going to be very difficult unless your job demands you to know both languages or you immerse yourself in both languages on your off time.

Thank you :relaxed: Unfortunately I’m the only one in my family who does so they think I’m weird haha, but it’s a small price to pay!

A user above said this too, though I’m sure that after all that work I’d probably rather die than let all that education go to waste! In a dream world I’d be working in either China or Japan afterwards, so using one language everyday and then immersing myself in the other during downtime sounds more like a pleasure than a chore to me :slight_smile:


then go for it!!! better to do it and regret it than to never do it at all!

you got this, just dont get lazy :relaxed::relaxed:


I have once at school for some time studied a little bit of chinese (in an extracurricular activity), but didn’t get very far. The biggest problem for me back then was that I am a person that learns much by reading and writing, but that was impossible as I couldn’t learn the kanji (don’t know how they are called in chinese :smiley:) eventually I stopped, because it wasn’t offered at school anymore and lost most of they knowledge (wasn’t that much anyway, cause a 5th to 7th grader who studies 2 hours a week will not retain much, even worse we started new every year, because the teachers stopped and it wasn’t really effective overall.

So know I am at university and started studying Japanese in April. First I was progressing really slowly, but recently I was able to pick up speed and get a first goal, reading and understanding most of an NHK easy article.

Personally I wouldn’t be able to study Chinese as well now, but I have planned that if I one day reach a level in Japanese that satisifies me and that I can maintain I want to add Chinese aswell. For me the main reason of not being able to do both lies in the fact that I don’t have the time, I have a full week of university, need to work a little bit and want to stay fit, so I am glad, if I am even able to study one language during the semester. But if you would have university courses for both I guess the time won’t be a major problem.
I think the combination is even quite good, because both languages have quite some differences in many aspects, as they stem from two different langauge groups, so you will be able to keep the aspects apart, but you will be able to use quite much of the kanji related knowledge in both langauges, as often meanings are the same (even if the signs are not totally equal, because of the different simplifications) and even some readings (音読み) sound quite similar.

So my conclusion is, if you are good with langauges this is definetly an awesome program, but you should remember that it took you five years to learn those two langauges. Those will open you many doors in international organisations, but if you don’t have any other skills that might become a problem.

I guess that’s it, can’t really help you probably :smiley:

(Aside from that program is there anything else you are interested in? If this is the only program that caught your eye that is probably already a great assistance for deciding :smiley:) And would the program be linguistic based, so you at least have the possibility to go into research or is it just plain langauge learning?

Whatever, if this is want you want to do then do it instead of regretting it later. In my opinion those two langauges in combination should be possible and someone speaking chinese will be more and more valuable in the next centuries. (Wouldn’t advise you to go with korean japanese, as you don’t gain so much potential of the combination, because the amount of people speaking those is small when compared to the people speaking chinese and western people speaking chinese will be more and more valuable in the future)

Sooo that was really unordered and I don’t know if I made any point but I hope I was at least able to help you with the problem if chinese and japanese are a feasible combination. :smiley:

Haha true! I think I’m totally sold on it now, I’M GONNA DO IT I’M GONNA APPLY IT FOR IT BOWTRON (although I think they might want me to have to get the N5, I emailed them earlier on extra entry requirements since the Access to HE isn’t the traditional way in)

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As far as knowing both of them, neither has ever been particularly helpful in my life career-wise. The people you would likely deal with in China have just fine English, and the average English level there is better than in Japan. If you’re going somewhere where they don’t know any English they might not even be Mandarin speakers anyway.

But I’m still gonna suggest don’t be in a hurry. This is more about the fact that you’re going to be splitting your time and come out with a small amount of knowledge in two languages, rather than a decent amount of knowledge in one language. Beginning to learn Mandarin once I learned a decent amount of Japanese worked far better (learning Chinese in Japanese has worked out pretty well), than if I did both at once.

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That was so helpful, thank you so much!

There’s been a couple of other Japanese/Japanese Studies courses and a couple of other Chinese and Japanese courses I’ve seen and been interested in: one has entry requirements that is a bit higher, and the other I don’t get good vibes from the university, so I think the rest of my choices (you’re allowed to apply for 5 in total) would be the standalone Japanese courses. I would be happy with either the combined or single but something about this 5 year one has really stolen my heart. I had a friend who went to the same uni and studied English Linguistics and had a good time there too!

I have some experience studying two languages together, though my situation is pretty different from your own. Basically, after I had been learning Japanese on my own for about a year (while doing my BA), I got a job in China, so I kind of put Japanese on the side-burner for a while and did a summer intensive in Chinese that was the equivalent of an academic year of the language in nine weeks, and immediately after that left for China. It wasn’t until I had been in China for a little while and felt more comfortable with Chinese that I started focusing on Japanese again, and I’ve kept up study of both ever since, and I think my knowledge of Chinese has really sped up my Japanese learning. For starters, I would guess in any Chinese class you take the approach to studying characters will be much different from most textbooks’ approach kanji, so you end up learning Chinese characters at a much faster rate than you would Kanji (for one, there are just more to learn), which then helps you a lot later down the road with Kanji, since many of them are the same or similar (especially if you’re learning traditional Chinese characters, though even simplified will have have a lot in common). Additionally, there’s a lot of vocab overlap (even though it sounds different, being built out of the same characters and sounding kinda similar helps a lot).

For me, balancing both of them when I’m not studying in a classroom is a little tricky sometimes, but if you’re in a program learning both, that should help you pace yourself and balance the two appropriately. As for after graduation, one my one of my majors in college was French, and it actually hasn’t been too hard to maintain that along with the other languages I’m studying because my French was advanced enough by the time I graduated that the kind of activities I do (reading novels, watching movies, talking to French people) to maintain it doesn’t really feel like the same kind of thing as grammar and vocab memorization, so I have energy for both, though I admit all the things together take up a big proportion of my not-work time. I think once you get to an advanced level, improvement gets a lot slower, but maintaining your level gets a little easier, so I imagine you could manage it.

That sounds like a really cool program, by the way.

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That’s really interesting and good to know, thanks for letting me know!

Yeah I’ve been concerned about maybe being less fluent in both rather than having a better level in one of them, but isn’t that what the years abroad would be for? That being said, a friend of mine knows someone who’s studying both in America and they said they’re having a hard time balancing between the two, but I am grossly optimistic and just thought ‘hey! Trial and error with the balancing thing, right?’

I’ve read quite a few people saying this, why do you think this is?

there are probably multiple reasons for this:

  1. The amount of Japanese people learning Mandarin is probably quite high, because of the low distance between those countries and China being the biggest power in that region, so there is just more material and more often means better.
  2. Even if langauges are not related you will sound many similarites, especially in the kanji related parts and those will help you. Also both languages are very different from English in the way they work regarding conjugation, declination, particles etc. but many concepts you will need in mandaring (e.g. particles) will already be covered in your japanese knowledge.
  3. Those similarities will allow a different approach to the langauge.

Some scientific date related to this: The average time needed to reach a level of B2/C1 (don’t know exactly anymore) in Japanese when already knowing a kanji using langauge will likely reduce by 1000 hours, being about one third of the total time you need. (Sorry, I can’t find the source anymore, so no reliable info :sweat_smile: )

good to hear :smiley:

I’ve personally only had experience learning two languages at once in the sense that I live in America, but my family often speaks Georgian at home and I studied Spanish throughout school, but I didn’t start Spanish until I was 11 or 12 so I had already solidified a lot of Georgian knowledge.

I think jumping headfirst into studying two languages rigorously/academically is harder though. You’d have to be really dedicated and in a rush for a specific goal. I think that talented, driven individuals certainly could learn multiple languages at once, but most of the time, I think just focusing on one, nailing it down, then moving on is better. I didn’t start Japanese until my Spanish was already pretty solid, but I still sometimes mix some Japanese words when I speak or think in Spanish (probably because my consumption of Spanish to Japanese material really started to go down after getting deeper into Japanese. Later on, I’ll have to refresh a bit I think).

Plus, even though there are some advantages with the kanji, it’s a double-edged sword. Now you’ve got completely different readings already competing for recall along with the (potentially) several existing Japanese readings (counting kun and on, since on is still more of a bastardized Chinese reading). So if you first get a solid grip on one, you’ll probably be less likely to juggle them with difficulty at the beginning. That being said, perhaps you’d pick up a strong habit for one or the other that might make getting accustomed to the second one more difficult.

That’s such a cool story, are you still working in China? How’s it going? And if you’re not, how did you find it?

I’ve read a lot of comments of people saying the same thing or having it the other way around which I find so interesting, is it just the vocab overlap and similar characters that makes it easier?

this is what I tell myself to help me sleep at night

YES! I thought it was the case that immersion becomes much, much easier, almost second nature, when you are fluent or near it but didn’t have any way to prove it so this has helped my assumptions, so thank you!

Your post genuinely made me feel less anxious about this choice I’m going for, so thank you so much for taking time out your day to reply to me :blush:

One bit of truth is just that if you’re an English speaker, the career benefits of learning another language are rather small outside of specific reasons. And as far as being in the US goes, depending on where you are you may even run into more Cantonese speakers than Mandarin.

Chinese and Japanese are fundamentally different, but a few things. Cognates, while not as obvious as you’d think many times, there’s enough there to have some idea what’s going on. But on the other hand, you do have to worry about both False Friends and False Cognates. Not really needing to learn Kanji a second time. Most simplifications are pretty obvious and the ones that aren’t aren’t that numerous. Although there are Kanji that are used only in one language or the other, it’s still much more reduced.

On a different level, other areal features can help. Understanding the Topic-Comment structure, as well as the use of particles are two things that come to the top of my head. But many times I simply find it easier to see the explanation of a grammar point in Japanese than in English. Also in some cases, a grammar point pairs more directly with Japanese than with English.

The fact that using Japanese rather than English can be explained about the fact that I learned Japanese as an adult using that technical background while I didn’t do that in English. So the Japanese can sometimes just make more sense. On the other hand, second (non-native) language interference is a real issue in a third language.

To be honest this is another reason why I considered learning both at the same time - just because they are neighbouring countries and Chinese is the most-spoken language in the world, it made a lot of sense to me.

The other reasons seem obvious but they were really interesting, thank you!

Hahaha that’s ok, I trust you! 1000 hours is a lot, but I suppose by then you would’ve learned how to study a language so you don’t spend hours doing trial and error like you do at the start. This has really motivated me and now learning both at the same time doesn’t feel like such an impossible target! Woo! Thank you!

I think this is not completely true. In Germany (where I live) everybody on a Gymansium (school allowing you to go to university) needs to at least learn two langauges at school, starting in 5th and 6th grade in most cases. Sadly I chose Latin back then, so I only speak English and German, but a friend of mine for example speaks fluent English (almost native level) and fluent French in addition to Germand and now learned Spanish and is already quite fluent. (She even also learned Latin at school) Even if those langauges are very related it is definetly possible to learn 2 langauges at once and I have many friends who are fluent in two foreign langauges.