If you can read Japanese, can you read Chinese?

Discussion in '日本語 (Japanese)' started by Strike, Apr 3, 2007.

  1. Strike New Member

    Hampshire, England
    England - English
    I have recently heard from a Chinese-speaking friend that if you can read Chinese, you can read Japanese - and vice versa of course.
    It would make sense, as most Japanese Kanji are of Chinese origin, but what about the sentence structures and grammar or each language? Would they be roughly the same? I picked up a book on Chinese script a few days ago, and I saw that a lot of the simple Kanji I was familiar with (moon/month, river, bank, etc) were exactly the same. But the Chinese couldn't read the kana syllabaries... unless they had knowledge of those as well.

    I'd just like to know if it's true that if you can read Chinese, you can read Japanese and vice versa. Does anyone know?
  2. lazarus1907 Senior Member

    Lincoln, England
    Spanish, Spain
    It depends. Mainland China now uses simplified characters, whereas the South (H.K...) and Japan use traditional ones. No Chinese can read Japanese aloud or viceversa, but they can understand some of what is being said in the text. Because of the kanas, Chinese people are slightly in a disadvantage, so Japanese normally understand a bit more written Chinese than the other way round.
  3. Dalian

    Dalian Senior Member

    Shanghai, China
    Yes, because of the kanas, we Chinese people will hardly understand the exact meaning of a Japanese passage, but can only guess what it is about.
  4. Musical Chairs Senior Member

    Japan & US, Japanese & English
    I don't know much about Chinese grammar, but I can just look at a bunch of Chinese letters and guess what it's about because a lot of the letters are the same in Japanese. For example, if I go to a Chinese restaurant and read a Chinese menu, I can guess what the entree is because the letters for "fish" and "meat" are the same. However, knowing Japanese doesn't automatically mean you can read Chinese and vice versa. I find that a lot of Chinese characters I see look a lot more complicated than I'm used to seeing in Japanese, and in Japanese (probably in Chinese too) the same letters can be said many different ways.
  5. wathavy

    wathavy Senior Member

    Nagano Japan
    Once I was in 北京(Baisin), I was in a hurry to catch a train and was hungry too.
    So I gave a memo to a waitress writing down.
    There came a rice with beans on top of it!

    I have never made myself understood well in China, ever. I swear.
    There are too many differences between us.

    It just reminds me of our cause of defects on English word proper recognition. Those which are already in our daily life, we don't actually know the original term's use, and suddenly native English got puzzled off on our use of them.
    (In my home town, there is a bowling game hall with a logo of 'Human plaza'....What is it made of? :confused:)
    (In 1970, the first instruction plate for Japanese pavilion said ' A Japanese mental house') :cool:

    Well, I guess you might know what I might have said in China.
    Last edited: Jan 7, 2009
  6. hmoulding

    hmoulding Senior Member

    USA German
    That's a fun story. (I wondered if 急 somehow means beans in Chinese. It doesn't...)

    Many years ago when I was in fifth grade my homeroom teacher wanted to convince us that it might be a good idea to study Latin instead of French. (We got to make a choice between those two languages for sixth grade, and he was a Latin teacher.) He told us a story about how he met someone from Hungary, and after trying many different languages, they found they could both speak Latin.

    For some crazy reason I actually took Latin instead of French. I still remember a little, almost forty years later. I've never met anyone from Hungary who spoke Latin, though. ^_^

    When I hosted two Russian dancers some time ago, I found that my Russian wasn't good enough (I only took a year in college), but one of them spoke German quite well, so we were able to communicate easily.

    I think the lesson is that knowing more than one language can be useful, and you never know what might come in handy.

    I think everyone here knows that relying on the similarity in meaning between kanji and their Chinese originals would be similar to relying on one's knowledge of Latin to travel in France. Chinese meanings and Japanese meanings have often drifted far apart. I read that Japanese also invent new kanji, something that seems to annoy some purists, and would leave a Chinese reader baffled.
    Last edited: Jan 8, 2009
  7. lammn

    lammn Senior Member

    Hong Kong
    Chinese - Cantonese
    Hi, I am Chinese and I have learnt Japanese for years.
    Hope that I can be of help.

    Quick test: 這個理論有點不合邏輯。

    For those who can read Japanese and do not know Chinese, do you totally understand the meaning of the above Chinese sentence?

    I'm afraid the answer is no. The reasons are:
    1. There are many Chinese characters that are not used in Japanese at all. For example, the word 邏輯 above is not used in Japanese. Japanese people who have no knowledge of Chinese may not understand what it means.
    2. The same kanji may have different meanings in Japanese and in Chinese. For example, the character 這 above has completely different meanings in Japanese and in Chinese.
    3. The grammar between the two language is completely different. For example, verbs are often put at the end of a Japanese sentence, while it is not true in Chinese. In the above sentence, for example, the last word 邏輯 is a noun, not a verb. Not to mention there are many other differences in grammar between the two languages.
    However, I have to admit that Chinese people without Japanese knowledge can guess the meaning of a Japanese essay to a certain extent, let's say 30% of the meaning (the % here is arbitrary), and vice versa, because of the similar meaning of certain characters in both languages. For example, the word 理論 in the above sentence has exactly the same meaning in both Chinese and Japanese.

    So, I will rewrite the hypothesis of the first post as:

    If you can read Chinese, you can guess the meaning of written Japanese (to a certain extent) - and vice versa.
  8. palomnik Senior Member

    Amen to that. I learned Chinese first, and before I started studying Japanese I found that I could barely understand anything at all in written Japanese. As time went on and I realized how many words are in common, I appreciated the similarity.

    But I would say that being able to guess the meaning of written Japanese if you can read Chinese is as likely as being able to guess the meaning of written Spanish if you can read English.
  9. Blootix Senior Member

    English - USA
    I've gone through years of Chinese school. All I can say is that the more Kanji they use in Japanese sentences, the more I understand them.
  10. Armando_arx_20 Senior Member

    Mexican Spanish
    Ohh, so Japanese is to CHinese as Spanish is to French?
  11. Starfrown

    Starfrown Senior Member

    Columbia, SC
    English - US
    I don't know whether I would say that. Spanish and French are FAR, FAR more closely related to each other than Japanese is to Chinese.
  12. hmoulding

    hmoulding Senior Member

    USA German
    A better analogy might be Chinese is to Japanese as Italian is to Basque. That's because Italian is a modern Indoeuropean language, while Basque is not, but Basque uses the Roman alphabet. Also, Basque borrows a lot from Spanish and French, similar to how Japanese borrows a lot from many modern languages.

    It's important to realize just how different Japanese and Chinese are from each other. It might seem that the two languages are very similar, since Japanese has borrowed liberally from Chinese vocabulary and, of course the characters from the Han writing system. However, the similarities are extremely superficial. Important parts of the vocabulary are nothing alike. The grammar is completely different. Even the phonetic morphologies are different.

    So aside from recognizing a few characters, kanji knowledge doesn't really help with reading Chinese, or vice versa. I might be able to spot the postoffice in China, knowing the kanji 郵便局 and supposing that a Chinese postoffice has a large sign out front with those characters on it, but I wouldn't have a hope of understanding, say, a sentence in a Chinese newspaper stating that the Beijing main postoffice was going to close next week for construction. No matter how good my Japanese was.
  13. palomnik Senior Member

    Perhaps I was misleading in being so brief in the above statement.

    My point was that English and Spanish share many words in common, particularly but not exclusively more or less educated words derived from Latin.

    Chinese and Japanese share a large number of words too, written in Kanji, and mostly educated words. Readers of both languges can understand them without much difficulty.

    But the most basic and common words of each language are different, and this is where understanding will break down.
  14. Aoyama Senior Member

    川崎市、巴里 (黎)
    français Clodoaldien
    To that (often asked) question, one will simply answer : yes and ... no.
    Yes, when it comes to WORDS and simple (short) sentences. A good comparison would be to consider NUMBERS. Writing any given number (5, 32, 291, 68.914 ...) can be read and understood in any given language (provided the use of so-called Arabic numbers is common), as numbers can be taken as ideograms, like kanji/hanzi.
    Japanese and Chinese, who share those same ideograms (except a few rare cases of "Japanese made" ideograms and different simplification of the same ideogram), will then undertand easily basic concepts like "water, sun, man, female, society" and many others.
    No, when it comes to complicated concepts, articulated sentences, because Chinese and Japanese each belong to a different group of language, which is syntactically different (word order in the sentence is different), a little like English and German (though both belong to the same language group).
    This being said, Chinese and Japanese will still be able to read the same old Chinese Classical Texts (like Confucius, Lao Zi etc), but they will read them in a different way.
    So, a final answer to : If you can read Japanese, can you read Chinese ? has to be : not quite, but it will help you .
  15. katherine_Zhong

    katherine_Zhong New Member

    Do you think the japaness has something related to chinese? Is it easier to learn than chinese?
  16. frog.frog

    frog.frog New Member

    Northern Germany
    English - Canada
    Genetically, Japanese is not related to the Chinese languages. Japanese belongs to its own language family, and is called an isolate, because we actually don't know where the language came from. It just sort of sprouted up in the Pacific one day. However, because of historical reasons, such as being a part of greater east-Asian culture and interaction with other languages (most importantly the Chinese), Japanese has obtained certain similarities with other mainland Asian languages. Nonetheless, no Chinese-speaking person can hear Japanese and say "Oh yeah, I get it", and vice versa. They are indeed very different.

    Asking whether one language or another is easier to learn is a bit of a hard question to answer. It all depends on your own linguistic background. Coming from an English background, without having ever studied an agglutinating language (Finnish, Swahili, Hungarian... native American languages...) or a case-marking language (Latin, Greek, German, etc), you might find Japanese grammar a bit shocking. Chinese grammar, on the other hand, would seem quite a bit more familiar, or at least not as radical. As far as pronunciation goes, Japanese is actually far simpler than English, while Chinese tones will be mind-breaking at first. The writing system will not be particularly easy either way, although you will find Japanese to feel more like home, since you can actually sound words out. None of the languages are in any way related to English, so the vocab will be all new in both cases.

    But to be honest, the only thing that will make any one language easier to learn than another is your motivation to learn it, and your ability to find exposure. Learning a language takes a significant investment of time, so whichever language will hold your interest the longest is the one to go with.
  17. uchi.m

    uchi.m Banned

    Redeeming limbo
    Brazil, Portuguese
    The main influence of Chinese into the Japanese language is how words are written.

    It is also the case of English, but with Latin. That doesn't exactly mean that once you learn Latin you are automatically learnt English, although it may ease the learning of the other one if you have knowledge of one of them, at least when it comes to identifying written words and figuring out their meaning.
  18. Aoyama Senior Member

    川崎市、巴里 (黎)
    français Clodoaldien
    This question has been asked in the Forum already (in fact, quite a few times). Frog.frog has already given a pertinent answer.
    Now, to answer simply the question, which comes here, I guess, from the fact that you may think that Chinese and Japanese are quite similar, Chinese and Japanese share a lot of common points, but they belong to two completely distinct language groups. Syntactically, the order of words is different, but it is still true that Japanese can reasonably read a Chinese text, though won't be able to pronounce it. The reverse is not true.
    This being said, I will give you this simple answer :
    . Chinese is easier than Japanese for simple conversation, the grammar is simpler
    . Japanese is more difficult from the beginning
    . but when you get deeper into mastering both languages, than Chinese will turn out to be harder, Japanese easier, because Japanese has a "real" grammar, whereas Chinese grammar is more "nebulous", this coming from the fact that Japanese has kanas that act as grammatical articulations. Not the case with Chinese, which has only kanjis/hanzis , some of them also acting as grammatical articulations, but not as systematically as in Japanese.
    Then there is the problem of pronounciation. Chinese has tones, Japanese doesn't (almost, to be simple). That difficulty is an important element.
    Last edited: Oct 10, 2011
  19. Ghabi

    Ghabi AL/OL/Ar/Zh mod

    Hong Kong
    Water ... with 湯 excluded I suppose. Females ... again I guess you don't include 娘 and 老婆 and 女將. I hope you won't encounter any of these "ideograms" when reading modern Chinese. They may give you the wrong ideas.

    No doubt they can, if they've spent years or decades to study Classical Chinese. So can a German or a Finn.

    Of course the reverse isn't true, but nor is the obverse.
    Last edited: Oct 11, 2011
  20. Aoyama Senior Member

    川崎市、巴里 (黎)
    français Clodoaldien
    My outline was a simplification (but still pertinent, I dare think). Obviously we are not going to engage here in a full-blown comparison between Chinese and Japanese, which would require (and deserve) volumes.
    Two comments though : Japanese do learn Chinese classics in high school, in the original text, with diacritical signs to match Japanese syntax. I don't think Germans or Finns (can) do that (but then, it may depend on what high school they go to) ...
    And Japanese can read a Chinese text, but Chinese, unless they know kanas (and even that may not help them so much, because they should also have some smatterings of Japanese grammar articulations) will have no doubt a harder time ...
    Last edited: Oct 11, 2011
  21. xiaolijie

    xiaolijie Senior Member

    English (UK)
    This is quite erroneous. There are various methods for encoding grammar, and morphological encoding is just one of them, which happens to be the most familiar method to us in Europe. But does this mean anything that we lack knowledge of is "nebulous", not "real", not "systematic", Aoyamasan? ;)
  22. Aoyama Senior Member

    川崎市、巴里 (黎)
    français Clodoaldien
    I don't understand the last part :
    is there a word missing somewhere ?
    Now, what I was trying to say (but this is almost off-topic as the original question is just and simply about reading Chinese and Japanese, not about comparing grammar) is that because Japanese has both two syllabaries and ideograms, whereas Chinese has only ideograms, grammatical inflections (verb conjugations etc) are different. But this being said, of course (and surely) Chinese (classical and modern), like any other language, has a grammar.
    Last edited: Oct 13, 2011
  23. xiaolijie

    xiaolijie Senior Member

    English (UK)
    No, I don't think anything is missing.
    "But does this mean anything that we lack knowledge of is "nebulous"?" is fine, but you can also say:
    "But does this mean (that) anything that we lack knowledge of is "nebulous"?"
    ("anything that we lack knowledge of" simply means that "something that we don't know well")
  24. Aoyama Senior Member

    川崎市、巴里 (黎)
    français Clodoaldien
    You're right, my mistake somewhere .
  25. uchi.m

    uchi.m Banned

    Redeeming limbo
    Brazil, Portuguese
    There has been some exchanging of words between Japanese and Chinese in modern times.

    One of I can remember of is 自由, which didn't exist in Japan. On the other hand, there is 経済, which didn't exist in China.
  26. Aoyama Senior Member

    川崎市、巴里 (黎)
    français Clodoaldien
    There are many words like this. Kaisha, notably, but also many medical, political, terms etc. This would call for another thread.
  27. xnebula New Member

    I'm Chinese.
    Lots of words are shared between Chinese and Japanese, because Japanese sent “遣唐使" to China in Tang Dynasty (about 600) and Chinese learnt a lot from Japanese since "明治維新"(about 1870).
    uchi.m said " One of I can remember of is 自由, which didn't exist in Japan. On the other hand, there is 経済, which didn't exist in China." It's not true. The greatest political party in Japan is “自由民主党" also "自民党", in which "自由" is the same meaning in Chinese. And "経済" exits in Chinese. You could see the same words in Taiwan, HK, sometimes Singapore (I do not understand Singaporean. They do not speak real Chinese, most of them even could not talk with Chinese include Taiwanese... but they use our characters and say "We speak Chinese". All right.. They really state they speak Singlish...) or the simplified characters "经济" in Mainland. (自由:liberty 经济:economy)

    And if you are a real Japanese, you maybe know that "郵便局"(hmoulding said), in which "郵" is one of the Chinese (kanji) written style(?) and sometimes could be written in "邮". Exactly in Taiwan "郵局", in Mainland "邮局"... Those all are post office. I remember that the method how to use "局" to some extent is derived from Japanese. Well, I'm not quite sure..

    But Chinese and Japanese are quite different than all you could imagine..
    I could not read any Japanese sentence or let Japanese learn what I mean just through talk. (I've tried to learn Japanese for en...lt 3 months, then I gave up, I throw myself to cs and Spanish.)
    A Japanese could write his word in many different ways. They may choose not to use any "kanji" in their normal life. Then I could not understand any of what they write.
    On the other hand, they could choose to use lots of kanji in laws, formal newspapers or product explanations, then I could guess what they mean. Ok, just depends on whether they like to use "kanji". And hanzi(kanji) do not have different forms (like suffix...), Japanese use another written system to express that. And to the most extent, I still could not learn all. And Japanese do not often use hanzi in their normal life..
    Since I'm Chinese not Japanese, I do not know whether Japanese could understand us and to what extent they do.
    I guess if I write "甚矣,汝之不惠!"or "你真是太笨了!", well, they just mean "you are so stupid"......a very simple sentence in Classic Chinese (they saw in Tang Dynasty AD 600) and in modern Chinese, they could understand neither.= =
    Chinese and Japanese are two very very very different language.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 30, 2012
  28. 涼宮

    涼宮 Senior Member

    Sbaeneg/Castellano (Venezuela)
    I think we should just leave the matter in ''not because you have a similar or the same writing system as another language it means your language belongs to the same family as them or you can understand them''. :) We have examples like: Mongolian and Persian. Mongolian uses the cyrilic alphabet yet it's not even a Slavic language. Persian uses the Arab script yet it doesn't belong to the same family as Arabic and they cannot understand each other. But it's true that Persian has Arabic words. Japanese can get the meaning of some hanzi, but not the meaning of most sentences and vice versa. As it was said, they're very different. Both languages are as different as night and day. Unfortunately, there exists the tendency of thinking that both languages are very similar. That is my humble opinion.
    Last edited: May 30, 2012
  29. Schokolade

    Schokolade Senior Member

    I totally agree with you because I'm Japanese and I can't read Chinese! (^O^)
    (To OP: If you can read English, can you read French or German, by the way?)

    @Flaminius-san, Oops, sorry~~(><)
    Last edited: May 30, 2012
  30. 涼宮

    涼宮 Senior Member

    Sbaeneg/Castellano (Venezuela)
    Well, since the thread is very old, I doubt she/he will answer you. But you can find that out yourself. :D English and German are Germanic languages but they cannot understand each other. English simply received too much influence from Latin and Romance languages, it became quite a bit separated from German; the grammar and syntax are quite different too. French is Romance, if you know English you can get the meaning of some words in the written form, but you'll get nothing in the oral form.
  31. Kodonomaru New Member

    I'm sorry if I repeat the same question but I will start studying japanese soon, also want to study chinese, maybe after a couple of years, so, my question is... Will it be more easy for me to learn chinese if I will know japanese?
  32. frequency

    frequency Senior Member

    Tokyo, Japan
    Sure, because you'll have to deal with kanji in both, whichever;) although you may have a risk of confusion.
  33. xiaolijie

    xiaolijie Senior Member

    English (UK)
    Welcome to WR forums, Kodonemaru! :)

    Have you read through the thread? I think it should give you some idea to your question.
    Also, since you're thinking of trying Chinese after a few years of learning Japanese (and you haven't yet started Japanese), I'm sure after a few years of learning Japanese, you may be able to answer this question very easily.
  34. Kodonomaru New Member

    Thank you for your replies :)

    I just wanted to know from the start if I have any hope of learning chinese also, simultaneous with japanese, after two years maybe, but just learning japanese alone it's pretty hard :D

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